Frontline at Nine

For a technology product, a 9th birthday is no small feat. It’s an even bigger feat for a technology non-profit. So, it's taken a lot of deliberation, but it’s time to announce something we’ve been working on for a while: Frontline is becoming a business.

Over the last nine years, a lot has changed. Frontline is older than the iPhone, the iPad, and WAY older than WhatsApp. We've watched the mobile market grow more quickly than anyone predicted, fragmenting along the way. The increasing adoption of smartphones offers almost incalculable potential, and even more hype. We’ve seen digital content markets move from selling content to streaming it, from revenue to DAU (daily average users), and from messaging to... well, different messaging. And yet, much remains the same. The principle that we started with – that helping smart people solve difficult problems is more valuable and important than building a specific channel – is still what drives us.

That said, a lot has changed, too. Today, messaging isn’t a fringe innovation: it’s at the core of any enterprise, system, or government that takes technology seriously. Mobile is unquestionably the future and there’s no question that messaging, regardless of platform, will be an integral part of whatever comes next. More important than any single platform, messaging has become the channel that connects the online and offline worlds. Over nine years of helping drive that change, we’ve learned a lot about what a connected world really needs: it's more than better technologies, it's better business models.

9 Years of Frontline
9 Years of Frontline

A connected world isn’t built on bottom-up or top-down approaches, but on the links between them: the missing middle. From a technology perspective, that means doing more than building tools that support last-mile, low-resource communities and it means more than supporting lucrative international enterprises. Rather, it means building the connective tissue between them. That connective technology has to reach and translate across infrastructures, languages, revenue streams, cultures, and systems. To meet that kind of need, we need flexible tools and configurable business models. The good news is that we've helped enough organizations build integrated, multi-channel systems in enough places to know what it takes. For the first time in history, I believe that a connected world is possible. But, it’s not inevitable.

We’re not naïve about the size of the challenge or what it’s going to take to do it well, which is why we’re asking for your help. Our users prove that last-mile organizations have a lot to teach about how to build systems that can work in places where very little does wok, so we're tailoring FrontlineSMS, our free and open source desktop tool, to meet them where they are. Last year, we launched FrontlineCloud, our web-hosted SaaS (software as a service) platform, and watched as thousands of enterprises built value and market share through messaging. Now, we’re developing the tools to connect the two, including a better FrontlineSMS, a more connected and configurable FrontlineCloud, and an increasingly multi-channel FrontlineSync. This amount of development is no small task and we know that there will be many challenges ahead. Systems need more than APIs to speak a common language and communication is about more than content distribution. But the value of connected systems, we believe, is worth the struggle and the cost.

In the next year, we're going to begin releasing versions of Frontline that go even farther to bridge the divide, making it easier to localize, customize, and monetize the incredible work that you do with our products. I personally don't believe that systems survive without a business model to support them, and we believe that we can market-fit messaging into professional systems. That kind of change and growth is going to require two things: 1. helping new users build business models that work in their contexts; and 2. some up-front investment to build the foundations necessary to realize our vision. We're becoming a business because we think we can build the market-fit for professional messaging and we need all the help we can get to make it work. Over the years, we’ve had interest from a wide range of investors with a wide range of interests, and we’ve always shied away, thinking that we could make bottom-up work by itself. But it can’t, and it shouldn’t – connection only works when both sides contribute.

Today, on our 9th birthday, we’re audacious enough to celebrate a belief and an opportunity much bigger than ourselves. We believe that there are people, technology platforms, businesses, mobile network operators, governments, and, yes, investors, who want to see what we can build together.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to explain a bit more about the future of Frontline: the product set, the business model, the community, and the company. I’ll explain how we got to here, the very specific problems we’re setting out to solve, and how’re planning to do it. But today, after nine years of believing in the impossible and seeing it come to life, we’ll be blowing out the candles with more gratitude than will fit into one blog post and wishing for... well, we’ll tell you next time.