Earlier this year, the future of Mono, the open-source implementation of Microsoft’s .NET development framework, was up in the air. On May 4, 2011, Novell conducted a large round of layoffs as part of its post-merger with Attachmate — and one of the casualties was the 30-person team that worked on Mono.
But Mono’s Founder and Lead Developer Miguel de Icaza was not about to let that be the end of the road. Fewer than two weeks after Novell swung the axe, de Icaza announced the launch of Xamarin, a startup calling itself “the new home of the engineers that created Mono” with a strong focus on mobile products. It was inspiring news, but it was clear Xamarin had its work cut out for it: Moving an open-source project like Mono away from the cushy corporate parent company in which it lived for nearly eight years would not be a walk in the park.
The challenge was big, but today, Xamarin is going strong: The company is generating self-sustaining revenue and is on a steady product launch schedule. (Last week it rolled out Mono for Android 4.0, which lets developers make apps that work with the latest version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich.) We caught up with Miguel de Icaza, who serves as Xamarin’s CTO, a few days ago to get a few more details on how things have been going since he and his team decided to go it alone.
A wild summer leads to a profitable fall
“It was a wild summer,” de Icaza said. Back when Xamarin was born in mid-May, the team had to kick into overdrive to make sure it could get off the ground as an independent company. “After the Novell layoffs, one option would be for everyone to go home and just find a different job. But we love this project, and we love what we’re doing,” he said.
That early hustle soon brought results. Xamarin landed a couple of large clients, which allowed the company to hire all the people who had been laid off from the Mono team at Novell. Then in July, Xamarin inked a partnership with SUSE (the Attachmate business unit that now houses all the old Novell assets) to obtain all the rights to Mono. In exchange, Xamarin agreed to provide support for all of the old Mono customers. “We got ten years’ worth of intellectual property, and Novell got all its customers taken care of,” de Icaza said.
Funding is no longer a must-have
As a result of garnering the rights to Mono and a solid customer base, Xamarin wound up with self-sustaining revenue that covers its staff of some 50 people — without having taken on any venture capital. According to de Icaza, Xamarin may still take on outside investors, but it’s not a must:
“During week one of the layoff [taking funding] was the only option on the table. Now we have a product that brings self-sustaining revenue. Taking on outside money is still a discussion we can have, and it’s something we’ll consider, but it’s not a pressing issue.”
The new year and beyond
Xamarin has no plans to start resting on its laurels; according to de Icaza, the company has plans to be busy for many months ahead. “We want to make it easier for people to share code between Windows, iPhone and Android, and we believe we can make this the one language that can do that. We want to make people incredibly productive with our stack for mobile development,” he said. “All these people trusted that we could deliver these tools, now we need to keep making the product better.”