In this episode, host Richard Littauer welcomes renowned author and open source lawyer, Heather Meeker, in our first venture into video format. Heather discusses her journey from being a ‘big law’ lawyer to focusing specifically on open source matters. She talks about her latest book, From Project to Profit: How to Succeed in Commercial Open Source, and the valuable insights it provides for entrepreneurs and developers looking to transform their open source projects into successful businesses. The conversation also delves into the significance of open source, economic analysis, and the mission of the Open Source Initiative. We end with Heather sharing her all-time favorite open source project, Audacity, and why she thinks it’s a perfect example of an exquisite open source project. Press download to hear more!
[00:01:49] Heather talks about her current practice and how she’s focusing on open source matters after leaving big law firms, driven by pandemic induced life choices, and she touches on her involvement with AI related issues.
[00:04:18] Richard asks about Heather’s transition to writing for the public, and she details her journey of writing articles since the late 90’s and the process of creating her books.
[00:06:41] We hear about Heather’s book, From Project to Profit, and it’s focus on the business potential of open source. She discusses the audience and motivation behind the book.
[00:10:17] Heather describes the book’s layout: case studies, economic analysis, business models, and a final checklist for starting an open source business.
[00:11:31] We learn about the checklist and the thought process behind starting an open source business.
[00:13:18] Heather acknowledges that there are suggestions beyond VC funding, relating it to family businesses, which may not grow large but can provide a living and enjoyment. She tells us the book discusses setting realistic goals for open source projects and understanding when it’s appropriate to seek professional investment.
[00:15:39] Richard talks about community projects that aim to be sustainable without necessarily seeking significant investments. Heather explains most small open source projects start as labors of love and discusses the motivations behind starting such projects, and she notes the commitment required to build a business.
[00:19:16] Richard inquires about the fund that invests in open source projects. Heather describes OSS Capital, focusing on early-stage commercial open source software development, unique in its dedicated investment thesis.
[00:21:15] Heather shares that the fund often approaches founders proactively, differing from traditional VC operations.
[00:22:21] Richard is curious about equitable payment for contributors in open source projects, and Heather states they prefer to fund companies started by the projects' founders and describes the dynamic between contributors and the core team.
[00:25:03] What was the toughest section of the book to write? Heather reveals the economic analysis was difficult as it required refreshing her knowledge and ensuring accuracy. She also didn’t mention specific economists but focused on basic economic principles.
[00:28:15] Richard asks about common pitfalls in open source projects. Heather points out that mistakes in start-ups are not unique to open source and expands on the issue of companies taking code private due to misaligned investor interests.
[00:31:15] Richard questions if misaligned investors are a by-product of capitalism, and Heather believes it’s possible to sustainably create value with open source without prioritizing it.
[00:32:08] Richard asks what “open source” means to OSS Capital, and Heather explains that for their fund, open source means the core product is under a recognized open source license. She discusses the challenge of defining open source for non-software fields like AI and data.
[00:35:31] Find out where you can buy Heather’s book and follow her online.
[00:11:44] “One of the initial decisions that someone asked me is that they actually want to run a business around an open source project and that’s a non-trivial decision.”
[00:31:24] “I do think it’s possible to run a business sustainably, create a ton of value with the open source projects, and never take it private.”
- [00:37:33] Richard’s spotlight is the book, Man’s Search for Meaning.
- [00:38:10] Heather’s spotlight is one of her favorite authors, Primo Levi, and some books he wrote, The Periodic Table and Survival in Auschwitz. Also, another book she read called, Games Mother Never Taught You, and the open source project, Audacity.
- SustainOSS X/Twitter
- SustainOSS Discourse
- SustainOSS Mastodon
- Open Collective-SustainOSS (Contribute)
- Richard Littauer Mastodon
- Heather Meeker X/Twitter
- Heather Meeker Website
- Heather Meeker LinkedIn
- Heather Meeker YouTube
- From Project to Profit: How to Build a Business Around Your Open Source Project by Heather Meeker
- Sustain Podcast-Episode 46: Commercial Open Source with Joseph Jacks
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
- Primo Levi
- The Periodic Table by Primo Levi
- Survival In Auschwitz by Primo Levi
- Games Mother Never Taught Me by Betty Lehan Harragan
- Produced by Richard Littauer
- Edited by Paul M. Bahr at Peachtree Sound
- Show notes by DeAnn Bahr Peachtree Sound