Our 10% Open Source Discount

Jeff Reichman on in Bits

Throughout 2015, we’re offering a 10% discount on any project where the client lets us open source the code.

What do we mean by open source?

Technically, “open source” means that the work we produce has free redistribution with an accessible source code, but it’s a whole lot more than that. Open source is a splinter of the free software movement, and it’s been embraced by governments and non-profits (even the White House is on board). It’s the philosophy behind Linux, WordPress, Firefox, Bootstrap, OpenStack, and many other popular software packages.

But open source has even deeper implications. It has come to represent a value system that prioritizes collaboration, a free exchange of ideas, and a natural community of participants. At January Advisors, we want to embrace these values whenever possible, even if it means taking a haircut on our fees.

Why bother with a discount?

Recently, we worked on a public sector project that had a lot of potential. As we finished up and debuted the app, we had a lot similar organizations come to us wanting a version of their own. There were very few differences between what we had just spent three months building and what they wanted. Still, it would have been easy to charge the full sticker price and reinvent the wheel for each new client. I’d have to take a lot of showers to feel clean after doing something like that.

Instead, we asked our client if we could open source their code. That way, we could deploy the app for the other organizations at a fraction of the cost it took to write the code in the first place. We thought it would be a giant win all around.

But things are never that easy. Especially in the public sector.

Our client hesitated. “How will I explain this to my boss?” she asked. “He’ll be livid if he finds out we paid ten times more than the next organization.”

I was speechless. The last thing I wanted to do was get my client in trouble. I still believed that open sourcing the code was the right thing to do, and I couldn’t live with myself if I built the same app over and over again. The whole thing felt like a bizarre logic puzzle. All I wanted to do was to get this app in the hands of as many people as possible. So I gathered my thoughts and pushed forward, but this time I gave her something to take back to her boss: anytime another client paid us to develop a new feature, we would deploy it for her at no extra charge.

It’s clear to me that if we want to keep building useful applications for clients in the public sector, we have to educate them about the value of open source and we have to give them an incentive to embrace it.

Having the Open Source Conversation During the Sales Process

Instead of facing this same issue again, I want to tackle the “open source” conversation during the sales process. We can’t afford to provide free updates for every client, so we’re offering a 10% project discount instead. The boss will be happy, the community will be happy, and other people stand to benefit from the work.

But more importantly, we hope that this discount will ignite a conversation about the open source value system.

This conversation isn’t for everyone: there are still a lot of compelling reasons to cover your work. But if you’d like to build something for the world, and you’re willing to learn more about the implications of making your project open source, we’re ready to talk.

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About the Author

Jeff Reichman

Jeff is passionate about data. He founded January Advisors and Sketch City, and serves on the board of the League of Women Voters of the Houston Area. Read his full bio on LinkedIn.