The Business of Open Source

This week on The Business of Open Source I spoke with Tanmai Gopal, co-founder of Hasura. We talked about how Hasura grew out of Tanmai’s previous company, which was a consulting company. I like to call out examples of really novel open source businesses, but in fact the thing that stuck with me from the conversation with Tanmai was that Hasura is going the ‘classic’ route… and it’s working. 

What does the ‘classic’ route look like to me? It’s an open source project that targets individual developers and a commercial product that targets teams and teams of teams. It’s having additional network security features in the commercial options. It’s using the open source project as a growth engine and getting leads from companies that depend on it. It’s also using the open source project as a way to get feedback on the product roadmap. 

Here were some of the takeaways from our conversation: 

  • It’s a lot easier to sell a product if your customers see it as mission-critical. One of Hasura’s first inbound leads was from a Fortune 100 company who said they’d be unable to ship any software for two weeks if Hasura went down — and so they wanted to make sure the team behind Hasura was serious and also wanted to pay them to make sure they didn’t go down. 
  • For Hasura, the first clear difference between open source project and commercial product was that the open source project is for individual developers but the commercial product is aimed at the team level.
  • Even for the cloud hosted edition, the product with ‘developer-level’ focus is free. In fact, if you go to the Hasura CE product page, the CTA asks you to use for free on the cloud. Tanmai said this is an intentional choice because they want to reduce friction for people to test it out, and the fastest way to get up and running will always be to use the cloud version, not the open source. 
  • We talked a lot about the control plane versus the data plane — all the editions have the same functionality at the data plane level. But the control plane, where people are collaborating — that is commercial only. 
  • The open source project can be a great way to stay close to your users / customers and use their feedback to constantly refine your product roadmap. In fact, this can be a main advantage of being open source, because it is the only way you stay close to your users and get their feedback — otherwise you would often only talk to the buyer, who is likely an exec with a big budget but not using the technology on a daily basis. 
  • This doesn’t mean open source doesn’t create liabilities for Hasura — it does, and those liabilities have to be managed. And Tanmai is frank about the fact that creating enough value on top of the open source project without crippling the growth engine is a tough balancing act. 
  • Pay attention to what your best customers are doing! That has informed some really important product decisions for Hasura — and it took them way to long to figure out the unique way their happiest customers were getting more value out of Hasura than other users. 

Definitely check out the full episode for more insights from Tanmai! 

What is The Business of Open Source?

Whether you're a founder of an open source startup, an open source maintainer or just an open source enthusiast, join host Emily Omier as she talks to the people who work at the intersection of open source and business, from startup founders to leaders of open source giants and all the people who help open source startups grow.