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The accepted answer on How can large open source projects be monetized? mentions open source SaaS.

Once you are successful enough in one of the above, you can afford giving away your software for free (as in free beer).

So how can a startup whos core product is SaaS safely grow until youre "successful enough" if you are Open Source? Couldnt someone with bad morales and good timing fork our minimum viable product and own us by simply running a better launch campaign?

  • So don't let them run a better campaign? – curiousdannii Nov 14 '16 at 0:23
  • An MVP is often easier to imitate than fork. Unless it contains already a revolutionary algorithm. But in this case, I'm not sure it would still qualify as an MVP. In all other cases, don't worry about people stealing your ideas / your code. Only worry about finding your market. – Zimm i48 Nov 14 '16 at 16:15
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  1. Ideas don't get stolen until they have proven to be successful. People will not take your software and compete with you on the SaaS market for it until you have built a community which makes it worth it. At that point you will already have enough momentum to be able to keep a dominant market position.
  2. You own the brand. As the company which invented the product, you already have a reputation advantage which is hard to compete with.
  3. You control the development. That means you can optimize the software for your own SaaS setup. Well, the competition could fork your project and optimize it for their purposes, but forking drives up their maintenance cost and would mean that they would lose even more brand recognition.

For an example of a company which does this business model in practice and is very successful with it, check out Automattic Inc. They made WordPress, the most used blogging CMS system on the web and they make a ton of money with hosting instances of it, even though it is free software.

  • Is there a particular reason you used the normative "stolen" as opposed to the neutral "copied?" – Daniel Nov 15 '16 at 18:29
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Allow me to share some links that might be helpful in answering this question:

https://github.com/reddit/reddit (ads) (warning: some proprietary JS blobs)

https://wordpress.org/download/source/ (They offer a hosted product that you can pay for)

https://gitlab.com/gitlab-org/gitlab-ce/tree/master#README (again, they essentially offer hosting)

https://www.quora.com/Why-is-Wikipedias-code-not-open-source (nonprofit)

Those are mostly companies (and a nonprofit) that wrote their own code. Some other companies, yet, offer support for existing open source projects, write custom builds of those projects for unique usage scenarios, sell related hardware, or do God knows what. (See RedHat, RackSpace, etc.) Exclusivity is really not required to make money. At all.

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    Very helpful. Im coming from a space where everything is "closed" many times over. This and the other answers helped me wrap my head around it. – Jonathan Eckman Nov 16 '16 at 2:31
  • Careful, the fourth link's title is confusing. Why not linking to the code of MediaWiki directly BTW? – Zimm i48 Nov 16 '16 at 8:47
  • Because I found it worth noting that Wikipedia not only makes MediaWiki available, but also its server configuration info and every one of its articles and everything else. – Daniel Nov 16 '16 at 20:30

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