Open Source via Donations – Part 1 – One Month Review

Just shy of one month ago I launched a campaign to Open Source all of my software — and to continue funding development via donations.

I stated that if we could raise $4,000 in contributions, in a short enough period, that all of my software would be released under the GPL.  And we pulled it off.

Along the way, I have been documenting the heck out of everything — in the hopes of providing others, who may be looking at migrating from proprietary to Open Source, with a model of how to do it.

With that in mind, this is the first in a 4 part series of articles:

Part 1 – One Month Review
Part 2 – The Reasons
Part 3 – How To Do It
Part 4 – The Future

One Month In Review

As of this writing we really aren’t a full month in yet.  Tomorrow marks one month since I first made the announcement that I would Open Source my software if the right amount of contributions were met.  We are roughly 20-some odd days since officially hitting that mark.  But now seems a good time to take stock of how things have gone so far.  [With a few detours along the way.]

And let’s do it in a Q/A style.  Just because.

First, let’s take a look at that $4,000 figure.  What is the significance of that number?

In my experience (having managed teams of software developers for over a decade) the lowest I’ve ever seen an entry level software developer earn is $48,000 per year.  Which is $4,000 monthly.  [Before taxes.]

My thought being this: If it’s not possible to bring in enough in contributions to earn as much as the most junior level software developer in the USA… then an Open Source model funded via contributions is simply not viable.

The good news is that we have proven that this a level that is, absolutely, attainable.  [More details on how, exactly it was attained – step-by-step – in Part 3.]

But, isn’t that level of funding… pretty low?

Yes.  Very.

And there are two key problems with funding that only reaches that $4,000/month level:

  1. It is not enough, alone, to sustain and raise a family in the larger cities or coastal areas of the United States.
  2. Any developer [even a developer that is really, really bad at his/her job] can quickly earn much more than this.  [Easily twice this number without breaking a sweat.]

It’s simply not practical to think that developers will choose to remain single, child-less and, potentially, move to another country or locale — in order to facilitate their ability to live off contributions for Open Source software.

The net result of which is that, in the long run, developers will move off to work for other companies (typically producing closed source software)… or they will close their work and return to a Closed Source model.  [Unless those developers can find a way to increase the total income from Open Source software.]

Do Closed Source models really earn more?

Ah, now there is a key question!  And the answer is, simply, this:

That remains to be seen.

What I can, definitively, say is this:

We were able to come up with a bit over $4,000 in contributions for the first month in order to support this Open Source software.

In the month prior, when my software (including Linux Tycoon, Illumination Software Creator, etc.) was Closed Source they generated over $7,000 in sales.

So, is my income lower now that they are Open Source and I am supported by contributions?  Yes.  By nearly half.

But that is really only the beginning of the story.  We were able to achieve that $4k level in an incredibly short period of time.  How does that scale as the months go on?

What happens as the software gets packaged and included in various Linux Distro’s and the user base and popularity goes up?  With more eye-balls on the software, does that, perhaps, increase the rate of donations?

At this point, that remains to be seen.  My gut tells me to expect contributions to increase, overall, over the next six months (with, perhaps, a few dips along the way).  But that is simply a semi-educated guess.

Aren’t there other ways to fund Open Source development?

Yes!  There are many other ways.

Swag (T-shirts, etc.).  Complimentary and Support Services.  Advertising.  Pre-building binaries for App-stores.

A creative developer can certainly diversify a fair bit.

But, for now, I am focusing on the viability of funding via contributions.  We can talk about other avenues later on.

This all sounds pretty bleak so far.  Are you regretting your decision?

Not at all!

We are less than one month in.  How many start-ups do you know that make a ton of money in their first day of operation?

Yet we have managed to secure $4,000 in recurring funding, to create great Open Source Software, right out of the gate.  Truly stellar.  [The community should give themselves a big round of applause for that.]

And, while $4,000 may not be much when compared with what can be earned, it is enough to sustain development, and keep the projects going, while things get ramped up and the word [and software] continues to spread.

I am a realist.  If I wasn’t convinced of the viability of this approach, I wouldn’t be doing it.

Is there anything you would have done differently?

Yes.  Oh dear yes.

One key thing: I would have spent more time prepping my code-bases ahead of time to make sure that all of my ducks were in a row licensing wise.

I like to do things “on the up and up”.  In this case, that means I want to be 100% sure that any code I release under the GPL is not already licensed in a way that is incompatible with the GPL.  This proved to be a much larger task than I originally assumed.  [And thank goodness I’m almost done with it… it was giving me a headache.]

So.  I’m not clear.  Is this a success or a failure?

Success.  Unequivocally.

What remains to be seen is how things go from this point forward.  But we have, without a doubt, proven that reaching a viable level of full-time funding for Open Source projects, via contributions, is attainable.

In the next part of this series I will be diving in to the big question “Why on earth are you doing this?!?!” followed by, in my opinion, the really big one where I go into detail (including steps, traffic info, day-by-day numbers, recommendations and more) on how we pulled this off.

Then, in the 4th part, I’ve got some ideas on what comes next.  [You won’t have long to wait.  Part 2 will be posted on Friday.]

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  • Yvan Da Silva

    Very good review and very interesting.
    I’m kinda sad you didn’t get much more money from this round, but I bet everything can be improved so also can be your open source business model 😀

    Thank you for making all this work, and to believe in OpenSource techs.

    Keep up the good work!
    Best regards,

  • Yeah

    Please use parentheses instead of square brackets when making parenthetical remarks!

  • Bryan

    Dear Mr/Ms/Mrs “Yeah” aka “”: Please be, at least, a semi-real real person when making comments here. :)

  • Obsidian_golem

    @bryan But I am only a semi, semi-real real person. Can I continue commenting?

  • Daniel Clem

    @Bryan, Ahhhh that thing you just did there? That was funny 😀

  • Bryan

    Semi-semi-real people may continue to comment here. Semi-semi-semi-real people are where I draw the line!

  • Semi-semi-semi-real person


    Walks away….

  • polygon

    Three days back I found your software searching for a visual programming tool. I’m working as a designer for more than 20 years and all that time I never had to write one single line of code.
    Times have changed and now from time to time I need to build some kind of a small application for the web. Your tool can be very helpful as it -I hope- will grow up to a “mature” application.

    Please keep up the good work and remember that “all come to those who wait”, at least this have worked for me so far…

    *English isn’t my native speaking language but I think you already know that 😉


  • Obsidian_golem

    @polygon Don’t worry, your English is better that a lot of Americans.

  • veritanuda

    Well I have to admit my faith in you has been restored by not only attempting to do this but actually going through with it. To your point about your user base increasing and the positive spin on being able to be included in many many major distributions I think that will be more a revelation to come. It was nice to see your baby included in this write up for example on Ubuntu app building.

    First time i have come across such a review and it did raise the very genuine point about how a community driven support network supplants and surpasses a single developer given the support themselves. That being said it is a philosophy that is open to abuse by developers who just ‘assume’ that support it something that will appear out of thin air. Truth is like any form of social help it grows organically as the number of competent users grows. So from this aspect I hope you will reap benefits you never thought possible and are gracious enough not to let your ego get the better of you sometimes 😉

    For the record I have already bought Illumination, although I am a competent programmer, I will actively now follow the source because it is something that is both useful and innovative. Pique my curiosity and who knows what I will follow :)

    Anyway, props to you Bryan I will be following with interest what evolves.

  • Kyle T.

    Thanks for the interesting write-up. I don’t have enough income to donate to your monthly work, but I pitched in something for your equipment costs. All the best.

  • Me

    “I like to use language that should never be used around ladies in order to whine about things that make no sense. Also I am afraid that people will know who I am.” [Synopsis by Bryan]