Thoughts on Open Source Communities

Supporting open source users seems like a thankless job. There have been many blogs written on this topic. Developers have stopped maintain popular projects because of the burn this causes. People who use open source projects, indirectly assume that they are entitled to free support, even if they have taken no effort to understand the issue, or tried searching for a solution.

Image by Andrew Branch

At some point, it becomes unsustainable for the original developers to keep helping without a return. At this point it is important for the community to come up with a good volunteer based model of helping new users. When the project hits a very large scale, like Ubuntu for example, you find enough people with expertise to answer such questions, so this problem can be overcome by scale. This assumes that basic housekeeping like building documentation continuously is being done.

When the project is moderately successful, (it has lot more users than volunteers), the developers have to keep supporting without any benefit, if they want to project to be successful. Specially if their livelihood depends on it. Of course after a point, the developers can push for paid support, but entitled users who expect free support will still bite if they don’t get the support they expect and bad-mouth about the project. This is a tricky phase.

Users waiting for help: Image by Paul Dufour

While it feels wrong to help anonymous users, it feels good to help people who belong to the community. As humans we feel happy when we are of use to somebody, but we feel sad when we think they are being exploited. While working on open source projects, its easy to move from one extreme to another. So how do we solve this problem?

One way would be to build a community and know the people in the community. So how do you define such a community? I think, a community is formed when people help each other to achieve a common goal. This means they invest time, effort, energy, money to help everyone else achieve this goal. When everyone does this, everyone benefits from each others’ investments and the community grows powerful.

Image by Clem Onojeghuo

So why would someone invest in being a part of the community? First the person has to be convinced that being in the community, that is giving back, is more beneficial than just being a taker. The process of contribution must be easy for someone who is new. It also helps that you feel that you are not being cheated by helping other users. This can be done if the benefits reaped by the community are fairly distributed instead of being cornered by a few. Another important thing is that there must be fairness in the way the affairs of the community are conducted.

A feeling of fairness comes when there is openness and transparentcommunication in the community. This also means moderating the communication so that the conversations are open, fair, focused and based on activities rather than opinions. Users who abuse the trust of others, or only keep taking (and not giving) should be discouraged or disbarred from the community. In online communities, people sharing their real identity, profile pictures rather than being anonymous, also makes it more human and friendly.

Image by Corrine Kutz

It is important that those who contribute to open source projects also be kind on themselves and do not burn themselves out. In the long run, open source is a great asset and win for everyone, but in the short run it is hard to sustain and keep the faith. The internet not only gives us tools to collaborate, but also to share the benefits and trade, and working in an open source community also feels specially rewarding.

But it need not be a hard slog just because its open. A little bit of balance can go a long way in making things fun.

fluxday — the internal task management & productivity tracking app of Foradian is now opensource

A no-nonsense, free & opensource task & productivity management tool for growing startups

fluxday was developed by Foradian starting in 2013 and was a critical part of Foradian’s hyper growth and success as a B2B software startup in EdTech space. With a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 323 per cent Foradian was listed in Deloitte Tech Fast50 India consecutively for two years. We secured $2mm in funding and grew the company from a small town startup to globally recognized product company. Behind all these success and growth was a small internal app custom developed by our engineering team and adopted by all team members — fluxday

fluxday is engineered on the concepts of OKR — Objectives and Key Results, invented and made popular by John Doerr. OKRs and OKR tools are used today by many companies, including Google, LinkedIn and Twitter. If you are new to OKR read these article 1, article 2

View tasks and work logs for a selected day. You can switch between month and week views.

In fluxday, you can start by creating the departments of your organization and adding the teams in each department. Add users to each team and assign team leads. Each user in fluxday has an OKR that is created for a particular duration. Tasks are created by leads, aligned to an OKR and assigned to team members. A task could be a redesign of your product or trying out a new tool to drive more traffic to your blog. You can also add comments and subtasks on each task. Users log in work done for a task and number of hours put in each day. Team Leads can see tasks assigned to each team member and the number of hours put into it.

View details of tasks like assigned users, duration and priority. You can also add subtasks from here.

With textual and graphical reports from fluxday, get insights into the time put into each task, check the performance of your team members, calculate ROI on that new feature change, take quick decisions and grow your business. Fluxday is designed to provide a simple productivity solution for fast growing teams. Fork it, add features to it, tweak it to your liking and start using it.

Generate visual and textual reports to view performance of users. Chose between OKR, Worklogs, Tasks and Assignment based reports for an employee or employee groups.

fluxday is “your favorite task management system on steroids” with freedom of customization and private hosting

Checkout the official website and/or download and fork fluxday atgithub

Story of fluxday

We started Foradian in 2009 as first generation entrepreneurs without any experience in building and growing a company. First 3 years was about the usual startup struggles, surviving the startup-valley-of-death and establishing product market fit. By 2012 product-market fit was proven forFedena and certain predictable revenue stream was established. That is when we felt the need for a tool to coordinate the tasks of all the team members so that each and every task will be aligned to the goals of the company.

The best teamwork comes from men who are working independently toward one goal in unison. — James Cash Penney

That is when we learnt about OKRs (Objectives & Key Results) and other startups using OKRs. We started implementing the concept through spreadsheets and it picked up momentum. Next step was to choose an app for task management and productivity tracking so that we can reduce the number of daily interruptions to employees to check their work progress. We tried different apps available. There are thousands of apps for managing tasks and projects. But we needed something unique that matched with our culture and process. So we decided to develop a small custom app and fluxday was born. Sooraj T P developed the app based on the design byDeviprasad and guidance by Arvind(co-founder & CTO). I had observed this pattern in other successful companies also. Great leaders develop their custom app for their mission critical system. Read “How Elon Musk Approaches IT at Tesla

Lessons learned

Implementing a productivity tool is not an easy task. You need a lot of discipline and motivation to use even a simple personal to-do list app daily. So making sure your team members use the productivity tracking system effectively is a herculean task. We understood it, accepted it and simply executed the implementation. That made all the difference.

There will be team members who will hate the system and will not use it. Let them be. But if you can get 90% of the team members to adopt it, you got the greatest law of universe in your favor — mathematics.

Productivity tools should match with your personality type. A planner and visualizer can’t use the same productivity tool to maximum potential.

Are you a prioritizer? A planner? An arranger? Or a visualizer? Once you know, you’ll be able to more effectively manage your work and home life and achieve your goals much more efficiently. Read this HBR article and try the assessment to discover your personal productivity style. Don’t force a productivity system on your team. Develop an organization habit of using a common system with patience, compassion and respect.

Next steps

Today fluxday is not foradian’s secret tool. It is freely available to everyone. You can use it, customize it, enhance it, build a business around it, learn from it or if you don’t like it you can dump it and build another tool from scratch. Fluxday is available under Apache License 2.0 — so that you have the choice to keep the customization done by you as private or public.Download and fork fluxday

“through discipline comes freedom” — Aristotle

Team Foradian

If you liked the story of fluxday, you must checkout what we are doing with Fedena and Uzity. We are always looking for ideas and partners to help us achieve our vision.

Guest Post by Unni Krishnan, Foradian Technologies

2016 iSPIRT Annual Letter

AnHRA0C0tF4mI0qO-9WAwf-AXl383SqEDMGC9He_wzNoSeven years ago a band of volunteers came together to move the Indian software product ecosystem into the next orbit. Three years ago this movement became a think tank, iSPIRT. We pioneered the idea of building public goods without public money in India. Today, India has many software product Unicorns and many more are in the making. We are doing one M&A a month. India Stack is reshaping many sectors especially the financial sector. And, the Government of India recognizes the power of startups and have started changing their systems to enable us. This has been a long and a fun journey for us all. This letter captures what we have been up to, our learnings and our dreams.

Bharat Goenka, Jay Pullur, Naveen Tewari, Sharad Sharma, Vishnu Dusad

Governing Council, iSPIRT Foundation, 4th Feb 2016


Open Source and SAAS

While open source software is a fairly well understood in concept, I am always surprised how little it is understood in practice. At a round table of young product companies last month, there were a lot of raised eyebrows and questions when I explained our open source way of working.

Jordan Hubbard, co-creator of FreeBSD and open source veteran, spoke on this topic at this year’s ERPNext Conference, and he basically said this, open source business is all about people. Since the product is free, you sell services around the product, which is your people. This is mostly true for the very large majority of businesses that have mushroomed around open source projects, providing installation, hosting, customization, maintenance and other services around the product.

But there is now a new variable in the equation, SAAS (or Software-as-a-Service). It has been already accepted that SAAS is the way software is sold today. Listed companies like SalesForce, Xero, Zendesk, Workday, NetSuite, Hubspot, Shopify are testimony to the success of SAAS products and the billions of dollars that get spent on SAAS products each year. What does the future hold?

As on-premise is slowly moving into SAAS, I believe that SAAS itself will move into open source. Since the unevenly spread future is already here, there are companies already successfully doing open source + SAAS like WordPress, Ghost CMS, Magento, ERPNext (disclaimer: that’s us).

Open source + SAAS makes a great combination.

Benefits to the user:

  1. Open source products allow virtually unlimited possibilities to deeply integrate the product.
  2. There is a lot more risk in a closed platform, like price increase and slow pace of development.
  3. There is no vendor lock-in
  4. Free!

Benefits to the publisher:

  1. Not everyone wants to host their own infrastructure, this opens up opportunity to build a SAAS platform
  2. Provides word-of-mouth marketing
  3. Vibrant community attracts more users
  4. Community contributes by providing feedback, support, features, fixes, integration, testing, documentation
  5. A lot more incentive to write good code and documentation
  6. Much easier to find and on-board new developers to your team

Going open source is not easy. Business are built on the premise of transactions, and in open source, you have to be very open to giving and communicating without expecting immediate results. But once you cross a certain threshold, community participation can be extremely rewarding.

I am not advocating you open source your product today, but as Wikipedia has shown us, its only a matter of time before someone builds a mature open source product that might replace you.

Then there is no going back.

Julia – The Future of Numerical Computing and Data Science

First things first, we are really excited to announce our first JuliaCon India at Bangalore on Oct 9th and 10th. Julia Computing has partnered with Hasgeek for this event. For details and for registration, please visit

JuliaConJulia is the future of data science and analytics. Julia is open source, and its research and development have been anchored at MIT since 2009. Julia can easily be orders of magnitude faster than comparable solutions in interpreted dynamic languages such as R and Python, and is almost as fast as C (see This makes it possible to deploy Julia in production.

Valentine’s day of 2012 was a special day for Julia. Our Why Julia blog post went viral and the Julia website has since been visited by over a million people. Today, Julia is a vibrant community with over 400 contributors. Over 700 packages are available in Julia today, in addition to the thousands of other open source packages in R and Python that can also be called from Julia.

Based on hundreds of discussions with CXO level leaders worldwide over the last 12 months or so, we now have deep insights into the nature of technical and business problems that enterprises are grappling with, and how Julia is already playing a key role in helping solve such problems.

Many companies depend on cutting edge computing technologies to create a market differentiator. Over the years, such companies would have developed in-house languages and/or databases or other technologies that they use to create their business solutions. Examples of such companies are large and small financial services firms on Wall Street, banks, investment banks, hedge funds and others who use such technologies in their trading platforms, asset management, risk management, portfolio management and other kinds of applications. Other examples of such firms are e-commerce companies that need pricing algorithms, search algorithms, and other compute intensive code that uses large amounts of data and complex algorithms. Such companies have either started looking at or started using Julia for their next generation platforms.

Similarly, CIOs’ offices in large enterprises in retail, distribution, telecom, manufacturing and many other verticals wrangle with high performance data analytics using their big data stacks. Julia is an ideal computational companion for such big data analytics applications.

CTOs’ organizations that undertake product design in engineering firms that are using tools in computer aided engineering, CAD, finite element analysis, computational fluid dynamics and other kinds of simulations are looking at Julia to replace the older mathematical computation packages that are slow, unwieldy and expensive. Examples of such organizations are found in automotive, aerospace, government labs, space research, and many others.

Regulators around the world are increasingly worrying about safety. Financial regulators want algorithms that are auditable and don’t crash markets. Regulators who keep our cars and planes safe and our environment clean are increasingly worried about the software that runs on these devices. Health regulators want devices that monitor our health to have reliable software. Regulators worldwide are now thinking about open source as the only viable approach to safety. Languages such as Julia that are mathematically sound and safe, make it easier for businesses to write software and for regulators to inspect it. We invite the reader to watch this fascinating video on the use of Julia in avionics.

In the nascent world of the Internet of Things, Julia provides a common language for analytics on the device and the server where algorithms can seamlessly and automatically move back and forth, given the constraints of bandwidth, power, and processing. Do see this video on the use of Julia in 3d printing.

Julia Computing, Inc. is a company formed by all the creators of Julia. Julia Computing provides professional development and deployment tools for Julia, consisting of open source as well as proprietary components. Our customers love having a common language for development and deployment of analytics solutions. Their gains are easily quantified by the elimination of program rewrites for deployment, and the significantly faster time to market.

Again, we are really excited to announce our first JuliaCon India at Bangalore on Oct 9th and 10th. Julia Computing has partnered with hasgeek for this event. For details and for registration, please visit

Guest Post by Viral Shah & Deepak Vinchhi for Julia Computing.

Why You Should Attend the ERPNext Conference

In year 2000, Apple was lagging far behind Microsoft’s Windows Operating System and it seemed there would be no way it could catch up. In a brilliant and desperate move, Apple decided to build its next generation operating system using the best open source technology available at the time. Steve Jobs hired Jordan Hubbard, the co-creator of FreeBSD, a popular Unix distribution and a well known open source hacker to help build the best and the most secure operating system based on open source software. At this ERPNext conference, hear from Jordan how open source helped a company like Apple to build and commercialize some of the best technology we can use today.

Open source is the technology success story that few people talk about. Today the most trailblazing technology companies are not only dependent on open source, but are active contributors to it. Companies love to showcase their open source contributions not only to attract the best talent but also to build infrastructure components in a collaborative manner. And that is not all. Using open source allows companies to dive deep into their technology stack and integrate their processes to a level that is not possible with proprietary tools. And we have not even talked about the cost savings.

Along with Jordan Hubbard, you will hear from one of the most popular open source projects run out of India. Kovid Goyal was a graduate student in the US when he built an e-book converter for his use which he called Calibre. Kovid is now based in India and works full time on this project. Today Cailbre is actively used by 3 million users across 200 countries. Get to hear about this amazing journey from the author of Calibre and his views on how open source is helping millions of people use e-books without being tied to proprietary platforms.

By coming to the ERPNext Conference, you will learn how open source can transform your organization. If you ever had questions that you wanted answered, this is the event to come to. These are some of the questions you will get answers to

  1. How using Open Source will benefit my organization
  2. How are Open Source projects sustained
  3. Is Open Source software well designed.
  4. Can I get professional quality support for Open Source?
  5. Is is safe to use Open Source?
  6. Are Open Source enterprise tools mature?
  7. What is cost of using open source?

erpnextApart from this, there will be talks by ERPNext users and developers that will help you:

  1. Evaluate how ERPNext can benefit my organization
  2. Learn about the features of ERPNext
  3. Learn why ERPNext is one of the best designed enterprise applications available.
  4. Learn from other users of ERPNext
  5. Evaluate the state of the ERPNext project
  6. Learn how ERPNext can be extended and customized
  7. What is the process of implementing ERPNext

So if you are using Tally, Quickbooks, Sage, Microsoft Dynamics, Oracle, SAP (god forbid), you are really paying too much and getting too little from your current enterprise software.

Seating is limited, and registration is required (and will include lunch). So register your seat today.

Global Lean Sales – Selling your software online to global markets, without field-force #PlaybookRT

Last week I was going through the startup class videos and one particular statement by Sam Altman stuck with me. He said “All successful founders are fanatics”. And YCombinator has seen a whole bunch of them. The way he puts it is very awesome, let me reproduce the statement here:

“The word fanatical comes up again and again when you listen to successful founders talk about how they think about their product. Founders talk about being fanatical in how they care about the quality of the small details. Fanatical in getting the copy that they use to explain the product just right. and fanatical in the way that they think about customer support. In fact, one thing that correlates with success among the YC companies is the founders that hook up Pagerduty to their ticketing system, so that even if the user emails in the middle of the night when the founder’s asleep, they still get a response within an hour.Companies actually do this in the early days. Their founders feel physical pain when the product sucks and they want to wake up and fix it. They don’t ship crap, and if they do, they fix it very very quickly. And it definitely takes some level of fanaticism to build great products.”

Read the full talk here (later)

2014-10-18 15.23.57

This statement came alive for me yesterday when I met Pallav Nadhani, the founder of FusionCharts. As he walked us through how he built his company and sharing his experiences and wonderful insights in building his company, his fanaticism was apparent. I am sure everyone who was there, wanted some of it to rub on to them. Even though it was a “RoundTable”, I think Pallav had more experience than a lot of us and pretty much carried the group. He shared some very cool insights, with real life examples and actionable suggestions.

There were 11 of us, all selling business-to-business (B2B) products in the range of $1000 – $75,000, some online, some offline, most on a subscription model, some early stage, a few past the validation stage. Almost half of the founders depended on high touch sales and half had products that were Do-it-yourself. Here is a summary of the meetup:

Pallav’s Story

Pallav shared his story on how he started the company when he was 16, to get some pocket money. He made a charting widget for himself and then wrote an article about it, which became popular. Then one thing led to another and he now runs a company that publishes 90+ types of charts has 23,000 customers and 70 people. Some of the things that he focused from very early on was:

  1. Reduce all friction for the user who is evaluating the product.
  2. He promised his users that they would get their money back if they could not build the first chart in 15 minutes. That helped him simplify the on-boarding process and make it very easy for his users.
  3. He was a one person company for a long time and handled everything from developing the product, documenting it to doing customer support.


Pallav’s father is an author of 15 books on accounting and that gave him a strong foundation to document his product very well. This was particularly important since his target audience was developers who needed good documentation to use the product.

  1. Pallav himself wrote 3000 to 4000 pages of documentation and still reviews every word that is added by his team.
  2. Documenting the product gave him key insights as a user and helped him refine and debug the product.
  3. Every time someone asks a question. His team is forced to answer using a public document. This made sure that the same question did not get asked again and also created a good knowledge base for his product.
  4. He learned from his father on how to structure documentation (with headings, sub-headings etc) so that the reader can quickly find out the relevant sections to read.

There is another interesting anecdote. jQuery was a late entrant to javascript libraries and according to its creator John Resig, it was because it was the first one that was properly documented.

Marketing and First Impressions

Pallav’s hypothesis is that all sales / conversions are driven by “Fear” or “Greed” and products must highlight these in their marketing copy, specially the headling. He even asked all of us the rephrase the core message of our product to appeal to one of these emotions. I had strong reservations on whether this was correct and if this lead too to much focus on top of the sales funnel (new visitors). Either way, the group seemed convinced. While I thought it went went with Pallav’s aggressive and “switched-on” approach, I have my doubts if it works for all kinds of products. Products have the personalities of their founders embedded in them, and I feel its best to stick with the approach that goes best with the philosophy of the product and the creator.

Pallav also referred Kevin Hale’s analogy of building a customer relationship like a marriage and how the first visit of a customer on the website is like dating. For more on this, I would recommend Kevin Hale’s enlightening talks on the matter (later!).

Some other interesting points that were discussed were:

  1. Classify your traffic into different personas. For Fusion Chart, it is the Developer, Product Manager and Designer.
  2. Deeply understand each persona. Appreciate that they are overloaded with information and identify openings in their daily routines where you can reach them.
  3. For security startups, a weekly roundup of major reported breaches worked well when sent at 8.30 in the morning.
  4. Online marketing has evolved from “carpet bombing” to “sniper”. Audience have to be segmented and messages have to be finely targeted.
  5. It is important to reach the users main Inbox and not the promotions box. So keep the mail personal and do not add an unsubscribe link.
  6. Pallav showed how he used WebEngage for conducting surveys on their visitors and how he tested his hypothesis. For example, his survey would ask if a visitor intends to pay for the product on offer or select an open source alternative. Based on the feedback, Pallav said he would change the marketing copy.
  7. He also used VWO for A/B testing and showed us an example on which one of “HTML5 Charting” or “Javascript Charting” resonated more for the user.
  8. Asking feedback from customers who had evaluated a product was also important. A simple email with the subject “5 minutes of your time for 5 questions” gives Pallav great customer insight.
  9. He said he tests all kinds of hypotheses and keeps experimenting on the message. Examples:
    1. Do users like a simple or complex layout
    2. How many fields should a form have
    3. What colour a button should have

The attendees at PlaybookRTContent Marketing

We spent a whole bunch of time discussing and sharing great insights on Content Marketing. Sahil Parikh of shared his experiences in content marketing. He has built a product for the marketing community and started a blog with the purpose of reaching out to this community. It took him six months of building the blog before he saw some returns. He has hired two content writers and produces 3 to 4 blog posts a week. He shared that aggressive content marketing teams target producing one post a day. He also reached out to Indian authors on popular blogs like ZDNet and TheNextWeb and pitched the Indian product angle that got him attention. Sandeep Todi of shared that he bumped into a content writer for SiteHR, a popular HR portal and is how working with her to build content for his product.

Content marketing seemed like a favorite of strategy of a Lean Sales team but again it boils down to execution. It is very hard to product high quality content and as more and more people start getting good at it, the bar keeps on increasing.

Some content ideas / anecdotes shared were:

  1. Interview / Talk Show Series: Publish interviews with customers and thought leaders in the domain
  2. Use big brands in your blog posts. Examples from Fusion Charts:
    1. How Unilever / Walmart / P&G uses data visualization
  3. Act on industry events:
    1. Security Breaches
    2. Flipkart Billion Day flop
    3. Home Depot breach
  4. “News Jacking” – Connect popular news items to your product.
    1. GangamStyle in numbers
    2. Infographics on FIFA World Cup
    3. 10 infographics on Fitness Apps
  5. Put customer logos on your site, content unless the customer objects. Don’t mention it in your contract or it will trigger a red flag.
  6. Allow your site content to be reproduced.
  7. Curate, collate good content from other site and credit the original author.
  8. Get quotes from industry influencers, the will also ReTweet your content.
  9. Speed is of essence. Create great content quicly (yeah right!).
  10. Publish whitepapers. They are popular with higher management.

Sales Funnel

Pallav walked us through the various parts of the sales funnel.

[From his slides]

  1. Awareness (ads, blog, event, word-of-mouth…)
  2. Initial Visit
    1. Different channels / different ROI
    2. Best channels = low cost, high ROI
  3. Engagement
    1. Trial, case study, whitepaper, anything that could give you email AND other information
  4. Nurturing
    1. Mix of product, marketing and sales
    2. Sales job: get the customer on the call and do aggressive follow up
  5. Closing
    1. Handover from sales to client success.
    2. Repeat business through subscriptions, up-sells or cross-sells.


There was a very heated discussion on pricing. Pallav was of the mainstream industry opinion that price is a reflection of value. The higher the price, the better the quality of customers and revenue. There was a discussion on discounts and how in high touch sales, discounts are a bane. Here Pallav shared that adding artificial constraints to negotiate. For example, you can extend the support by 3 months instead of giving a discount, or increase the number of servers etc.

Open Source

There was some resistance and suspicion from the group in discussing this and understandably so because of the nature of the software products business that depends on Intellectual Property Rights. We did touch upon this briefly and why based on our (ERPNext) experience we see open source as a great way to not only reach out a new generation of users but also believe in an alternative way of doing business.

2014-10-18 15.24.15Conclusion

It was great to learn from Pallav, and we thank him for sharing so many suggestions and learnings. Also a big thanks to him for openly sharing specific insights and walking us through an A/B test or testing an hypothesis. This is also a great initiative by Avinash Raghava and iSPIRT, the think-tank/lobby group for Software Products to bring together entrepreneurs so that they can share tips and build networks. It would have been a bit better if there was more unstructured time so that there would be better interaction between the group, to build deeper relationships between the founders. Also a big thank you to for hosting the event and providing lunch.

Finally what really matters is execution. For me the biggest takeaway was that the product is a reflection of the creator / founder and it was important that the founders are obsessed with each detail of the product and its quality and also work with the energy that is required to do so much work. For that it is important that they see success early on as Pallav did and the once they are on to something they make sure that they do not lose it.

Specifically, for me it reminded me that its time to go back to fixing the documentation!

Redefining Enterprise Software with Open Source

Everyone knows that Enterprise Software is bloated with un-necessary fat. And the fat shows clearly in the way sales happens. In the latest book by Venture Capitalist Ben Horowitz, he shares a story where in order to please a customer, they went and acquired a company, whose product was liked by the purchasing manager, so that they could bundle its software with theirs and win the contract. So clearly politics wins and the product is something that is incidental. I assume a whole bunch of million dollar deals happen like this. I have personally heard a story from from a smart sales person who sold a software worth Rs 1cr to a very large Indian corporate house and that software barely was ever used. I knew he was not bluffing because the purchaser, a high ranking corporate manager was standing next to him. Relationships sell, not products.

Contrast this with Consumer Software Products. Apple sells a beautiful piece of hardware (a computer + phone) and a complex operating system with amazing design for just $600 and makes 39% margin on it. I am sure the software that goes in the iPhone is worth thousand times more and is infinitely more complex than the piece of crap sold by Ben Horowitz or the smart sales guy. The difference is only in the volume. Given enough volume, great software need not be bloated or expensive. This gap between consumer and enterprise software is what ERPNext plans to bridge.

With ERPNext, we are going one step further. Not only are we pricing the product way below the market but also giving it away for free. To remove the fat, we did away with our entire sales team and started to make it easier for our customers to download and use our product for free. What this has done is that it has given us traction and a community. This community is our marketing engine that has consistently taken the ERPNext brand forward and we take pride when ERPNext is proposed as one of the “mature” open source ERP on third party forums. Whats more, this strategy has attracted sponsors who have volunteered to pay us money to accelerate the development.

Being an Open Source product, opens up opportunities that are usually not accessible to proprietary products. Software vendors and partners are already bundling ERPNext along with their offerings and plugins are being built. As the publisher, our focus is on continuously improving the quality of the product and helping the community with deployments and functional help. We so much diverse feedback, it is only natural that the product keeps improving.

To take this platform to the next level, we are hosting a conference in Mumbai on September 25th where we plan to bring together users, developers and partners to brainstorm ideas and identify opportunities growth. We would also like to invite the larger Indian software ecosystem to participate in this community driven and open source project.

To register for the conference, please go to the ERPNext Conf. site.

OpenSource: The Most Underused Strategy by Indian Software Product Companies

Open Source has been quietly making its mark. Kickstarter just completed a billion dollars in crowdfunding. A lot of the work funded via Kickstarter is licensed for public use. Because the initial capital is pitched in by lots of people, the creators have a lot of incentive to give it back to the people.

The Do-It-Yourself community in both software and hardware is also on the rise. This is an early adopter and very influential community. The promise of free software promoted by Richard Stallman is no longer a promise. A lot of the backend tools you are using to build your software product are already Open Source. So why not take the next step and make your product Open Source too.

Adapt or Become Extinct

Five years from now, the product you are building will be replaced by an open source alternative.

Ok, maybe ten years from now. But it is going to happen. In the long run, as more and more libraries and mature frameworks become available, the barrier to entry to make a new open source product will reduce further. Deployment will become easier and the ecosystem will provide easy to install platforms. Right now, there is a dearth of high quality, usable open source tools, but it just takes one motivated developer to change that.

Unfortunately in India, we do not have too many examples of Open Source software products. We at ERPNext, open sourced our product a few years back and now we are seeing the benefits. We spend very little time worrying about surface level things such as Customer Acquisition Costs and A/B Testing, because our users and customers come looking for us. Sometimes, there is a cherry too. A German company just wired us $5000 because they wanted us to listen to them when we decide the product roadmap.

Getting Started

So if you are considering going the Open Source way, here are some pointers:

1. Believe in Open Source: There are no half measures here. There are tons of projects on sourceforge and GitHub that are dead because there is no documentation, or are not deployable or not updated. If you are going Open Source, go the whole way.

Another annoying strategy some projects follow is that they make a part of the product open and some parts paid. This is something like the freemium model. Avoid this, you will never win true followers this way.

2. Documentation: Prepare good documentation for users and developers. I had read an interesting comment by John Resig (the creator of JQuery) on why JQuery became the standard leaving all others aside. He had said that JQuery was simply the best documented project. As a developer just remember the time when you came across a badly document API or library. This is very hard and is a huge investment, but its a very important step for going ahead.

3. Make it Deployable: Give your users a good development environment and a production environment. Unless your users can deploy your solution in production, there is no chance of you getting feedback, or issues or contributions. And when you make it deployable also make the upgrade scripts public, so people can easily upgrade your software. Ever really noticed when Chrome or Firefox upgrades? Make it as easy as possible for your user.

When you do all of this, you will automatically start following a lot of best practices, because suddenly not only are your users your customers but also developers.

Cloud and Open Source

As virtualization and cloud gets more popular, Open Source will be the direct beneficiary. Already platforms like Bitnami specialize in creating free deployable VMs for Amazon and DigitalOcean. Soon, it will be easy for anyone to start using Open Source products on the cloud.

We at ERPNext give away VMs for free, but they can also become a source of revenue.

Business Models

The most obvious doubt you will have when you think about Open Sourcing is what will happen to your current revenue, will your customers stop paying you? Think again. Open Source is no longer a pariah to venture funding. Scalable business models can be built around Open Source. MongoDB and RethinkDB are great examples. MongoDB got funded at a valuation of a billion dollars. Here are some revenue sources:

1. Hosting: WordPress makes money off blogs hosted at – they own the brand.

2. Support: RedHat and all the Open Source databases make their money out of support.

3. Implementation and Deployment: SugarCRM, OpenERP and others make money via their partner network, who in turn give implementation, deployment and training services to their customers.

4. Sponsorship: As your property gets more and more visitors on the web, it will be a great opportunity to find sponsors. Examples Mozilla and others.

5. Consulting: Over high value consulting to paying customers. Enterprises are already paying huge sums to licensed vendors. With money on the table, they will be happy to buy premium consulting from your company. Example, PerconaDB

Let Us Lead

The sharing economy has already begun and is going to be the future. India is coming from behind as far as the software product revolution is concerned, but Open Source can be a great enabler in helping all of us break in.

The Buddha never patented the eight-fold path and neither did Patanjali copyright Yoga. Knowledge grows when you share it and same is true for software. The more used your software becomes, the better it will get and the faster you will reach to nirvana.

To open source or not….

Ashok was perturbed. In Jan 2006, an eastern European company had taken his source code, made minor changes and started selling it under an alternate brand name at a reduced price. Ashok’s company Chartengo was a pioneer in Adobe Flash based charting software that helped users create charts for data visualization. Its charts were perceptibly superior to any available on the market. The company had five employees and revenues of $500,000 in 2006. It used to offer source code with its USD 99 developer version of the product. A growing business like Chartengo was sandwiched between free libraries on the Internet and large data visualization vendors (revenues > $100 million) on the other. In between it also had to content with few hundreds of competitors. The possibility of a vendor infringing on Chartengo IP in some distant corner of the globe was high.

Chartengo did not have a legal team so they contacted a firm that specialised in copyright infringements. The firm quoted $250,000 to file a suit but there would be additional fees for court appearances. besides the unaffordable legal fees, Ashok was apprehensive about the stance an eastern European court would take in this matter. He decided to forego the legal route. He talked to development team and few experts outside. A surprise suggestion with overwhelming majority was – make your product code open source. They said open source code will make it difficult for infringers to compete. Why should customers pay for a code that is open source from the original vendor? Ashok’s team of developers was thrilled with the idea of open sourcing their code. It would accelerate innovation and save them time developing everything themselves. They felt perhaps the customers would also be happy. They could also see an opportunity for higher revenues. The open source would probably draw more customers, especially those who were sceptic of dealing with a small company like Chartengo.

Ashok had so far found it the best strategy to protect its intellectual property. He believed innovation would only happen if it could be exploited for exclusive financial benefits of the innovator. How could he even think of handing over his crown jewels to the infringers in the marketplace? The thought of handing over his IP to these hackers and letting them enter their random untested code into it thus contaminating its pure quality was appalling to Ashok. He clearly saw his competitive advantage evaporating with opening his source code. Yet, at that time, open source was rising like a tsunami? Apart from individuals hacking into your code, well-funded companies were also doing so. There was passion about open source. Even customers were enamoured by open source culture. It was turning into a religion.

The question is – what should Ashok should do?