Two Can Play this Game - Trial By Fire 2
Part two of a continuing series on unique business challenges facing open source projects and businesses.
Let's say that you have a successful open source project or business: Customers love the low cost and flexbility. Venture capitalists are beating a path to your door. Even slashdotters think you're cool.
Then, one morning, you wake up and find that--
Think it can't happen? Ask yourself this:
- How many razor companies give away the razor to sell blades?
- How many printer companies give away the printer to sell cartridges?
- How many cell phone comopanies give away the phone to sell services?
This is a risk every open source project and open source software company needs to plan for.
If your open source strategy is just about the lowest price, then you have a real problem. Once your competitors respond by waiving licensing costs, what advantage do you have?
Fortunately, open source can be about more than just price. Because it creates a high level of user involvement, an open source project can provide some unique benefits that are priceless. For example:
- Can community testing and patches help you produce higher-quality software?
- Can community input focus your development efforts and make you more efficient?
- Has the open source development process made your code more modular and cleaner?
- Does your source code really offer customers greater flexibility?
- Can you build a global, distributed development model and innovate faster, better than your competition?
- Are your users more loyal because they are part of a real community, rather than just passive licensees? Will they go evangelize for you?
In the end, your commercial competitors may be doing you a favor by waiving their licensing fees. They will draw away users who were just interested in "free." Now you can focus on a core customer base which really appreciates the true value of your offering. By re-focusing on its needs, you will eventually emerge stronger.