Open Source Start-Up: Blueprint for Success

A cash-strapped open source team can improve their chances by following these principles.
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Common sense has a funny way of prevailing, even though perceived business trends appear to dictate otherwise. I am of course speaking of cash-strapped companies looking to cut down on their software development costs. In years past, creating a new software product simply meant having access to a pool of programming talent, enough for a timely release. Unfortunately, this takes substantial time and capital.

The rules have changed as exclusive proprietary development is no longer the only option to meeting the software release deadline. These days, open source development offers an attractive alternative to closed source development expense.

Below, I will outline my blueprint for open source success based on my dealings with various developers and open source companies, as I have closely examined their successes and failures.

Attracting Developers

No matter how impressive you find your open source project idea, the fact remains that it has to offer some kind of incentive to attract outside development help. The best approach is a combination of offering a sense of ownership within the project, and making sure the potential developer(s) knows before ever applying that their efforts will indeed be valued.

Gestures such as simply placing their name next to a public page explaining a proposed bug fix, improvement or new feature idea can go a long way toward demonstrating individual value working within the project development collective. Along with this, coming to them with other ideas or challenges you are facing will also help them feel involved. After awhile, they’ll want to spend even more time getting "their" project off the ground.

One other factor that must be considered is the barrier to contributing as a developer. Does the potential developer need to spell out their life story or await a lengthy approval process simply to contribute to the developing project?

If this is the case, don’t expect the limited number of developers available to flock to your project only to spend the better part of the week waiting to 'meet with company guidelines.' The simple fact of the matter is that this is not going to happen. They contacted your company to help develop a project that they obviously identify with – not to be screened like a common job applicant.

Membership has its Privileges

The final advantage that I think start-up companies have over most "not-for-profit" endeavors is the ability to reward volunteer developers with potential for eventual employment. A large number of companies that 'sponsor' open source projects that later become self-sustaining have the advantage of hiring from a pool of proven professionals, experts who have clearly demonstrated their value without spending any company cash in training.

For example, if I start off as a developer for the ABC Project, hosted and sponsored by ABC Inc., my efforts may one day be seen as valuable enough that I could eventually get paid to work on a project that I am already passionate about versus the job that I go to everyday where I am merely punching a clock. You'd be surprised at how often these circumstances take place and how quickly that person is ready to shift gears in your company's favor.

If offering eventual employment is not something that fits your company profile, perhaps you’d want to consider a strong revenue share instead. If an open source music management application opt to share their music store revenue with me as a developer, based on a development ticketing system that I helped with, therefore giving me a piece of the revenue pie, I’d be quite motivated to continue working with this project!

Offerings like this, much like AdSense, put me in charge of my own future and allow me to make or break my own success.

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