Last week, Pat Patterson and I attended the Open Source Business Conference in San Francisco. OSBC focuses on topics of interest to businesses which use open source as a strategic differentiator. This is the first time I attended the conference and I was there as an attendee rather than an exhibitor or presenter (for a change), and thought I would share some of my key takeaways.
Reid Carlberg is an apps evangelist with salesforce.com.
Stephen O'Grady from RedMonk did a really excellent review of the state of the software industry. Check it out on Slideshare. His fundamental thesis is that software, the way we conventionally think of it, isn't as interesting today as it was when most of the top 20 software firms were founded (an average of 31 years ago). What is? Data, something that open source companies are really good at generating, but often fail to take full advantage of.
Lots of people were talking about "The Cloud" but messages were mixed. One extremely interesting session, "Will the Cloud Rain on Open Source?" saw dueling hypotheses. In one corner, a panelist pointed out that the cost benefits of OSS are less significant when there is a cloud based software-as-a-service version available. In another corner, Sam Ramji of Apigee suggested that the cloud was a great place to harden open source software so that it was easier to sell to private virtualized environments later on. This idea leaves me with more questions than answers. For example, for the SAAS version, if that's not your main focus, how do you make sure you get multitenancy right? Also, for the virtualized, non-multitenant environment, how do you make sure the software continues to innovate in a meaningful way?
One of the most interesting sessions on operationalizing your open source business gave some great suggestions. Rob Bearden, the lead panelist, helped sell JBoss to Redhat in 2006 ($350m) and then helped sell SpringSource to VMWare in 2009 ($420m) (not a bad decade). The full preso is here. One of his key concerns for any app is the user adoption cycle. Bearden pointed out multiple times that marketing automation was essential and that customer onboarding needs to be essentially zero touch. One of the slides is on closed loop demand management. Dang interesting.
A session from David Skok did a great job talking about cash flow during high growth periods — his site For Entrepreneurs is quite interesting and includes this same basic content. One key point he made is that entrepreneurs early in their business cycle are still trying to figure out where they fit in their market, and that the process of finding a fit will take an unpredictable amount of time. This reminded me very clearly of a University of Chicago class I attended a couple of years back lead by Jim Schrager. Schrager points out the Five Iron Laws of Strategy including "innovation equals uncertainty" — in any interesting business, those first stages of business development are necessarily all about innovation and so of course no one knows how long they will actually take. Nice to be reminded of this sobering reality.
Also interesting were the results of an audience poll from day one. The goal was to find out the reasons people were adopting open source apps. A few years ago, price would have definitely been the #1 factor (20%). Today, however, rapid pace of innovation topped the list (27%). Here's a more formal presentation on the future of open source — note the interesting emphasis on mobile (if you find a slideshare link please send it — that's just ugly [but still worth a visit]).
There were many more great points. A session on what motivates developers made me buy the book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us right then and there (thanks Jeff Hammond). The forthcoming Harmony Agreements look really interesting. Everyone spent a lot of time emphasizing the critical importance of community engagement, which makes sense and is too often given short shrift by companies as a while.
I'm definitely glad to have attended the conference and look forward to next year.