Recently I commented to Dogpatch’s blog which coined the idea of Open Source Entrepreneurship for their philosophy; “the community benefits from a very high level of interactivity and sharing between the members”. With the growing role of open source as an enabler of entrepreneurship, I believe that coining the idea carries responsibility and deserves further elaboration.
With EasyPeasy, a community providing an open source operating system for netbooks, I observe that some competitors makes use of open source software alike. However, they do not necessarily share their source or new builds back with the community – which in the first place provided them with the opportunity. Open source software may be an impetus to entrepreneurship, but is it mutual? Should open-source enabled entrepreneurs contribute back, or does the argument “we give back when we grow big” hold?
My take is that with the dissemination of open source software, technology becomes commodity and allows entrepreneurs to shorten development and time-to-market cycles. Since open source software is available to almost everybody, it is not the technology itself, but its application and capacity to meet with customers’ needs that makes competitive edge. As a consequence the basis of value creation migrates from “back-end” product development towards “front-end” customer development. For a simple example, the threshold for putting up a LAMP architecture and yet another Digg-clone script is minimal.
I believe that entrepreneurs that are using open source should share their modifications and extensions from the start. Even in spite of competitive risk. And it is more to it than ethics. The nature of open source methods allows startups to leverage the true value of building user and customer relationships, learn from and test their hypothesis with early adopters. This is essential to user-lead product development which turns out to be a promise of value creation. As with social media, community management becomes a necessity and startups will be able to get a head start when it comes to tapping into their users’ needs. When done right the startup will be able to recruit from the open source community, and create market evangelist as they get ownership to the product.
There is probably more to it, but I hope that open source entrepreneurship adapts open source software thinking but exploiting it. See also Matt Mullenweg, WordPress founder: Why it pays to stay faithful to open source. In the long run “giving back” will help the open source paradigm to evolve, and in turn spur entrepreneurship.