Notes from Silicon Slopes 2018

Last week I’ve joined the Blockchain track at Silicon Slopes Summit to talk about how Open Source projects and Crypto initiatives could greatly benefit from each other. Before getting into my talk, I wish to acknowledge the great job that Silicon Slopes’ exec Director Clint Bett betts has done in preparing the event. Looking at the list of sponsors, the local unicorns and the amazing number of attendees, you get the impression that there is a concrete alternative to Silicon Valley in Utah. Personally I would definitely choose Utah over the Bay Area for a number of reason, ranging from the culture of belief to the beautiful mountains and surroundings, last but not least the cost of living.

Among my favorite talks I can name a few, starting from Stewart Butterfield of the Stack fame – who gave an inspiring speech talking about his experiences and takeaways in the context of entrepreneurial life – to Omar Johnson who shared few examples of amazing marketing strategies at Beats, as much as I enjoyed Ryan Smith of Qualtrics explaining the Utah way to entrepreneurship (build to keep).

I had the pleasure to share the stage with Walter De Brouwer, an Internet and technological entrepreneur, and my friend John Quinn, of the Storj team.

Marc Andreessen back in 2011 made clear that “Software is eating up the world”, and five year laters we learned that Open Source has won, but unfortunately it still unclear who is willing to pay for that.

Few years after the Hearbleed bug hit the news, making clear to everyone that the IT giants stand on feet of clay, it is still unclear when, how and if we’ll cope with the challenges that the digital infrastructure is facing. It must be said that the Linux Foundation’s Collaborative Infrastructure Initiative, tries to fortify part of that by providing funds to infrastructural projects that are recognised as key for the IT ecosystem at large. The Linux Foundation it is also home to other interesting initiatives in this space, like the TODO group, aimed at creating and sharing good practices, tools and programs on how to run open source programs and projects within companies. As well as the CHAOSS project, providing tools to measure an open source projects health (disclosure: I’m an advisory to the company who provides the vast majority of these tools, Bitergia).

Beyond the Linux Foundation there are also philanthropic initiatives, like the Pineapple fund, as well as academic ones like NumFocus, and let’s not forget about Google Summer of code or Mozilla Open Source Support.

Short story: only few open source initiatives are backed or supported by tech companies, philanthropists or individuals. It’s the tragedy of the (free software) commons.

And what about Open source applications? Well, not any better, as you can guess. And that’s exactly what I’ve been working on during the last two years, so without further ado let’s talk about FileZilla® sustainability.

In order to commercialize an open source project you need:

  • a big enough “market” (your audience);
  • Among them you need people who are able and willing to pay for value;
  • a product strategy that targets potential customers without trying to upsell own your community.

At FileZilla we designed and implemented a business strategy that has included: promoting ancillary services, think for example of FileZilla dedicated phone support; selling a pro version that provides non ftp-like protocols, and more recently adding features that enable network effects.

Storj is a very good example of that: by achieving an higher product utility – allowing users to simply use Storj storage cloud service or to become ‘drive farmers‘ and earn Storj tokens by sharing their network and bandwidth - we increase the product’s value for other users, farmers and customers. We really believe we identified a way out of the “zero sum” game, and we are planning over time to provide a new whole class of value added services.

If you got an open source projects that lacks resources, or a blockchain-based technology that needs an audience, consider that these collaborations can open up a new whole world of opportunities, where everyone wins.