Growing your Community
Excitement is contagious, even when it comes to tiny projects created by start-up businesses. So if your core team is pumped from day one, any potential candidates that might wish to work with you will immediately sense your motivation and be more inclined to stick with you through the long haul.
The same can be said with your users. In-office video, documenting 'all-nighters' and even flying in your most hardcore volunteer developers for a party, can do wonders to keep things moving full steam ahead on the development front.
With the average user, however, you need to demonstrate a reason why they should care right up front. Flash-whiz-bang-hoopla only goes so far with most people. So get them pumped early, but have enough motivation with your development team, coupled by timely release dates and valuable features that are not soon labeled as vaporware, thus later on ignored.
I would also suggest that maintaining a project blog, staying on top of developer recognition, and seeking out honest feedback from your users are all critical to developing a solid open source community for your product. Enlist help from other developers, as this gives them a voice while preventing you from simply becoming another 'talking head' maintaining a blog.
Also consider other interactive endeavors such as Logo contests, fan-made videos about your eventual beta release and other community driven efforts to further solidify your fan-base. Each of these, when working together, can produce well deserved community buzz that will ensure better project motivation and longevity.
Listen to Your Users - Always
Perhaps the single most important thing to remember when taking your brand new start-up company into the wilds of open source development is that your users always come first. As valuable as the development team may be, without your users, the created software is merely a concept.
So when a user contacts you with an idea, ask for a community vote before deciding whether its worth considering. Why? Because your company does not actually own the software youre helping to manage - everyone who uses it 'owns' it. Making blanket decisions as if this was a closed source application can prove deadly to the successful open source project.
Open Source Works for Those Who Understand the Basics
Many of you considering open source as a development platform have likely already decided that this is not compatible with your company's core mission - making money.
My response? You're right. Even though you can derive a substantial income from open source software, there is no question that closed source offers you money quicker, easier and with much less time invested.
Companies that develop open source applications are demonstrating to their users that they are interested in the application at hand, not just the money. Most open source applications were created around a need, only later to find themselves in a position where income could be generated for the sponsoring company or group.
So when you are drafting your business plan for that next brilliant idea of yours, remember this article. Choose open source development because you are passionate about the software youre helping to create, not just looking to make a fast buck. Otherwise, your software will age and the interest in what you have created will fade away. Users are often smarter than we think. And they have a nasty habit of seeing through shallow intentions.