Ionic

Ionic was co-founded by the computer scientist Max Lynch, left, and graphic designer Ben Sperry.

Courtesy of Ionic

One of Madison’s most well-funded startups is, for the first time, seriously turning its attention to making money.

Since 2014, Ionic has made software for professionals who develop apps for phones and mobile devices. But since the beginning, its flagship software, the “Ionic Framework,” has been open-source. That means that the technology is free and tweakable for software developers.

Now, however, the company is readying its first commercial product: Ionic Pro. Max Lynch, a co-founder of the company, said that with Ionic Pro, developers will be paying for a more comprehensive set of tools for launching and growing mobile apps — not just a basic toolkit for making software.

“We heard from developers once they got beyond Ionic. How do I update my app? How do I test my app?” said Lynch, explaining the rationale behind the Pro software. “There were all these products that were ancillary to Ionic, but important parts of the life cycle."

The company, which has raised more than $12 million in venture capital funding, has made some money in the past through membership plans for teams and businesses looking for more expansive versions of the Ionic Framework. However, Ionic Pro will mark the first major avenue for revenue in the company’s five-year history.

“It’s an exciting time for us. We’re going from that adoption and open source and free stuff, to turning that adoption into a strong business,” said Lynch.

Lynch started what was then known as Drifty in 2012 with Ben Sperry, his best friend since kindergarten. Lynch said that they were motivated to build an app-making toolkit because of their frustrations with how hard it was to build mobile software.

They decided early on to open up their code to other developers, in the spirit of the open-source model. Lynch said they looked to other startups, like the document-storage tool MongoDB, as models for creating open-source software as a startup. The idea was that by making it free and open, Ionic Framework would be able to grow its user base more quickly. Lynch added that most other companies making developer toolkits at the time were offering commercial products, so it made sense to offer something free.

“The goal number one was building technology that everyone wanted to use,” he said. “Developers, they pick technology that’s easy to learn and low-pressure.”

The strategy seems to have paid off: Ionic Framework has evolved into a go-to toolkit for many mobile developers. According to the company, the Ionic Framework package has accrued 6 million users across the globe. The company has worked with major partners on app development, including Dow Jones, Airbus, Target and IBM. The Ionic Framework technology has even attained enough buzz for Lynch to have been named one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 for technology in 2015.

Lynch said that as the company continues to grow, especially with the release of Ionic Pro, he hopes that it gets more exposure as a Madison success story.

“A lot of people don't really know Ionic,” he said. “They don’t know the scale on which Ionic has been operating.”

The company itself now has more than 30 employees at its offices just off the square at South Pinckney Street. It also recently opened offices in Boston.

Erik Lorenzsonn is the Capital Times' tech and culture reporter. He joined the team in 2016, after having served as an online editor for Wisconsin Public Radio and having written for publications like The Progressive Magazine and The Poughkeepsie Journal.