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Building an open-source business? Some tips

Open-source businesses are not rocket science, but here are a few tips to make them work for you. Zack Urlocker of MySQL fame offers some key principles.

Zack Urlocker of MySQL fame was at the Stanford Accel Symposium earlier this week and, along with some other open-source heavyweights, participated on a panel that attempted to cull some lessons learned in building open-source businesses.

If you didn't get to attend the event, don't panic. Urlocker has written up a few key principles.

Here are two of my favorites:

  • You want to build on the momentum and goodwill of the community to drive adoption, but it's not about trying to sell to the hard-core community. They are your evangelists. You need to operate transparently to earn the trust of the community.
  • Find a way to distinguish between capabilities that businesses want and individual community members may not even care about. For example, Scott Dietzen mentioned e-mail features related to archiving and compliance issues are really only relevant to larger companies. And as he noted, community members will even support the the idea that if you need those features, you should pay.

This last principle has become conventional wisdom in the open-source business community, but it's still not widely understood. Jaspersoft CEO Brian Gentile recently did a good job of explicating this "open core" model, and I've spilled my share of digital ink on the topic, as well.

The critical thing will be to ensure that open-source business doesn't become so pragmatic that it loses sight of its ideals. If it does, it will become just like the world it has tried to leave behind.

Follow me on Twitter at mjasay.