Open Source Business

Cal Evans has a post talking about his experience at the Open Source Business Conference (OSBC). Just like many small businesses, especially web development shops, open source software is a critical tool for us at Found Line. However, I’d like us to be more then just consumers of open source software. It seems like most discussions about open source business focus on the large companies that sponsor open source projects. Where’s the business model for small businesses in open source? Small businesses like ours typically don’t start open open source projects but we can be a part of an existing project.

Sure, there doesn’t need to be a “business model” for companies like ours to contribute back to open source. I certainly see the value in contributing back to open source and would like to do so even without any clear picture of how it’s good for our bottom-line. But, in order for it to be part of a small companies business plan there needs to at least some basic understanding of how it contributes to the business’ overall success. Here are few arguments I can make for why a small business should contribute back to open source software:

  • It helps to ensure that the open source software your business relies on survives and thrives.
  • It can help attract talent. With proprietary software there is a bigger risk that everything an employee learns and creates is left behind if they switch jobs. A job may look more attractive to a potential employee if they know that their efforts will not stay within a “walled garden.” In other words, open source software and open standards are transferable skills.
  • Your business can have more of a “vote” when it comes to the direction and features of the open source software that you use. Those who contribute the most to open source projects get the most say in what direction the project goes in and what features are added. Features that are important to your business can be added to the software that you use.
  • You can claim that you are an open source contributor, not just a consumer. This can also communicate legitimacy and experience to potential clients.

These are just a few that I came up with. I would love to hear if anyone has additional benefits to add to this list.