As a public company CEO, I write a “Letter to Shareholders” once per year, leading up to our Annual General Meeting. But shareholders are one of the multiple ‘key constituencies’ at Sangoma (others would include customers, employees, and yes, our valued open source community). So, as 2019 draws to a close, I thought I’d write to you too, given the importance of the community to Sangoma! I realize it’s turned into a long letter, but open source is critical to Sangoma, so there is lots to cover in a year. And hopefully this will help us to continue increasing communication between Sangoma and the community. Perhaps this can even become a yearly tradition if you find it useful?
At AstriCon this year, in addition to all the discussions about products (and your wishes in that regard), I personally received 3 requests from the community, more than any others: communicate with us more frequently (from all parts of Sangoma right up to the CEO, not just engineering), do so more carefully (ensuring all at Sangoma are sensitive to the perspectives from the community), and give us a chance to engage more with Sangoma (& tell us how to do so). So, here you go!
In this first inaugural letter, I’d like to start modestly by saying that we at Sangoma know we’re not perfect. After all, it’s just a company made up of a good group of (mostly) engineers trying our very best to do a great job for customers, including you. So, while we’re human and imperfect, you have over 300 people doing our sincere best for you every day, and we are “ALL IN” on open source and the community. And if the community is united, we can create an ecosystem that helps so many companies (both users and resellers/integrators alike) build their businesses. Let’s do that together, cooperatively!
Sangoma’s Unwavering Commitment to Open Source
As many of you have heard me say (too many times?), Sangoma takes our stewardship of Asterisk and FreePBX extremely seriously! As I said above, open source is SUCH a major part of what we do. In 2019, we have continued to invest millions & millions of dollars into FreePBX and Asterisk. Over the past several years, Sangoma has grown quickly, becoming a significant company with well over $100 million in revenue. We are the only substantial player in our industry for whom open source is a vital part of our business, arguably the only proven firm with the strategy and financial resources that can continue making these large investments in open source, and we fully intend to maintain our leadership in this category.
And I thought you might be interested to know that our investment in FreePBX and Asterisk, takes many forms, well beyond software development. On the product side, of course it’s true that we spend heavily in engineering, but we also provide community forums (for discussion, feature requests, support), offer free bug fixing, product training (both live and online), technical support, and extensive infrastructure for things like mirror servers and a translation platform. In addition to those product focused initiatives, Sangoma also invests deeply in the broader open source telephony ecosystem, helping to support/grow it with our own conferences and user meetings, by supporting other open source projects (by using them in our products, speaking at their conferences and inviting them our events), by encouraging better inter-op between projects, etc. No one else comes close to Asterisk’s 25 million downloads!
Executive Appointment of Sangoma’s new Open Source Leader
As those of you at AstriCon heard, Sangoma has appointed Jared Smith as Vice President of Open Source Community Development. I’m very proud to have an executive of Jared’s stature leading us in this area! Jared has tremendous experience in open source, has contributed code for over 20 years, and is well known/respected by many of you. He has worked on Asterisk, FreePBX, Red Hat’s Fedora Project, and ran the open source programs at Bluehost & Capital One.
Jared will focus on growing the Asterisk/FreePBX communities, ensuring we are meeting YOUR needs. You will be hearing more from him in the next week, but central to Jared’s role is our desire to work much more collaboratively with the community, have you more directly determine the product direction, and to ensure Sangoma communicates with you in a more respectful/professional manner, without any rude or antagonistic tendencies in forums/etc. Everyone knows Sangoma’s pedigree in open source, but our company’s commitment to it was concentrated too much in too few people. I take responsibility for that, and with Jared’s help, we are changing that. Please give him a warm welcome!
We know that (of course!) you care more about Sangoma’s development of the software you depend upon, than anything else we say. In Jared’s words: “Hey Bill, the community is going to look at our actions more than our words. Open source communities are obviously technical and therefore can be pretty skeptical about what companies say. They are really good at looking past marketing language and evaluating whether or not a company really does what it says it will do. Let’s show them that we’re the leaders in the community, not just tell them.” So this section is meant to do exactly that!
Firstly, in 2019 Sangoma focused most of our open source product work on ongoing software development for FreePBX and Asterisk (and bug fixing of our two core projects, naturally). Our focus was on core platform work and new features (both key parts of the major releases of Asterisk 17 and FreePBX 15 in October). But we’re also working to even extend the products into new novel areas. One such example is that Sangoma is introducing new IoT functionality to integrate with FreePBX and enable Access Control in an office from our Softphone/UC client software (no more white swipe cards!). We know you count on Sangoma to innovate on both Asterisk and FreePBX to keep them current, and we’re committed to doing so. In fact, we’re making a special effort in 2020 to roll out significant new capability monthly! It will start in January with FreePBX functionality to comply with Kari’s law, which comes into effect in February. And finally, on the software development topic, Sangoma will be making a concerted effort to further strengthen product quality on FreePBX and Asterisk in new releases during 2020, with less ‘throw it out there & let the community find bugs’. Jared will cover all this, including the plans for Feb/Mar/April monthly releases in his coming note.
The second key product initiative at Sangoma in 2019 has been investment in building up our open source engineering teams even more. It’s no secret that there has been some change in staff during the year and we’re not hiding from that. But with change comes an opportunity for renewal, and that’s exactly what we’re doing! Our dev teams are growing, we’re hiring (hint!) around the globe and now have open source development staff at Sangoma on 5 continents (with Asterisk and FreePBX devs in Huntsville, Toronto, Bangalore, San Diego, Columbia/Ecuador/Uruguay, Atlanta, Eastern Canada, France, and Niger Africa). With so many users around the world, we want engineering talent around the globe too. So if you had any concern about some of the changes in staff, please don’t worry. Sangoma is growing faster than most all companies in our space, is the only one with resources to contribute this kind of investment into open source, and we’re 100% committed.
And thirdly, I thought you’d like to know that product training has gotten a significant ramp-up in attention at Sangoma over the last 6 months. We have been investing more effort into content and course delivery, especially on open source. So, I’m very proud to share that it’s working. We’ve had an astounding 10k trainees take our online courses in the past 6mo!! 70% of these have been open source, with ~2000 in Asterisk & ~5000 in FreePBX. Nobody else even comes close.
Community Engagement and Promotion of our Open Source Projects
In 2019, Sangoma continued our investment to build awareness for our open source platforms, to ensure that both FreePBX and Asterisk receive the credibility they deserve (and that you count on in your business). These efforts range from social media activity, to press releases, to speaking with leading industry analysts (and stock market research analysts), to organizing/hosting events, to fostering healthy/professional relationships with you, the community. I’d like to cover the last two in a bit more detail below.
For 2020, we have already begun planning several of our key events for the year, including the following for open source:
- AstriCon 2020 will take place in October in Florida. We had suggestions for other locations (including Toronto) but travel proved to be a possible concern, so we’re playing it safe. And we also received some very good feedback from the 2019 event, so we will be adding an additional open source track, making presentations longer (to leave more time for Q&A), and we’ll be bringing back the Dangerous Demos. Details to follow by April.
- By popular demand we are also bringing back FreePBX World! It will be co-located at AstriCon in October.
- Asterisk and FreePBX training sessions: As you’ve heard, product training has really accelerated at Sangoma over the past 6 months, and only Sangoma can provide you with official Certification. Better yet, because we see training as a key way to strengthen community interaction, Sangoma has decided to offer Half Price Training, during January through June of 2020 to get as many members certified as possible. That means a $1500 course is available for a very limited time for $750! More on this from Jared shortly, but please note that the first 4 courses of the year are already scheduled and are filling fast (January is Asterisk Advanced in the US (Wi), February is FreePBX in Europe (Italy), March is FreePBX for the US, and April has Asterisk again).
In addition to the above, in 2020 Sangoma will be reinventing the ways in which we foster relationships with you, our open source community, under the new theme of “Care, Engage, Support”. Care about your open source projects, Engage more easily/frequently with Sangoma as the steward of your projects, Support Asterisk/FreePBX in your decisions/deployments. This theme goes beyond my earlier point of ensuring professional communication. And we’re of course not taking away any of the mechanisms you already use and value, such as forums, AstriCon, etc. But we want to encourage more substantive, more respectful interaction between Sangoma, and you as the users. In that spirit, we ask for your input on what you’d like (and Jared will follow up on this point in his coming note). In the meantime, we have several new initiatives that I have personally spearheaded, being launched under the “Care, Engage, Support” theme for 2020, which Jared will cover in detail.
- A new FreePBX/Asterisk “Voice of the Community” (VoC) Program, where Sangoma facilitates key community influencers and regulars, to post to the community on Sangoma websites/forums/blogs. I hope this encourages thought leaders in the community to communicate powerfully to all members, foster loyalty, and profile those that echo the cause we all believe in so strongly. In my view, not all messaging needs to come from Sangoma.
- A new mechanism available to ALL community members to submit ideas/input/questions to Sangoma via confidential email without requiring every request to be publicly visible immediately. Some members may feel more comfortable being able to provide ideas/questions this way, and if it facilitates more input, then all the better.
- A new 1-day, live, “Open-Source Reseller Advisory Council” (OSRAC). Sangoma does this with selected resellers in our non-open source business, and it’s always incredibly well received by partners (plus it helps us gather market needs). Our first OSRAC meeting will be the week of Feb 10, by invitation, and will involve awards. We’ll cover part of your cost, so to be considered, speak with Jared and he’ll connect you to our organizers.
- Quarterly newsletters dedicated to FreePBX/Asterisk/open source. Community input sought, so reach out to Jared.
- More direct engagement with Sangoma engineers. We are committing more time from our devs to engage directly with you, empowering them by giving them time away from coding to ‘make it happen’. You’ll see more blog posts, more answers in the forums, and a new series of videos delivered by our Engineers on FreePBX & Asterisk.
- Keeping open source lively and fun by creating an online merchandise store and new areas of the web for contests and trivia. Show off your passion and excitement for FreePBX, Asterisk and open source!
In summary, Sangoma is FULLY committed to our stewardship of FreePBX and Asterisk, and we take our responsibility very seriously. It is important to us in so many ways, we have the resources to continue supporting/funding it, and the desire to listen to you… in order to make changes that continuously improve your projects. Sure, we’re human, so we’ll make honest mistakes, but I personally pledge that we will always do our sincere best (Sangoma is ALL IN, on you!). After all, open source projects thrive when the community is engaged and throws their support behind the project/company/steward. As Taylor Swift says: “the haters are gonna hate hate hate”. Let’s please NOT join them. There are enough folks in our industry who wish it would all just go away. We don’t need in-fighting nor attacks… let’s cooperate, because after all, we’re in this together, so let’s unite to support Asterisk/FreePBX, as one community/company/project/steward?
Thank you, we appreciate you, and we are looking forward to a great 2020 together! Finally, I wish you and your family/friends a very happy holiday season.
Warm Personal Regards,
President and CEO, Sangoma Technologies