November 14, 2016, scrum meeting: “We’re still working on this feature. It will take us longer than we thought” said the tech lead @ VIDOO, a start-up company that developed a video-ad creation platform for small businesses. Back then, I was the CEO, and I followed that statement with the obvious question: “Why? What’s the hold?.” To which he answered: “There are a lot of bugs in the open-source code we chose, so we’re trying to get in touch with the developer who wrote it, and in the meantime, we are trying to deal with it ourselves.”
That open-source project was exactly what we needed at that moment, and it was pretty popular on Github, but the answer from the developers didn’t come. After spending weeks trying to fix several bugs ourselves, we’ve decided to move on and kill the feature. Two weeks later, the repository owner emailed us back saying he will get to fixing the bug soon, but that was already too late for us.
In terms of numbers, I would say that we spent approximately 170–220 hours per developer/year on these types of problems.
In other cases, we tried buying an MIT license for repositories we needed and licensed with GPL. The answers from developers were something along the lines of “I need to think about the price” to “even if I want to help/sell you the code with a permissive license, I can’t.’’ In the end, the answer we always got was “It’s too complicated, sorry.”
When I left VIDOO in December 2018, my first priority for my next project, was to try and find a solution to the “Open-Source sustainability” problem. After talking with over 100 developers and 35 R&D leaders, my partner, Chen Ravid and I created xs:code
The idea was to motivate open source developers to maintain their code, while giving them the freedom to make their open source projects better and build relationships between the open-source developers and the companies who use it commercially, without damaging the awesome ideas being the open-source community.
The Market Research
As a result of our meetings with the R&D leaders and the OS developers (with many of them working at industry-leading tech companies), Chen and I started looking for ways to motivate developers to maintain their code, writing better documentation and fix bugs. Of course, Chen, being the smart one between us two, had a brilliant idea and suggested that we “Just ask them”. So we did. After dozens of phone calls, meetings, emails, and two meet-ups in Tel-Aviv, 95% of the developers had one answer to the question “What will motivate you to maintain your project?”. The answer was MONEY.
Will companies pay for OS?
Following those meet-ups we came to some major conclusions: if a developer can code for someone else (employer) for money, they would definitely code for their own interest if they were compensated. This, combined with the input from our meetings with R&D leaders, led us to understand that the companies will be more than happy to pay for the open-source projects they use and motivate the developers. They will actually want to have a relationship with the developers they’re working with, even though they’ve never met before.
Our next question for the CTOs was obvious then: “If you’re using them, why don’t you donate to open source projects?”
Their answer: “The same reason you don’t donate to Wikipedia”. Made sense.
After 11 months of late-night meetings and evaluating the market size — a $19B market with over 40M developers, 28M public open-source projects growing over 15% annually, most of them on Github, and the fact that 90% of the software projects in the world are using open source, (including markets like government, banking, and military) we realized that this was a huge opportunity for us!
Our vision is based on four guiding principles: increasing developer motivation, maintaining open source sustainability, solving the market failure (millions are working without any compensation) and enabling developers the freedom to create and code. Our main focus and the heart of xs:code is to empower developers.
I worked with a lot of developers for the past 15 years, many of them live in eastern Europe. Many of them make no more than $3K/month, and not aware that their Github repository was being used commercially by thousands of companies. With xs:code, in three to four months, and a conversion rate of 3% of their commercial users, they will be able to quit their jobs, keep coding and contribute to the community. Needless to say that projects with 100K stars on Github may probably be able to afford a nice Ferrari within a year or two.
Our mission is to create a new software economy and support it all the way. Our platform allows developers to monetize their code projects, share the revenue with their contributors, and keep a free version for community use. We’ve made it our priority that using xs:code will free developers to keep coding, while xs:code handles everything else (billing, invoicing and other corporate nightmares).