Rabbit Software Corp, based in Malvern, Pennsylvania, is about to try and cut it in Europe, for the second time. The 10-year-old public company, 75% owned by venture capitalist Safeguard Scientifics Inc, specialises in Unix, MS-DOS and Windows-based communications software products for stand-alone or networked personal computers and workstations. While some of Rabbit’s business is […]
Rabbit Software Corp, based in Malvern, Pennsylvania, is about to try and cut it in Europe, for the second time. The 10-year-old public company, 75% owned by venture capitalist Safeguard Scientifics Inc, specialises in Unix, MS-DOS and Windows-based communications software products for stand-alone or networked personal computers and workstations. While some of Rabbit’s business is done on an OEM basis, with procurers over the years having included IBM Corp, NEC Corp, Siemens AG, Motorola Inc, Intel Corp and McDonnell Douglas Information Systems, the firm has also, until recently, been selling its products direct to end users. This new push into Europe, however, will be based totally on indirect sales. Rabbit first set up this side of the Atlantic with a direct sales office in Paris in June 1987.
This was closed three years ago – Peter Craine, Rabbit’s vice-president for marketing and sales, explains that the firm then didn’t have any national language support for its MS-DOS products; also, Unix – Rabbit’s favoured environment – hadn’t taken off in quite the way the firm had expected. The closure of the Paris office was initiated by a management team that had been installed at Rabbit Software by Safeguard. According to Craine, the investor’s choice of directors left much to be desired; indeed, Charles Robins, one of Rabbit’s technical founders, left the firm in frustration over the new management team that had been drafted in. Robins is now back in the warren, however, following the appointment of a fresh management team in June 1991. Now the company has an aggressive mission, to promote the Rabbit name (which Chuck Robins selected in desperation after a Volkswagen Rabbit came into his line of vision while he was trying to think of something to call the company) and to achieve 50% of revenues in Europe within the next three years. For as long as Computergram can remember, Rabbit has been trading at a loss – last year, net losses amounted to $2.6m, down from $3.3m losses in the previous year, on revenues down 20% at just under $7m; for the first quarter of this year, losses were reduced to $248,000, from $800,000, on sales down 13% at $1.6m. According to Craine, however, losses have now been reduced from once being $1m a quarter to being now around breakeven level, and Rabbit should be profitable shortly. Playing a crucial role in achieving that goal will be the firm’s new policy of making sales to end users entirely via a network of third party distributors, which Rabbit promises to support with unfailing commitment.The picture for Europe – where currently only 5% of revenues are generated – is expected to be similar.
By Sue Norris
In the UK, Rabbit’s distributor is a company called Accent Computer Ltd, based in Burgess Hill, West Sussex. Rabbit admits that its support of Accent has in the past been minimal – now the firm will put all its strength behind its partner, and has app-ointed a Herr Helmut Weissenbach in Munich to co-ordinate the various European distribution outlets. Backed happily by Safeguard, Rabbit can afford to expand on the back of acquisitions, which the firm points to as being part of its growth policy, whether such acquisitions be based on product or on sales and marketing synergies, in the US and in Europe. Craine says Rabbit has been in talks with various companies, but declined to comment any further. What he did say was that Rabbit has no intention of setting up wholly-owned subsidiaries in any country, because of its commitment now to its previously neglected distribution partners. On the MS-DOS side of the communications business, Rabbit sees itself up against the big names – IBM, Novell Inc and Digital Communications Associates Inc. On the Unix side, however, Craine names only small market participants, such as Nynex Corp’s SSI division and Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Cleo Communications Inc, as having anything near what Rabbit can offer. Today the firm offers products supporting Santa Cruz Operation Unix, Unix 5.1, and IBM’s AIX – Craine says Sun Microsystems Inc, Hewlett-P
ackard Co and Digital Equipment Corp versions of Unix might be on the agenda sometime in the future, though nothing is imminent. Rabbit recently announced a range of IBM SNA communications products for the Univel Inc UnixWare operating system, initial shipments of which are scheduled to coincide with the launch of UnixWare in the third quarter this year. Rabbit Open Advantage for UnixWare is to include a range of IBM mainframe options, including 3270 terminal emulation, remote job entry, and Advanced Program-to-Program Communications. The products are claimed to be cabable of operating as a client to Novell’s NetWare SAA communications server across NetWare and TCP/IP networks. Charles Robins believes UnixWare will facilitate the growth of Unix in commercial accounts because of its ease of use and integration with NetWare. Craine reckons Rabbit will do well out of its relationship with Univel, since it has 10 years’ experience of Unix. The firm aims to extend UnixWare integration into IBM networks, enabling access to host applications and development of distributed applications. Rabbit is currently piloting three new service programmes in the US, which it hopes will give it a competitive edge as other communications software companies wise up to potential of the Unix market, and which it expects will eventually generate as much income as its software products, if not more. The first of the three new service initiatives, for which users have to pay extra, is a support programme that provides a two hour response call-out service, and where customers automatically get all upgrades and a regular technical newsletter. The second service is a formal training programme on Rabbit’s MS-DOS and Unix products, for users and distributors.
Finally, the service that Craine is most excited about is the consulting service, on which Rabbit has actually based a new company division. Through the consultancy service, Rabbit will attend to any problem within a customer’s installation, whether it be a fault with a Rabbit product, or with the customer’s operating system, or a technical mainframe hitch – how qualified Rabbit employees are to tinker with such problems is another question, but Craine reckons Rabbit customers want such a service and are willing to pay for it. Meanwhile Rabbit Software has recently been the source of a minor confusion in the US, following speculation as to which species of animal Ross Perot would choose as a mascot for his Ross for Boss presidential campaign. The rabbit is proposed by The New Republic as a favourite, following an alleged investment by Perot in Rabbit Software – in actual fact, Perot Group investors did once invest in one of Charles Robins’ business enterprises, but it wasn’t Rabbit.