Why open source businesses succeed

There have been a lot of spectacular open source business successes.  MySQL and JBoss come to mind as recent enormous payoffs through acquisition, but there are plenty of others that get less press.  Sun and Redhat themselves are huge open source drivers.

Just like anything else, I’m sure there are plenty of open source failures, but there seems to be a lot of successes these days.

SugarCRM, Alfresco, Pentaho…what makes a business choose to go open source?  There are a lot of reasons, including marketing, user base, license mandates (e.g., GPL based), belief system, etc. Ask any individual business and they can probably tell you.

But what makes an open source product into a successful business.  I think there is, if not a univesal answer, at least a common denominator, and it has nothing to do with shaggy hippies in birkenstocks, even if the founders are shaggy hippies in birkenstocks.

Actually, since a number of them are just that, or other variants anti- or asocial types, their business success is all the more remarkable.What I think is the critical factor has nothing to with how they dress or what they believe.

The successful conversion of an open source team into a business is because you already have a built in team.  The “team” is what makes the business.  And the team is self-selected.  That’s a huge advantage.

People don’t apply for a job to work on an open source project. They don’t do it for the money.  First, they start to use it because they’re interested in the product.  That’s market research that can’t be bought.  Second, the stay and contribute because they like the team.  So if you have an open source team that works well together, you’re way ahead.

How many jobs have you had where you liked eveyone you worked with?  How many would you still show up for if they stopped paying you?  An open source team can answer yes to that.  Everything else is just accounting.

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