There are 2 types of businesses: those that are open and those that are closed. Specifically, this is about how much a business shares knowledge vs keeps to themselves. I choose to be open. That why I blog. That’s why I put my code on GitHub. That’s why my story is on IndieHackers. Knowledge is meant to be freely given, not held onto as some self preservation business tactic. The following rant is about open source and business. Proceed at your own risk ⚠️.
Businesses fall within a range of being open and closed.
Ok so saying “There are 2 types of businesses” is an over simplification. All businesses fall somewhere on a range of being open and closed. No business operates completely transparently. There needs to be some basic boundaries for sake of security. I mean you wouldn’t make your bank login public information. That would be stupid. That said other things like how much to share about business operations or business R&D are up to each business’s discretion.
Many business models exist solely on trade secrets and/or proprietary code.
They protect what they have. It’s built into their business model. Meanwhile other businesses are open and freely share everything they possibility can. No secret sauce, no proprietary code. Some even make public their internal revenue numbers (see Buffer’s Revenue Dashboard) and internal operation documents (see Human Made’s Handbook). While I’m not that transparent I aim to be :).
Anyone can release code publicly but embracing an open business model is something entirely different.
Releasing proprietary code publicly as open source is becoming a trend. Big business, whose entire business model is based on being closed, are starting to release code as open source. They seek all of the advantages that being open brings. Like more exposure, community, better customer involvement and etc. However this hybrid of open code yet closed business model comes with conditions.
Conditions like the code is open yet “only us can make money from it”. Or it’s open yet “all enhancements need to come back to our code base”. Or “don’t take our stuff and make money that is directly competing for us”. Removing those conditions requires a complete rethinking and embracing transparency as a core value. Transparency is not compatible with certain types of business models.
Open without restrictions. ☀️
Anyone who runs a business has full rights to decide how they want to run their business. I don’t claim that anyone needs to follow how I do things. I fully adopt the open without restrictions. In terms of licensing that typically means I try and release as much of what I do with the, do whatever you want, MIT License.
That means if you want to download all of Anchor Hosting’s custom code and directly compete for my customers, then do it. I have no clause or restrictions on my code. In fact, I go out of my way to tell others what and how I do it to encourage them to do what I do. If you want to resell hosting like me, read this blog post. If you want to see me as I develop my own WordPress maintenance toolkit then follow my CaptainCore updates. Providing value without restrictions just feels right. I wouldn’t want to do it any other way.
Retaining ownership over a competitive advantage is a distraction from your customers.
Business is about making your customers happy and solving problems. It’s not figuring out how to solve problems in such a way that only you have rights to make money from your solutions. Helping others should just be embedded in everything we do. If we discover a solution that benefits our customers why not freely share it with the world? Given enough time, any solution we make will eventually be recreated by others. By sharing first we become the experts of innovations not the exploiters of it. Everyone benefits.
We all need to pursue R&D, however R&D is not the lifeblood of a business. Sharing is. Learning, sharing and providing services is the normal cycle of business. Research and development is a part of the process and enables us to discover solutions. Freely sharing our discoveries will not inhibit us from making new discoveries. There is no license for innovation. We all can pursue new things and freely share what we find.
No one can steal what is freely given away and no one can steal your capacity to create new things.
If someone takes a piece of code that you’ve created and goes off to build a billion dollar business on top of it without giving you any credit or money…. don’t lose any sleep 💤. Be happy for that part you played. Business is all about implementation. They simply implemented your solution better than you, the creator, did. That’s OK.
If someone else can take what we’ve done and bring it to mass markets why should think we are entitled to their fortune? Maybe, just maybe, we are the type to come up with ideas and they are the type to spread them. We all have our own skillsets. Your capacity to solve new problems is not hindered in anyway by other people’s success. Anyone focused on solving problems will always have opportunity to make money. Solved one problem? Great, now solve a new problem.
Building a business fueled by giving not keeping. 🏆
So far this rant hasn’t address anything is regards to sustainable and building an open source business. For all of the talk of building sustainable open source businesses, why not flip that around? How about just focus on building a sustainable business whose business model isn’t based on any “secret sauce”.
No matter how you build a business, it’s hard work 💪. I wouldn’t say a business model of keeping secrets vs sharing will be any easier or harder. The point is a sustainable business is hard no matter how you pursue it. Being transparency in your business is simply a decision you make right from the beginning as you pick a business model.
The business model of Anchor Hosting is reselling hosting services. I do this by spending a large portion of my time making maintenance tools which increase my capacity and efficiencies. I don’t need to keep any of my solutions a “trade secret” as my business model makes money through selling support services not software.
Open source is simply the output of the kind of business that solves problems with intent on sharing everything.
Somewhere there needs to be a business structure in place that pays you to do work. You can just wake up one day and magically decide to work on open source full time or to give everything away. No, you will either need to find funding to do that or, better yet, create the type of business whose sole purpose is to give everything away with a business model that’s not in conflict of that core value.
Open source as you go about your business. This goes far beyond just publishing code publicly. It touches everything we do inside the business. Ever problem you solve either for yourself or for your customers is an opportunity to share and help others. Open source everything! 💡