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I am (unsuccessfully) trying to fund a year of OSS work – where did it go wrong?
33 points by ribasushi on Nov 10, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 13 comments
I am a "niche owner" within a no-longer-booming-yet-very-healthy language ecosystem. 40 days ago I started a crowdfunding drive https://www.tilt.com/tilts/year-of-ribasushi-help-him-focus-on-cpan-for-2016/description specifically targeting my largest corporate users. So far there are only 3 notable corporate pledges - 2 x $6000 and 1 x $2000. Another $8200 came from individual non-corporate donors, contrary to the central idea of the campaign.

With 50 days to go, I am at a loss where did things go wrong. My original thinking:

- By most conservative estimate (1700h/year, a far cry from reality) I am essentially asking for $70/h

- The main library I provide is robust, developed in a very conservative no-hype fashion. Its feature set has no alternatives within its ecosystem, with some features being unique across any similar projects in any language.

- I, as an individual developer, have strong and positive name recognition within the ecosystem

- I know of (and contacted) at least 34 companies having built massive products on top of this library.

Clearly this is not coming together as I expected. I have several courses of action:

- Double down on publicity, despite the already critical mass of engineers across the ecosystem expressing all kinds of thumbs up, goading higher-ups into pledging. The campaign risks turning into a true grass-roots crowdfund obscuring the main point: Too much is at stake business-wise if a sudden drop of quality occurs, while the un-fun grueling work continues solely as "civic duty".

- Exert more pressure on my corporate contacts: This is... difficult. Publishing the text and doing the initial round of "passing the hat" was bad enough. I fear a second time will "overdo it".

- Wait: perhaps various contacts did not have sufficient time to get approvals. If I am wrong - more time is lost.

- Give up early: This is actually the easiest one of all... though I feel I have not exhausted all my options.

What do you think?

You could add a line after the "$70/h", explaining that your normal tariff is something like "$120/h" or "$150/h", but that you learned that long-term commitment, i.e. work 1,700 h/year, often means a lower tariff, because of job security.

You think that passing the hat once was bad enough and that a second round will overdo it. If Liz and I would have thought that in 1994, we would not have become the first Dutch company making websites, and not getting many of the biggest Dutch companies and institutions. Of course you will do a second round. They might say no, or ignore you, but they might say yes. Make your explanation clearer. Did you go to the top of the companies that you ask for support?

Companies are more than willing to pay for software, but there's little incentive when they would otherwise get it for free and you're asking for a charity handout. I'm sorry but that's just reality. If I were you, I'd figure out a way to earn money off of your project, perhaps by going open core and making a premium version with business-friendly features.

I found these blog posts valuable:



Relatedly, this is why I intentionally didn't make my newest project open source. The project is DataDuck ETL (http://dataducketl.com/) - if it were open source, companies would have used it for free and I'd be stuck maintaining and supporting them for free. Instead, I've already made five figures off of it, and it has only been out for a few months. I'm calling this "Supported Source" (http://supportedsource.org/) and I encourage anyone to follow this same business model. In short, the code is publicly available online, and I'm open to collaborating or receiving commits, but companies need to buy a license to use it beyond a free trial. This is not open source, I agree, but it's similar to open source in many ways, and ultimately more sustainable than open source for certain types of projects.

It's probably too late for your project but if you want to make money sustainably from it, I think you're going to have to move away from the charity model and more towards selling licenses with an open core or Supported Source business model. Or just regularly ask for donations and lower your expectations until its better aligned with what you're finding you can make.

Be honest. Let others know how much progress has been made and how far it is from the goal.

Consider the alternatives:

   + walk away and let somebody else or nobody else take over.
   + go to work somewhere where maintaining the project
     is part of your ordinary duties.
   + work on it full time even though the funds aren't quite
     what you would wish.
The last requires separating the reasons for working on the project. Part of it may be for the money. Part of it may be because working on the project is just what you do. $70.00 per hour is just a number, and a discounted one. If working on the project makes you happy, then getting bogged down over a number is a road to unhappiness.

My gut tells me that explaining the number as "$70.00 per hour" gives users an excuse to devalue your work. Even though this it's clear that you're offering the "friends and family" rate, if you were halfway to $170 per hour, you'ld be where you want to be.

Good luck.

The number mentioned is not "for me", but for the sake of (the surprising amount of) peers who commented offline that 120~150k/year is "asking too much" for a practically unique set of expert hands.

But you are right: I am not making the situation that I am "about to walk" clear enough, despite the longish writeup in the campaign body. I'll look into remedying this soon.


Burnout is a problem with open source like any other software development modality or career in general. If it is burnout, then the money probably won't make as much difference as might be hoped. Depending on the donors, it may make things worse if donating the money gives them a sense of entitlement to make demands in regard to features or overall direction.

To put it another way, if you're ready to move on, it's probably best to move on.

I am a stickler for "maximizing utility", to a fault: https://twitter.com/ribasushi/status/623869810598768640 Given my position there is little else I can currently do that will have the same impact in absolute terms.

So burnout or not - executing this fundraiser as a last-ditch option is kinda... obligatory.

To answer these questions, I think you need to be talking to these companies that you think would/should donate. Finding out what they want or need (from you or DBIx::Class et al in the coming year) is most important. Maybe their budgets are frozen until EOY, maybe you need more time to allow for purchasing, or maybe you aren't providing enough tangible benefits to justify bringing this to their management -- all questions you could uncover.

I would say that companies need more tangible benefits here, they can't justify a feel-good purchase price of $6-12k. I don't think you'll get into marketing budgets with an ad buy on your laptop. I know it's not part of the Perl community to create a website for your library, and it likely wouldn't have the impressions needed to attract any marketing interest either way, so maybe that's the wrong angle.

If DBIx::Class et al are integral to these companies, offering more options for support retainers at lower levels might justify the spend for more companies in the middle ground.

Anyways, I don't know the answer here, and I'm going through the same problems myself. I think you need push forward with all courses of action (save giving up early). Widen your pool of possible contributors, talk to those possible contributors you have a relationship with, and give it some time.

I think it's unrealistic to expect 2/3 of your corporate users to pitch in $6k to support one of the many OSS projects they use. Not because it's trivial to build or anything, but expecting those kinds of rates is just setting yourself up for failure.

If you really want money from them, figure out what it is they want from your library, maybe they're perfectly happy with how it is, maybe the work you're proposing is completely irrelevant to them.

> I think it's unrealistic to expect 2/3 of your corporate users

I didn't phrase myself with sufficient clarity (2000 chars and all): the project itself has an enormous footprint. It is essentially the ORM/SQL-generator of choice in the Perl5 ecosystem.

What I meant by "I know of (and contacted) at least 34 companies" was the corporate users whose senior engineers and/or CTOs I know personally.

I think you may want to consider focusing more on concrete goals, and what funding will provide to backers.

For example, see https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/tomchristie/django-rest... which is widely used Python library. In that campaign, it is easy to see how much time the author would be able to continue to commit to the project at various funding levels, and specific features they will implement.

Even if the commitment at a certain level is just being able to provide on-going bug fixes, this shows the value to the company rather than backing being presented as a thank-you for previous work.

Think I agree with the above actually, making the software goals up front and centre would certainly help the case.

I realise there are a bunch of goals there, but having them nearer the top and with a one line description of what they actually mean in the grand scheme would help a corporate sponsor understand more what they are funding.

For instance, what does '(70%) Proper relationship options/conditions' actually mean. Does is make a performance boost, a productivity boost for my developers, a functionality boost (with functions we actual wan't/need), a stability boost.. or all of the above.

This might be clear to developers, but it's likely not developers who hold the purse strings. If one can point and say, this should make my developers more productive, or.. this 'should' (provided I'm making the most of it) increase the performance of my app is a much more tenable thing to put money into.

Do you have contact information for any of the people using your product? Admittedly I am at a university, not a regular business, but I don't think I could get a donation past the procurement office. If you offer to sell a support package you might do much better. A support contract is something that could get past most purchasing departments.

Suprised you got that much from corporates with only a single round. Go again, let them know that the campaign is going pretty well, but that more is needed for you to continue your work (that they rely on).

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