Monetizing open source

When you ask:

  • Can you live a normal life off of open source contributions?
  • Can you build a business on top of open source software?
  • Can you make open source software your business?

All of the answers to the above questions are the same: yes but it’s not easy.

One caveat: I have never heard of someone who launched themselves from day 0 into open source and started making money right away. There’s always a story behind it.

Here are various ways to monetize yourself or business the open source way.

Donations & Sponsorships

Perhaps the most common way to support open source project and their maintainers.
For businesses it makes sense to sponsor development: it ensures the project stays stable, up-to-date and actively maintained.
You can sponsor a whole project OR individually the people that work on the project.

Regardless of the platform you’re using to ask for recurring donations, if you’re able to market your open source software or library to a community you can monetize…your community.
Bootstrap, cURL, Vue.js and many other projects use this method.

If you have $1 donation from 10000 people, that’s $10,000 a month. You can use Github sponsors, OpenCollective or Patreon. There are many other

✨ Add paid features to open source projects

Easier said than done because most businesses do not start as open source projects. Those who do usually follow this path:
1) They create an open source solution
2) They realize there’s a paid market
3) They add extra features to the open source solution and charge for them
Notable examples:

  • Docker
  • Kong
  • IntelliJ

Other businesses do the opposite, they take their closed source software and rebuild a light version for “community use”

Charge for running the software on behalf of your customers

Simple enough business model once you create the infrastructure - as this can scale massively - you can get paid to manage your customer’s instances of an open source software.

Forum and blog engines like Ghost are a prime example of companies that managed to monetize open source by providing hosting. Another example is Bitbucket and Github’s rival…Gitlab!

👀 BTW, did you know that the software that runs is open-source but you will be soon able to pay for someone to run it for you:

Nginx PRO is a prime example of software which is open source practically but you can be paid to support the installation.
You are not hosting the software for your customers but you’re helping them configure it in a way that works best for them.

A company hires you to maintain your project

Some companies will hire developers/teams of devs to maintain an open source project on which they rely heavily

In an ideal world if you write software and it gets used, you’d be able to capture some share of that value. But we’re not there yet.

In a great universe this model would be not needed, every company that is profitable (and non-profitable too) should:
Create and maintain open source libraries
Updating documentation, samples and tutorials
Push forward the level of technology by innovating.

But alas, we’re far away from those models