April 24, 2019

From Contributors to Customers: How Open Source Projects Turn Into Successful Businesses - page 3

From Open Source Project to Business Model

  • September 26, 2005
  • By Maria Winslow

It is critical for businesses based on open source software to get to know who buys, and what they need. What are their important issues? Support? Improved ease-of-use? Improved documentation? Training? Customer needs drive sales, so it's important to step back and examine how the project can best provide for those needs.

You will invariably interact with two sets of users: the ones who pay and the ones who don't. Successful projects will find the right balance between the two. The paying customers will generally expect better treatment. Learn to love hand-holding. Unfortunately, software engineers are too often scornful of anyone lacking intimate knowledge of the code, and this attitude must be discouraged. The RTFM (read the $%&! manual) mentality that may be acceptable in the earlier stages of an open source project is the kiss of death now. A patient, helping attitude must be cultivated in the entire organization, and it must come from the top.

Tarus Balog, who formed OpenNMS, Inc. as a support company for the open source network management tool OpenNMS, has learned to shift to a customer focus. He understands that it is critical to go the extra mile for existing customers: "Work hard for your customers. Open source commercial customers are hard to get. It is much easier to keep a customer than to find one, so be sure to focus on those that you have. It's too easy to spend your limited time finding new customers versus helping the old ones, but in the long run keeping your customers happy will bring success."

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