Is there a business plan?


#1

Continuing the discussion from Sharing efforts and benefits with all Open Source projects:

Do you have any plans to make Janitor into a business? If Janitor becomes valuable enough for Discourse we would definitely put money into it. We do frequently make donations in the multiple thousands of $ to open source projects we rely on, but we prefer to actually be paying for a service.

Two quick examples:

  • We pay for Sidekiq Pro, not because we need it it but because we rely on the open source Sidekiq and want to help sustain it. This also gets us dedicated support should we ever need it.

  • We recently moved from Slack to Rocket.Chat. This is my favorite kind of quid pro quo, because we actually will be paying for their SAAS package (as soon as their beta ends). So we’re paying for simplicity (we don’t want to host RC ourselves) and we’re much more comfortable being on an open source platform with no lock-in.

So, donations is not out of the question, but even better would be a sustainable business model.


Discourse image is pretty awesome!
#2

Wow, thank you so much for the great question and encouraging words!

I’m not fundamentally against the idea of making Janitor into a business (in fact this was my “Plan C” when I started this project, but “Plan A” i.e. “work full-time on Janitor at Mozilla” worked out, because Mozilla sees the value of Janitor for Firefox and Servo developers). But I believe a business would make several things much more complicated:

  • Creating a brand new legal framework for this project is much harder than benefiting from an existing (and pretty awesome) one
  • I’m not sure that all the open source software we use is 100% compatible with running a for-profit service
  • Creating a business is obviously risky and takes a lot of time and effort (Elon Musk said it’s like “eating glass while staring into the abyss”) which I’m not fundamentally against, but would be happy to avoid
  • And last but really not least, providing this service for free and totally in the open, supported by mutually beneficial partnerships, seems like a very cool idea to me.

Please let me know if you disagree, or have more experience to share, on any of the above.

Ideally, I would love to see Janitor grow as a shared effort between several open source organizations, and maybe one day a more suitable home for it would be the Linux Foundation (which helps open source, multi-stakeholder projects like Let’s Encrypt with a legal framework, staffing and payroll, etc.). I’ll try to reach out to them about this in a few months.


#3

That’s great. Sounds like it’ll remain sustainable for the foreseeable future, so that’s good. There’s no urgency to establish new revenue streams.

Can you elaborate on that? I’m having trouble seeing how your open source underpinnings might get in the way of a viable business. Several of your competitors are open source.

Certainly! But as pointed out above, there are tried and tested business models for cloud dev environments, so you’re not in completely uncharted territory here. Considering your current backing by Mozilla however, you’re in a great position to focus exclusively on development for the time being.

Sure, and business is a clear cut model of “mutually beneficial partnerships”. Being under the Mozilla umbrella is great, but many Mozilla projects have eventually been shut down because they never pursued a revenue model independent of Mozilla. Or the project is maintained in a bare-minimum capacity so as to serve the needs of Mozilla and no one else.


#4

The Cloud9 SDK is not actually Open Source. It’s under a license which specifically prohibits offering a hosted instance of it for pay. Ain’t no rule against offering a hosted instance of the Cloud9 SDK for free (@Jan did ask, just to be sure), but that prevents starting a business based on Janitor.

This doesn’t actually rule out Janitor-for-pay forever, since Cloud9 is mostly just a service that runs inside your container the same way NoVNC and PostgreSQL do. But it’s there.