We lost a sale. It happens and it is always difficult to swallow, especially when the reason is seemingly trivial.
- Were we technically inferior? No.
- Were we more expensive? Nope.
- Was our support lacking? Far from it.
Our name. It was about our name.
What's in a name?
Loadbalancer.org was founded in 2002, driven by a gap in the market for load balancing appliances at the right price point. With roots in open source and at the time far less emphasis on the domain name being a status symbol, the company grew and the brand stuck.
The back story of the .org is clearly outlined by Wikipedia:
“The domain name org is a generic top-level domain (gTLD) of the Domain Name System (DNS) used in the Internet. The name is truncated from organization. It was one of the original domains established in 1985, and has been operated by the Public Interest Registry since 2003. The domain was originally intended for non-profit entities, but this restriction was not enforced and has been removed. The domain is commonly used by schools, open-source projects, and communities, but also by some for-profit entities.”
The current way of thinking dictates that brand is everything and a good domain equals legitimacy. Noah Kagan, founder of Appsumo spent 1.5 Million on sumo.com to own the brand, become the definitive source and fend off imitators.
Our focus has always been on developing a reliable, robust and cost-effective load balancer. One of our strengths is transparency around our core features. We highlight the fact that we leverage, customise and contribute to open source technology. We are however NOT open source, nor are we a free community product with paid-for support.
Kemp Technologies, Barracuda and Loadbalancer.org use the same open source platform, we are honest about it. We build upon solid open source foundations to deliver a great commercial product. This has won favour with our users who are primarily technical. It means they get a highly polished product, that has all the features they would ever need. The key difference is that we aren't open source with support bolted on.
If you have ever tried to solve a problem with open source, without support then you will appreciate how this can leave you exposed if things go wrong. This is risky in a production environment.
Our product just works and when you need our support, we deliver it with both enthusiasm and complete commitment.
The problem was that our prospect had their fingers burnt before.
The technicians loved the product and there was not a single area that they felt we fell short in compared to our competitor. They fought our corner as the preferred option. We worked to deliver an outstanding deal on licensing, but we failed the management litmus test. The management had a poor perception of our brand, having encountered issues with open source and a lack of support in the past. In their eyes, we couldn’t deliver a fully supported corporate solution.
Management wanted no association with anything “.org” related.
So, open source still has a reputation to shake off.
There is a lot of weight to the open source argument. Nearly every viable open source project has a commercial entity. We don’t fall into that category, though.
Like us, many network hardware vendors (not just in application delivery) use a combination of Linux/BSD/open source DB/ open source web server/framework in commercial products. Even ASP.net from Microsoft is open source and runs natively on Linux. Conversely, just because something is completely proprietary doesn't mean it is any good.
Outside of this sale, does it matter?
This sparked a few internal discussions on brand and who we appeal to.
According to Law 22 of The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding:
"The Law of Singularity – The most important aspect of a brand is its single-mindedness. A brand is a singular idea or concept that you own inside the mind of the prospect."
We are Loadbalancer.org, and what we sell is immediately obvious to those that need such an appliance.
It ultimately comes down to this.
Our core audience, technicians, the people that have to use our products and support daily are the ones that ‘get’ us.
Our load balancer is a great product that handles almost anything thrown at it. Our support is regularly applauded and that resonates with the people that rely on those things. Our customers serve as the driver to create better products. Their feedback helps us improve and add features and they can even serve as a marketing force, by recommending our products.
We can’t and shouldn’t try to please everyone but we strive to ensure our customers are happy in every instance. Even if we somehow managed to really upset a customer, we can learn from it and improve going forward.
Has it impacted growth? Who knows, and it probably won’t be the end of the discussion. We have been fortunate to serve some of the biggest names in their respective industries because they recognised our best assets. That said, our brand extends beyond the name we need to work on strengthening our argument and sharing our story.