Open Source: welcome to the world of contradiction

A brilliantly sparky CEO Tales last week. Thanks to everyone who participated and we will be putting up a more detailed description of the discussion on the blog shortly. In the meantime, here’s our first impressions:

Don’t let the community ethos of Open Source mislead you: this is no hippy cottage industry, but a mature approach to software development providing a serious alternative to enterprise software for a lot of different industries. As our panel showed, there are serious businesses making serious money here. Still, it takes a bit of getting used to. How do you make a business by making your intellectual property available to competitors, investing heavily in building a community (for free) and giving your product away for nothing?

It turns out there are a great many ways of doing this, as Jack Lang (Raspberry Pi) said: ‘Open Source doesn’t have to mean free.’ Between them, the panel had revenue from a range of things:

  • hardware sales
  • professional support services
  • maintenance services
  • configuration services

In short, once you have expertise around an Open Source product, you have something saleable. Other things that grabbed our attention:

  • The rule of thumb that new Open Source products in a market will tend to shrink that market but the first decent Open Source player can then take 40-60%.
  • Asked to say what they were selling in one word, the panel emphasised the importance of Open Source as a service: ‘a brand, peace of mind, happiness, a platform, experience.’
  • Open APIs are going to be really important ‘It’s only a matter of time before enterprises realise that open APIs are a great way to expand markets.’ (Kirk Wylie, OpenGamma)
  • Building and managing Open Source communities is a very delicate job. They need trust, honesty and consistency, but also strong leadership: ‘A strong guiding vision and support is crucial in successful Open Source projects’ Jane Silber (Canonical)
  • Open Source can still be high margin, if the product is complex and customers critically depend on it, there is high value add.

So all in all a great evening. We were blown away by the potential here, and were left thinking we have only scratched the surface and there might be a chance to look at things in a bit more in depth? So…

If we produced a one day open source event that gives us more time and space to look at the challenges in growing business based on open source, would you be interested? What topics would you like discussed? We thought a mix of keynotes, panels, some workshops? What do you think? Would you pay to attend? Who would you like to hear from? Would you be interested in sponsoring? I’m guessing we don’t need to ask about PowerPoint?

We’d love to hear from you: answers to Mark or Hermione (email for both is or to us on Twitter @the_BLN, or even on a postcard, if it suits you.