Ryan who is just starting his project CubeHenge wanted some tips on how to make money with open source.  I tried to give him some answers, and it then degenerated into this blog post.
Your project is a business, it’s just that your business model is different, because you’re not selling licenses for your software. Look at Mozilla, they make a heapload of cash by selling that search spot in Firefox. Look at Wikipedia, they can pay a few people’s wages through donations. I like the model behind Tweenlite, even if it’s not strictly open source. WordPress is open source, and makes money on hosting, among other things. Freemium is also an option, with part of your project being open source and the other part commercial. For nearly any open source projects, particularly small ones like the ones I work on, you have the following general options:
– you sell service around your product. Some corporation likes your stuff and doesn’t have the mad skillz to set things up, or needs some advice on how best to use it.
– you sell development. Some corporation needs this extra feature on your project, and you sell it to them.Ideally this is something that reintegrated in to the project.
– you sell your name. You’re not just some random dude who sells development and advice and consulting services, you’re the guy who wrote “Really Cool Tool”. And because the project is awesome, you must be awesome too and you sell exactly the same services as some other freelance consultant does, but you’re much better and much more expensive, because you’re worth it and you can prove it.
– you sell your contacts. Through “Really Cool Tool” you have met a lot of people, and you know this amazing developer called Dmitri who lives in Romania who contributes to your project. He’s not very expensive and you know how to work with him, so you can subcontract to him. Or you met this guy who works at Adobe and you can totally just give him a call and ask whether or not this or that feature will make the cut in the next version of Illustrator.

If someone has some better ideas, or some questions, comment away!

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