I wonder how many people will disbelieve that title? “Mark Shuttleworth sells Ubuntu to hedge funds.” probably only those with very little knowledge of the business and finance world or die-hard faithful. The fact of the matter is Mark is looking to sell a piece of his train set to any willing investor.
Now you’ll hear people say “It’s only Canonical he’s looking for investment in.” and that’s correct in its simplest form but Canonical’s key asset is Ubuntu, without it there isn’t much of a business so ultimately any would-be investor by virtue of the amount of shares they own technically could influence the direction Ubuntu takes. “Na, you’re wrong. It’s a community driven project!” Yeah in much the same way as you driving your moms car. You may well drive it and play what music you like in it but it’s your mum that owns the car at the end of the day.
Back around 2004/5 I remember a healthy debate with Jono Bacon and others where I prophesied that one day you’d have to pay for Ubuntu. Back in 2012 Canonical started actively asking users to pay for the distribution, now there’s nothing wrong in looking for donations how else are some projects to be supported? What got a lot of people’s backs up was the ‘in your face’ method that was put in place. For me this was an early indicator that finances at Canonical was becoming an issue, especially when services such as the Music Store and Ubuntu One were axed which was a very strange decision given that Canonical had just started to promote a mobile phone solution. A music and on-line storage service is pretty de rigueur in the mobile phone industry, very strange axing those services? The only reason I can think of is money. Mark has been pumping his own money into Canonical Holdings since day one however sadly the group have not been doing as well as you’d think. The liabilities are starting to outpace the assets with Canonical Groups net worth being £-59.4m as of 2016
Mark is clearly a shrewd businessman, now is probably the right time to seek some investors who can inject a large amount of cash. The gamble is, has the free-fall run away with itself to such an extent investors will be scared off investing? I doubt it, everyone loves a software company and especially one that offers cloud services too. The only fly in the ointment at the moment is the economic situation throughout the world, Mark may well find seeking the right investors slightly tougher especially if they demand stronger sureties in return for their capital.
Will my prophecy of paying for Ubuntu come true? Maybe? I could of-course take a leaf out of the Canonical-née-Ubuntu style of promoting an idea and say “Well you pay for their cloud services don’t you?” 😉