SourceForge.net has a wide range of Open Source projects that are intended for enterprise use. This month’s Project of the Month, SugarCRM, is a powerful application positioned to be on the front lines of business. CRM, Customer Relationship Management, software powers the sales team of an organization, the people who drive the revenue for any business. It allows members of the sales team to track leads, new customers, current customers, sales issues, sales projections, and marketing campaigns. SugarCRM is a powerful web-based Open Source CRM package that currently is in SourceForge.net’s top ten most active projects. It has a beautifully designed interface and runs on any platform that supports Apache (or IIS), MySQL and PHP. The project has been on SF.net since April 2004 and has had over 40,000 downloads. The SF.net team is proud to make SugarCRM the October 2004 Project of the Month.
Description of project:
Customer relationship management (CRM) is a mature and cost-effective endeavor, but why are these applications so expensive to buy or rent? It’s not because it’s costly to build great CRM applications, but because of the costs required to market and sell them. The SugarCRM project was started by three CRM professionals with more than 20 years of experience spanning marketing, application design, and the engineering of commercial CRM applications.
- Development Status: 5 — Production/Stable
- Environment: Web Environment
- Intended Audience: Customer service, developers, end users/desktop, financial and insurance industry, information technology, manufacturing
- License: Mozilla Public License 1.1 (MPL 1.1)
- Natural Language: Chinese (Simplified), English, French, German, Japanese, Spanish, Italian, Swedish
- Operating Systems: Windows NT/2000, Linux
- Programming Language: PHP
- Topic: Front-ends, financial, office suites
Why and how did you get started?
John: We started SugarCRM in late April after resigning from our jobs in product management and engineering at E.piphany Inc. All three of us decided that if SugarCRM was to be a successful project we would need to work on it full-time, and fund development out of our own pockets initially.
Clint: We had spent the previous three years building a J2EE CRM suite at our previous company. During that time we encountered Open Source software and quickly realized how powerful a software development model it really is. As a product manager, I had been fighting an uphill battle for years trying to achieve what Open Source development has built into it’s DNA — open collaboration between the product developers, end-users, and IT implementers in building a solution that not only meets the initial business requirements but can also grow with the business. Try finding that in the traditional “black box” software development model. Lots of companies claim the ability, but few ever come close to what Open Source development so naturally achieves.
What is the software’s intended audience?
John: SugarCRM is intended for both large and small companies worldwide. Specifically SugarCRM enables sales, marketing, and support organizations to manage their customer interactions more efficiently and profitably. We also made a conscious decision to build SugarCRM on the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP) stack because we felt it was the least complex, most portable, and most cost-efficient platform to run a CRM application on.
How many people do you believe are using your software?
John: In little over four months we’ve had more than 35,000 downloads — not bad for a complex business application. It hard to say how many are in production; I would guess between 800 and 1,100 sites, and mostly smaller sites with 5 to 10 users. We are starting to see larger deployments in the 50- to 200-user range now.
What are a couple of notable examples of how people are using your software?
John: We are starting to see a three different user segments:
- Small companies that do not have a CRM system but are using other Open Source apps/infrastructure, such as Mambo, PHP, MySQL, OSCommerce, Linux, etc. A lot of virtual organizations utilizing shared hosted Linux servers.
- Medium-sized companies that are using older closed source, proprietary CRM applications such as GoldMine, SalesLogix, salesforce.com, Act!, etc. — they seem to like Sugar because of our user interface and functionality.
- Medium-sized companies with internal IT developers who are looking for a solid Open Source application stack that they can fully customize to meet their unique organizations CRM needs.
What gave you an indication that your project was becoming successful?
John: When you start a new project, and you spend an incredible amount of time building something that you hope the world will gain value from, and you watch your downloads go from four per day to 1000+ per day over a four-month period, you come to feel folks dig what you’re doing, and want you to keep on trucking.
Clint: We see posts on our forums every day where people are enthusiastically saying “great product” and “keep up the good work.” I have never seen so much enthusiastic support for a tool that traditionally sales reps don’t enjoy using.
Jacob: When we hit the top 10 projects on SourceForge.net within the first few weeks of posting.
What has been your biggest surprise?
John: How scalable the LAMP stack is. Just last Friday we load-tested 400 concurrent users on a $3,500 1U dual-CPU rack server. LAMP does not get the respect it deserves.
Clint: How quickly our project took off. We looked at a lot of other projects and their historical stats to get a sense of what we could expect in terms of downloads and page views. Needless to say, we were blown away when we broke 500 downloads in one day just 30 days after we released our 1.0. Just a month after that, we had a record week when we exceeded 1,000 downloads per day for six days in an eight-day period. Wow! I remember two months ago being really excited when we had a whopping 93 downloads in one day. Let me tell you, seeing those download numbers is really motivating.
Jacob: The speed with which people went into production on our pre-release versions of 1.0. Within the first couple of weeks of posting SugarCRM we had people in production on it.
What has been your biggest challenge?
John: Not having the bandwidth to respond to all the inquiries we have received. We have brought on several new developers so I think we are much more responsive now.
Why do you think your project has been so well received?
John: I think our users really like our functionality, user interface, and the modular architecture that SugarCRM is built on. I think we do a good job of listening to our community.
Where do you see your project going?
John: Right now we post a major release every six weeks. You will see SugarCRM double if not triple in functionality over the next six months.
Clint: Where our users tell us to go. The CRM market space encompasses a lot of functionality across sales, marketing, and customer service tools. While there are lots and lots to build still, we are laser-focused on building what people are asking for and will use. This project is all about building tools that make companies successful. Our users know what they want and aren’t bashful about asking for it.
What’s on your project wish list?
We are looking for more people to join our community and help provide templates, new modules, and integrations to external systems that are commonly used with CRM products.
What are you most proud of?
John: The fact that both developers and end users are seeing tangible results from their Sugar Sales deployments. We still believe that the perfect CRM application has yet to be developed, but we feel we are, with help of our distributed developer community, beginning to revolutionize CRM applications.
Clint: That we focused on the right project. We saw a hunger on SourceForge.net for an Open Source CRM solution that was enjoyable to use. 30,000 downloads in just the past 60 days and dozens of “Sugar Addicts” singing the praises of Sugar Sales says we were right.
Jacob: I am most proud of the current levels of adoption and positive feedback that we are receiving. End users are happy with the system’s speed, ease of use, and functionality. Management is happy with the level of end-user adoption and how easy it has been to get people to use our software. I am also proud of the server performance. We can easily get page response times of less than a tenth of a second on a modern server.
If you could change something about the project, what would it be?
That we had started even sooner.
How do you coordinate the project?
John: We have an office now, so it’s much easier to coordinate, but for the first four months we worked virtually via Yahoo! IM and VOIP.
Jacob: We do a lot of communication through the forums and email. Contributors typically make suggestions in the forums and we follow up with discussions on some of the great ideas, and implement some of them ourselves.
Do you work on the project full-time, or do you have another job?
From the first day we started the project in April, we have all worked on it full-time, plus most weekends.
What is your development environment like?
Most of our development takes place on laptops running Windows. We have several people developing directly on Red Hat and one person doing some work on a Mac. We test on several instances and configurations of Red Hat, with Internet Explorer, Mozilla, Firebird, and Konquerer. We have also been testing with the Zend Performance Suite. We have found that the PHP environment is really portable and have not had many issues reported due to differences between operating systems. For debugging, code analysis, and profiling we use the built in PHP features and the Zend IDE. We have found it to be the best PHP IDE available. We have also added a lot of logging using log4php to allow for problem tracking and diagnosis.
- December 15 SugarCRM 2.5 (new developer tools, campaign management, self service)
- October 22 SugarCRM 2.0 (team selling, lead management, product tables, reporting)
- September 8 SugarCRM 1.5 (new import tool, db abstraction, reporting)
- August 4 SugarCRM 1.1 (internationalized)
- July 3 SugarCRM 1.0 (production stable release of core application)
- June 1 SugarCRM Alpha (alpha release of core application)
How can others contribute?
John: Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Each release we recognize several exemplarily contributors. We are always looking of for smart people to join our project.
Jacob: More people testing our pre-release software on their systems and give us feedback on the new versions. This would help us spend more time on building new features while improving the stability of the releases.