I have been working my way through a problem that has nagged at me for about eight years.
There’s a bit of Kübler-Ross about this particular question: “Can the open source business model ever work without compromise?” There are 5 stages of Kübler-Ross. I have been through every one apart from the fifth stage: Acceptance.
At every phase I have been faced with “conventional” wisdom, “learned” articles, “authorative” voices. All of whom posit that open source is doomed unless it assumes the practices of proprietary software. In order to succeed, open source has to become “proprietary-light”. It has to put value behind paywalls.
For the most part, these are American and British voices. The consumers of, and adherents to, the trickle-down, Chicago School of shareholder capitalism.
I have been trying to resolve my business model ambitions through their prism.
The penny (centime, lepta) dropped this evening.
If the argument about business models was re-framed through the prism of new economics, what would it look like?
By “new economics” I mean a return to capitalism that measures value by return to society (especially business as a society), not one that measures value by returns to shareholders. So, to the many, not to the few.
My focus is more on: What if we reject that Chicago School value?
What if we framed the model differently?
Here’s my take on it and my ambitions for SuiteCRM.
We don’t want to become a mega corporation. We do absolutely want to be the biggest CRM application on the planet. I make no bones about the scale of our ambition.
The two are not mutually indivisible.
We won’t put any code behind paywalls. We will be a services business. We don’t want to earn money from commoditised business logic. That path holds little value for customers. Hundreds of companies modelling the same business processes, trying to pass products off as unique and tying customers into vendor lock-in arrangements is questionable value to end-users.
By now the Chicago school guys are falling off their chairs laughing.
But, I’m not finished yet.
Building open source software in a community challenges a fundamental concept of the Chicago School model – the concept of “us” rather than “me”.
An engaged community of hundreds of thousands of contributors (Linux), will always, with the correct governance, build better software than conventional software companies (Microsoft Windows). I’m not going to spend any time labouring this point: If you don’t accept it, I can’t help you.
The same applies to CRM.
Before you start getting on your high horses, this is not Socialism. This is raw capitalism. We want to be the number one CRM company globally. We want to put Salesforce out of business, diminish Microsoft’s CRM practice and make the myriad of “me too’s” irrelevant.
But it’s new capitalism. It’s the capitalism of the community. It creates value for the customer, the employees and the community. It’s a capitalism that rejects shareholder value as it’s primary concern and replaces it with customer value and customer choice in a world where vendor lock-in dies.
It’s a world where $100m salaries are a thing of the past. As someone that wouldn’t know what to do with $100m in a lifetime, never mind a year, that does not upset me.
So, after ten years, my Kübler-Ross “acceptance” is resolved.
I reject it. Software is consuming the world and open source is consuming the software world.
Within that framework, different business models, workable and profitable business models are emerging.
Get used to it.
I’m not the brightest star in the firmament. I gnaw over problems. I value the opinions of people that think differently to me. This one has taken me ten years to resolve.
Thank you to everyone who has disagreed with me in the past. But I am right and you are wrong.
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