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Kim Polese, CEO, Founder, SpikeSource

Kim PoleseFor those who followed the Silicon Valley boom of the late 90s, Kim Polese might be quite a familiar name.

In 1996, Polese founded Marimba, which was one of the first companies in the $100 million Java Fund, which venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers started that same year.

In March 1997, Time magazine anointed Polese one of the top 25 most influential Americans. In 1999, the company went public, and in 2000 Polese stepped down as CEO.

The boom times are back in Silicon Valley and so is Polese.

This time around, Polese is the founder and CEO of open source startup SpikeSource, which first saw light in 2005 as a provider of certified open source solution stacks.

This year the company has gained momentum, adding new solutions to its stack of supported Spike Certified applications.

Polese recently chatted with internetnews.com about SpikeSource and the challenges of running a startup in the Silicon Valley.

Q: What do you see as the biggest myth surrounding what SpikeSource does?

I don't know if it's a myth but probably there is this perception that Spike is more focused on infrastructure than solutions. I'm not sure that our solutions message has got out there yet.

One of the things that's important for us to be clear on is that we're certifying not only infrastructure stacks but also a breadth of solution stacks and offerings in different categories.

The origins of the company were really infrastructure-oriented, but we've really expanded and moved up the stack.

Q: What have been your biggest challenges since you got the business off the ground?

We're in a brand-new market here, so there is no formula for us to follow. There is a lot that we have to figure out and also put into place very quickly.

The combination of building out a channel, delivering open source applications to that channel, introducing it to them, teaching them that open source isn't just high quality but also a secure solution.

We're also pioneering some new models in support. We're building out a federated support model, and that means signing up a network of partners that are experts in different parts of the stack.

We have to figure out a lot of things that just haven't been done before: How do you make the economics of it work? How do you make business partnerships work for everyone concerned? How do you make sure that everyone gets to share in the revenue stream?

Those are some of the things you have to figure out in a new initiative, which is what we are.

Q: Is GPL 3 an issue that concerns you, or is it external to your business?

It hasn't been a huge focus for us. We aren't seeing a concern or questions about it from our channel partners. And I don't think they're really getting questions about it from their customers, either.

So, no it's not something that is front and center as a critical issue for us.

We're certainly tracking it closely. But the philosophy of the company is that we'll work with the popular open source licenses that are out there. We're taking the applications and the infrastructure and we just pass through the licenses

We don't really get into debates about the specifics of those licenses and that includes the GPL 3.

Q: Where is growth coming from? Is it coming at the expense of proprietary solutions or are these "green field" software deployments?

The growth is coming mostly from new projects that are being rolled out. We're seeing a lot of Web content management initiatives, employee and customer portals -- that sort of thing.

The other area is extending existing solutions.

A lot of companies may have proprietary software like Vignette, for example, but now they want to add more and they want to make that application available to more customers.

So instead of buying more Vignette licenses they're buying open source at a fraction of the cost with the knowledge that it's going to be supported and maintained.

Q: Is there anything out there that worries you about open source stack competition? Or do you think that you've got such a lead that you don't need to be overly concerned?

I don't lay awake at night worrying about competitors. Really what I'm concerned about is "let's make sure that we've got all the ingredients that the solution providers need to deliver world-class applications and service to their customers."

Q: What keeps you up at night? What are the biggest personal challenges that you have running SpikeSource?

There are a lot of challenges that remain whether you're an open source company or a proprietary software company or even not in the technology business at all.

Those are always about just the block and tackling of building a company.

It's about all of things that companies here in the Valley have to deal with, especially now as it's starting to heat up again.

It's a pretty competitive recruiting environment; rents are going up. All those things that I remember from 10 years ago in founding Marimba really still do exist.

That's also what makes it fun. It's actually a lot of fun to be together with a team working together on something that is groundbreaking and being on a mission together but obviously that comes with all of the challenges of scaling a big mountain.