French company SensioLabs recently received almost $7 million in venture capital from a private equity firm to bolster Symfony. What’s interesting is that SensioLabs’ services are centered around a technology product that is available to anybody for free. That’s correct, a $7 million investment into a business based upon a free product.
Although that may evoke images of money being blown into another technology bubble, its actually a vote of confidence for the free product. To be more precise, Symfony, an open source framework for PHP, the dominant programming language for the web. Even if you haven’t heard of it, you’ve probably heard of Yahoo!, which was an early adopter of Symfony back in 2005.
What is this Free Stuff?
“Open source” refers to the fact that the underlying source code may be used, modified, and distributed (commercially or non-commercially) by practically anybody at no charge. PHP is a programming language for the web (PHP stands for “PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor”). Symfony is a framework or structure for the PHP language. Entities that might not want to develop and subsequently support their own frameworks can opt to use Symfony instead.
Linux is probably the most famous open source endeavor. Originally developed in the 1980’s as a free operating system for personal computers, Linux has since been put into more computer hardware platforms than any other operating system (including the 44 fastest supercomputers). In addition to being embraced by Brazil, Russia and China (the emerging economies that make up “BRIC” sans India) it has become the platform of choice for the motion picture industry (DreamWorks, Pixar et al). “Titanic” was the first major motion picture produced on Linux servers.
The Impact of $7 Million on Symfony
The team behind the one year old startup SensioLabs actually created Symfony in 2005. Their startup provides services such as code reviewing, training, consulting and offers products enhancing the use of PHP. SensioLabs currently works with the Parisian Rapid Transit System, Virgin Mobile and the French Government. They will expand efforts to assist companies that don’t develop and support their own framework. More importantly, SensioLabs plans to develop overseas activities, namely in the United States to support its increased use of Symfony.
On a bigger picture level, what does the $7 million investment into a company revolving around Symfony mean? It appears to be a bet that it will continue to grow in popularity, especially in the U.S., as the framework for PHP. In 2011 Symfony2 was released by the community. The result was a marked increase in users of the framework.
The bottom line is that while it is said that “consumers vote with their feet”, private equity firms vote with their cash. And a $7 million investment into a year old startup that is Symfony-centric is quite the vote of confidence for the open source framework. Free indeed.