• February 22, 2019

Navigating Open Source for Fun & Profit?

Bob Quillin
Vice President Developer Relations

At the Startup Grind 2019 Global Conference in Redwood City, I had the pleasure of moderating a panel focused on how startups are managing and working with open source communities, the role of open source as both a technical & business accelerator, and the challenges/strategies in building a business in an open source environment.

On the panel with me were two startup leaders from Austin, TX, who are in the midst of navigating these waters today: Karyl Fowler, Transmute CEO, co-founder and HO Maycotte, Pilosa CEO, co-founder.  Each of these companies is part of the Oracle Global Startup Ecosystem.

With South Park Gnome business planning as inspiration, we focused on three major questions:


Sources: Wikipedia and South Park 

1. What has been the role of open source in each of your companies – as both a technical and a business accelerator?  How has that changed – or has it - from when you started your companies and now?

2. How important is the community when you are getting started as an alpha, beta test sandbox and as a product requirements, feature prioritization, use case testbed?  For determining what an MVP should be?

3. How are you all looking at revenue, monetization plans?  Various models have emerged that include enterprise versions (splitting the OSS and enterprise versions), enterprise support, professional services, new/creative licensing models, etc.?

Open Source Licensing Turmoil

This is indeed a hot and “of-the-moment” topic that finds open source vendors like MongoDB, RedisLabs, and Confluent experimenting with new licensing models intended to provide more protection against cloud providers as the open source market has shifted to a service-centric market:

“As open source has grown in importance, technology companies have shifted their business models from selling software to delivering cloud-based services. Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Netflix are all services companies. Even Microsoft is now primarily a services company. This has allowed these companies to outpace the growth of open source software and maintain control of critical internet infrastructure.”Chris Dixon, Wired – January 4, 2019

As software providers adapt and innovate their licensing models – from Server Side Public License (SSPL) to Redis Source Available License (RSAL) to GNU Affero General Public License (AGPL) to Commons Cause to Confluent Community License – there seems to be a new license model rolled out every week and even more community debate on how that will affect the companies themselves (who are still getting healthy VC investments), the developers (is this still open source?), and the cloud providers who have to respond.  While our panel did not debate these sticky subjects – and for that matter it may be too early to say where this is all going – we did dig into several meaty areas.

How Does Open Source Help a Startup?

The conference had a major focus on decentralization, and Transmute is in the middle of that movement, leveraging open source, distributed ledger technology (DLT) that integrates  traditional centralized directories with the same decentralized, distributed cryptography that underlies blockchain - with a focus on Identity and Access Management (IAM).

Should Startups Look to Open Source as part of their Strategy?

Open source powered Pilosa early on, building a large, vibrant community helped drive the product forward in a win-win for developers and the early market.  As these markets developed though, a clear need for more verticalized, industry-specific and enterprise-grade services emerged, opening the door for Pilosa to create an enterprise focused monetization strategy while maintaining a community edition.

Can Open Source Drive Better Developer Practices?

Open source helps create happier development teams, fuels healthier DevOps behaviors, and builds a sense of community and identity for developers that can exist both inside their organizations and outside in the broader tech ecosystem.

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