Reasons for going Open Source

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Recently at a conference where I was presenting our Open Source Digital Asset Management, I realized that our company was the only one, out of 60 other companies, that was using a Open Source License. Usually, in this surrounding I get asked more then once how Open Source works for us and primary if we make money from it, in short if we are successful.

Success by its definition can be manifold. For some success means to have a lot of money, for others it is adoration and for some world domination. While the decision to publish a software under a Open Source license is not a plan for world domination (thought, open source is on the way to dominate the world…) it might as well be a huge decision for a company to do so.

In my previous company, we developed and marketed our own propriety system. We developed it by ourselves and we also took care of the marketing. That not only meant that we had the overhead of developing the system, but what put more pressure on us, to gain more and more customers and to get them to pay for a license. We did the usual “game” that we charged for each update, which put another pressure on us, that we had to bring a update at least 2 times a year in order to justify the support subscription and the “high” update cost.

Actually, there was nothing bad about this philosophy of software distribution as there are still many companies that still do so. But it just wasn’t what I believed in in the long run and not what I think the “software” world will be heading to. That was 4 years ago.

So, for me the decision to base my next company on a Open Source license was obvious and a natural continuation of my belief system and what I think will be the most successful and lean way to build a company in these days. Since, one should never involve in a project of building a company that you only believe in part, you should not get involved at all. Remember; a 99% Yes, is still a 100% No.

In that sense, going open source was both a economical and a social decision. But don’t get it wrong, to be a open source company does not mean that there is no money involved (Just look at how much the Mozilla foundation or RedHat makes in a year), it is merely another business model. Actually for a software company, it shifts the income from a license cost to a service oriented cost. Previously, you could have calculated your income on the quantity of sold licenses, now you have to count on your service level.

Given the fact, that a open source company is (sometimes) depending of the income from support subscriptions, it will (hopefully) have a outstanding support nature to its customers. Furthermore, the engineering level will obviously be more exposed to the world. But what will decide your ultimate success of your open source project is the community building.

Community building by itself is a huge subject (Amazon finds over 600 books when searching for “Online Community Building”). While I’m probably not a “guru” on the subject matter, I personally think of a couple of Community building efforts you can do immediately without reading any book;

  • Find a way for your community to gather together (places like GetSatisfaction are perfect)
  • Reply to each question or problem in the shortest time possible, be it in a online forum or by eMail (believe me, everybody is satisfied with a quick answer)
  • Try to involve your community
  • Honor even the littlest help for community members (say a member answers to another users questions, thank him/her for doing so. If someone contributes to your code, mention them in a blog post)

In order to achieve this all, you should have a person in your company that really loves to engage with the community and sets the customers needs at first priority. This can not be just a part time job, as it is the how people will conceive your company and might judge on getting further involved with your system or not.

In the end you might now ask how “successful” Razuna has been since it’s initial release almost a year ago? In short, Razuna has been taken up very well. We have had over 20000 downloads of Razuna so far. Many people have come forward, in order to help us in spreading and coding Razuna. As a example, we have one Community member (Bruce Lane) from France, who translated Razuna and moreover even developed a complete desktop application in order to interface with Razuna. And yes, we do have customers who are paying for support subscriptions. Mind you, all without any marketing money from our side so far.

I hope this little excursion into my reason to go open source enlightened your day. Whatever will be your decision and argument, there is one thing that is for certain. Open Source software will continue to be a huge impact in the world. It’s time to join the ride.

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