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.
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.
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 WordPress.com – they own the brand.
2. Support: RedHat and all the Open Source databases make their money out of support.
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.