Conversation with Danny Kolke of Etelos

Original post here: from June 5, 2007
by Jeff Nolan

A company I have been watching for a few months now is Etelos. Despite having been in business for 7 years, the company has maintained a low profile while bootstrapping their business, all the while eschewing traditional venture capital.

They came on my radar when I found their CRM for Google application. In a nutshell, they take off the shelf Google apps components and combine them with some of their own stuff in a preconfigured Google start page. My first reaction upon reviewing this was “crikey, that’s what mashups should be” (I don’t recall saying “crikey” to myself but it works well now for effect).

This year they have added Netvibes, Windows Live, and most recently, Pageflakes client support but Google remains their most heavily deployed version.

I talked with Danny Kolke, the CEO of Etelos, today and found a kindred spirit… we were finishing each other’s sentences by the end of our conversation.

Danny’s belief system for Etelos is built on the following tenets, which if you have been reading this blog for any period of time you will see that they map to my own beliefs:

  1. The disruption that Etelos is targeting is distribution and consumption. This is not unlike what Salesforce is doing with Appexchange in that it provides a retail experience for software applications that have traditionally been sold through reseller and direct channels.
  2. The SMB market is fractious in that it’s really thousands of micro markets that are being served by small developers with specific domain expertise and no ability to scale their sales operations.
  3. Integration is a big problem that can be served by a service bus approach to application delivery… more on that later.
  4. The consumer experience is fundamentally and irreversibly changing the business software industry.

Etelos is an infrastructure play at the end of the day. Over 850 developers are delivering 200+ applications today and that number is expected to swell north of 300 in the months ahead. Developers can take pre-existing applications written in Java, PHP, or .Net and integrate them with the Etelos backend to take advantage of any service that Etelos is providing, such as mobile device support.

Etelos also has it’s own scripting language called EASE that developers can use to extend their apps, although from what I saw this looks like something that script developers would grok to extend prebuilt applications reliably and with little effort.

The Etelos approach reminded me of what Opsource is doing on top of Mulesource, but beyond the obvious similarities it’s not entirely clear what the distinctions are. Nonetheless, it’s apparent we will see more initiatives like this emerge given that it’s a fairly logical manner to approach a market and represents that plausible “platform play” for those vendors that don’t have the resources to invest massive $$ in pure platform technology to compete with the big vendors.

In reviewing the application catalog on their site there are a handful of vertical markets being targeted, which incidentally map to what Salesforce is doing on Appexchange: retail, insurance, real estate, medical, and independent consultants.

I don’t think this is deliberate but rather a logical conclusion that the addressable market for on demand hosted apps are services markets and digital products. To that end I would add media and advertising, and non-profit and local government to the list, the last two are often ignored by software vendors but represent great opportunities.

The company is based up in Washington state with 31 employees, 10 of which are offshore. I was impressed while talking with Danny, this company is at an inflection point and I expect they will benefit from a strong tailwind as companies begin to realize that start pages, like Google and Netvibes, are a new client interface and for something much more extensible than reading RSS feeds.