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Making money with open source

Web startup Telamenta believes in open source, and cautious growth.

BY  Paul Furber , 2 December 20090 comments

Guy Taylor, TelementaGuy Taylor, Telementa

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If you think open source development for the web is about downloading the latest framework and hiring a hacker to get it up and running, then Guy Taylor of Telamenta would like to disagree. His startup, now at the end of its second year of operation, is unashamedly founded on open source, including active participation in the community, but also believes in solving customer problems.

“The open source development model works because other people fix and improve your platform all the time,” says Taylor. “Our differentiator is that we can develop very serious stuff very quickly.”

Telamenta has developed solutions for, among others, Standard Bank, Samsung and TEDx Johannesburg using the open source Drupal framework. Taylor and his team of developers and designers have developed various components and projects, including a payroll solution, using Drupal as a foundation.

“The market is Drupal-agnostic. The fact that I can deliver something that people want quicker than anybody else is what counts. And because we use the SCRUM methodology, we can build in phases that attach to customers’ budgets and customers’ real business outcomes.

Many customers come to us because they’ve been burned: the developer they hired worked for two, maybe two and a half years, they’re R80 000 out of pocket and nothing is working. So we can say, ‘Let’s start here’.”

Taylor, along with Obsidian Systems founder Anton de Wet, founded Telamenta because they wanted to start a company that would, in Taylor’s words, “let Generation Y people work properly”.

“So you would have distributed hubs, people could come in to do what they were good at, when they were at their best, and then leave. So it’s a mix between a business incubator where people can bounce off each other and a freelance model. The hub itself was going to be a shell and a legal entity and as we started to do it, it became more successful. Anton likes building stuff. He has the most fun building stuff that solves other people’s problems and that’s one of the things Telamenta does really well.”

The company still works in this way.

The small team works remotely on its own terms, but meets electronically every day to discuss status and once a week in “meat space”.

“The physical meeting is very important,” says Taylor. “It keeps the team together and allows everyone to keep in touch with each other. Companies pay lip service to getting the right skills on board but we’ve really done it well.”

As well as making money off Drupal, Telamenta gives back to the community.

Taylor is chairman of the local Drupal users group and the company has donated code and time to making the platform better. And what of the future?

“We’re finding getting to the right market in the product space difficult,” says Taylor. “To get to the right people in there, we have to spend massive marketing money, which we don’t have. Right now it suits our needs to survive and grow slowly rather than be a rockstar-type company. It’s a constant debate that I have with myself: do we go with a venture capitalist or do we build up as we are? But we’re two years old and have always been in the black so I don’t see why we should change that.”