Do you share your secret ingredient with others or keep it hidden away under lock and key? Imagine dining at a restaurant that serves 100% locally sourced produce. Alongside your meal, you’re given the full recipe. You know exactly what’s in the meal and where the ingredients came from. Better yet, you’re free to make the meal yourself, improve it and share the altered recipe with others.
Open-source is a recipe. It is a philosophy on how to share code, design a product, build communities, customers and capital. ‘It refers to any programme whose source code is made freely available for use or modification as users or developers see fit, it is usually developed as a public collaboration’ – (Wikipedia).
Most of us are already using open source in some way. It is integral for anyone doing business, whether or not you subscribe to the ethics of it. Wikipedia, WordPress, and desktop 3D printers would not be possible without open collaboration. Say you want to set up a free blogging website and you decide to use a free WordPress platform, that is open-source. Everything powering websites, in particular, Linux (the underbelly of a lot of servers) is open-source. Every programming language, every database, all open-source. Using open-source as a resource for tools and information, you can spend more time focused on the problems you are solving and less time creating new software from scratch.
The open-source philosophy exponentially multiplies knowledge, effort, inspiration, creativity, capital, and customers. It means you don’t have to know everything about everything, but can build on the expertise of other specialists. If you can see how others are doing things and learn from them then you can focus on your business passion first and foremost.
So how do you apply open-source to your startup? Here are three tips:
Open-source is about trust. If you base your business on open source, the community will value your transparency. This will help you gain credibility, customer acquisition, and customer retention.
Open-source provides a competitive advantage. Having components of your business out in the open, based on a collectively-generated set of rules/code/values, is often seen as an insurance policy against anything catastrophic happening to your company. Particularly with software, if your business disappears, the tech/science/code is still supported by an open community.
Open-source focuses you on value. Not having proprietary technology, processes or business mechanisms creates a necessity around delivering value rather than relying on an algorithm to stay ahead of the game.
Finally, open source doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You could use open-source for your special sauce and keep the main bit of your dish closed-source if you wanted to protect the secret ingredient. Most great dishes use open-source recipes for at least some of their components. You can use a mix of open source platforms with some proprietary technology to deliver excellent profitable customer solutions and by sharing recipes of the food you serve, your service will feel authentic. Let open-source support your product, influence the service you provide and fuel your community.
Mikey has been involved with the open-source community for a few years now, he fell into the space naturally by following his passion for publishing content openly. He doesn’t feel any attachment to controlling what he creates but instead enjoys releasing his content in case someone else may want to use or learn from what he created. Over time he linked up with other like-minded people, a community was born, and they now regularly collaborate on projects and ideas. Mikey also works as a consultant and can provide a personalised experience for his clients by sharing tools created by the open-source community. Instead of suggesting his clients use large companies software he suggests using trusted software his open-source network have built. To him, the experience is less remote and sterile. The mode of collaborative development allows learning to happen faster and creates a genuine sense of community.
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