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Joseph Jacks
Joseph Jacks

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I'm Joseph Jacks, founder of OSS Capital, ask me anything!

I founded OSS Capital, a new kind of investment platform firm which exclusively invests in, accelerates and starts commercial OSS (COSS) startup companies. We were the lead investor in the DEV seed round back in the fall and have been partnering with the team here to grow as a leading COSS company.

I also founded KubeCon and have been involved in the Kubernetes project since the early days and open source software in a variety of roles.

Ask me anything.

Discussion (45)

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Anna Rankin

Hi Joseph, thanks so much for doing this AMA! Do you have any advice for a developer who's new to open source? I've wondered often how OSS teams manage pull requests, roadmaps, and sourcing contributors, but the furthest I've gone into OSS myself is a single pull request.

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Joseph Jacks Ask Me Anything

Hi Anna! The wonderful team at GitHub (a COSS company) put together this resource: opensource.guide/starting-a-project/

Hope this helps you on your journey into the exciting world of OSS!

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Felix Pojtinger

IMHO it's ironic that GitHub preaches about the superiority of FLOSS but then ... doesn't make GitHub itself FLOSS. Like wth.

movedtogitlab

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Ben Halpern

I'm curious about your thoughts on a couple failures in commercial open source that come to mind for me:

RethinkDB
rethinkdb.com/blog/rethinkdb-shutd...

Famo.us
deprecated.famous.org/

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Joseph Jacks Ask Me Anything

It is never fun to reflect on the failure cases, but they do exist. I think failure in the case of open source really boils down to adoption: if no one uses the project it is "dead". This does not mean that the code ceases to be executable, hosted, available and even perhaps depended on by some other library or service or system or application.. somewhere.. out there in the ether.

On COSS side, a given COSS company can "fail" by running out of capital, ceasing to find a business model that works, dysfunctional teams, executing in a bad market.. many of the same reasons proprietary / closed core companies fail.

In the more nuanced context, I think COSS companies in failure happen because the lack of developer communities. COSS largely thrives in areas where the developer ecosystem around a given platform/product/layer in the stack is developer friendly/active/vibrant... where it is not, there is a higher likelihood of failure, IMHO. There are many exceptions to this, but in general, I'd say this is largely the case.

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Zephyr Prusinski

Hi Joseph! I know commercial open source ventures tend to center a lot on SaaS and web/devops frameworks, but have you seen anything commercially viable or interesting outside of web-developer-targeted open source software, or any movement towards commercial open source hardware?

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Joseph Jacks Ask Me Anything

YES! Commercial open source hardware is an exciting area.

Here are two companies in the RISC-V ecosystem: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RISC-V -- that we are thrilled about:

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SiFive

hex-five.com/

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Amadeo

Hi Joseph!

Do you work with many companies that are not yet COSS, but intend to open-source their software? I feel like the discussions involved in making a company COSS from the beginning are different from the discussions about transitioning into making their existing products open source.

I'm wondering if you have any thoughts on the differences between the two situations, and if you have any tips on how to more effectively dissolve friction from people who are feeling like they'll lose existing value if the code is made open-source?

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Joseph Jacks Ask Me Anything

I have spoken with a large number of founders who have or are or might be seriously considering evolving into COSS from an existing proprietary company.

The primary considerations/drivers for this are:

  • renewed growth: adoption/marketing/use
  • re-architecture of the product: looking to completely redesign the system and engage developer contribution to drive greater extensibility, plugins, integrations around the newly open core
  • desire to create a new standard: open source serves as a huge propellant to technology standardization
  • change the game: in markets dominated by closed and proprietary/slow moving IP, open source can be extremely disruptive

In almost all these cases, if you think about the tradeoffs long enough in a given context, open source of a core technology becomes quite compelling.

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Sena Heydari • Edited

Hi Joseph,

Thank you for doing this AMA! How do you see the Kubernetes landscape evolving in 2019? Last year seemed to be about Kubes-as-a-Service offering from multiple cloud providers. Do you think eventually the easiest play will be to not roll your own cluster, and use the hosted offerings?

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Joseph Jacks Ask Me Anything

K8s is simultaneously becoming harder to learn, easier to run and more complex. Fun times!

Hosted offerings are maturing, but as are installers, products and many embedded offerings.

I expect more adoption exponentially across the board and K8s continuing to be abstracted away by higher level Operator tooling APIs, control planes, functions called via code itself/compilers and product centric services that totally hide the complexity.

K8s will become the replacement for EC2 style computing, but create far more efficiency and benefits than the cost of its complexity demands.

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Jay Lee

Hi Joseph, thanks for doing this AMA and KubeCon! I'm curious as to what criteria you use to evaluate the feasibility of COSS startup. Are there specific attributes you look for as an indicator for success?

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asynchio profile image
Joseph Jacks Ask Me Anything

Absolutely. We plan to write specifically about this soon. Much of the data we look at that influences thinking here is: oss.cash/

Stay tuned for a blog / podcast here soon.

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Mac Siri

Thanks for doing this! What are some common misconceptions about COSS?

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Joseph Jacks Ask Me Anything • Edited

Hi Mac! I'd say the biggest misconception is that "there is no open source business model". While OSS itself is certainly not a business model, I believe there are several business models that COSS companies implement - that work well, some better than others in many situations. Empirically, over the past 15 years, "open core" has proven to work the best, but it is not a binary thing like most frame it. It is a spectrum/gradient. More here: medium.com/open-consensus/2-open-c...

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Ben Halpern

When we were investigating the pros and cons of going fully open source and leaning into the business, I definitely found a general sense of closed-mindedness towards the types of business models available for companies built around open source.

Since we're consumer-facing and fairly atypical in that sense, it was even less talked about. But learning up on the common thought patterns like open core, etc. really gave a good jumping off point for thinking about the whole thing.

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Mac Siri

Ah I see. Thank you for your response!!

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John Forstmeier

Hi Joseph!

I've been super interested in the work you're doing at OSS Capital and I've been thinking a lot about the space recently and how our current market still has an enormous favoritism towards closed source products. What metrics/tools/approaches should a current closed source company (any size from the small startup to Microsoft) use to evaluate what parts of its codebase, if any, should be opened? Thanks for doing the AMA!

Best,
John

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Bobby Yankou

Hey Joseph, I'm curious about your thoughts on the relationship of security and OSS. On the one hand, the "many eyes" philosophy suggests that OSS is a boon to security, while incidents like the Equifax breach suggest we are still faced with problems in this space. I'm personally hopeful for more sophisticated vulnerability scanning technology as a solution, but I'm curious what you think.

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Joseph Jacks Ask Me Anything

I believe the Open Source paradigm holds the potential to unearthing some of the best kinds of potential solutions to the worlds security problems.. on many levels. Network security: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snort_(softw... .. Data security. Hardware security: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RISC-V ... Password security. Vulz/app-level security and more.

Trust is a fundamental element of security. The worlds largest "on-demand hack me network" for companies (HackerOne) reverse engineers many elements of Open Source in terms of disaggregating a unit of work across anyone on earth in service of connecting the best hackers with the top companies who want to be hacked.. to identify the best vulnerability solutions. Incentivizing them with bounties. HackerOne is doing extremely well. I think a purely commercial open source version of HackerOne (where the core infra/runtime was an open source project) could be very successful. Interestingly, the CEO of HackerOne is a friend and an incredible Open Source veteran: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M%C3%A5rten_...

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Mitch Pronschinske

What do you think about the new Firecracker tech announced at re:Invent? github.com/firecracker-microvm/fir...

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Peter Kim Frank • Edited

Hey JJ, thanks for taking the time to join us. My question—

How do you explain how/why "open source software eats everything" to someone who is not very tech savvy?

I spent plenty of time over the holidays talking with friends/family about DEV being open-source, so I'd love to hear your approach and major talking points when talking about the opportunity of COSS.

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Nick Taylor (he/him) • Edited

Hi Joseph, thanks for doing the AMA. I'm curious what makes a potential COSS a good investment for your company? I can think of stuff like solid tech, community involvement/popularity perhaps, but I'm sure the list is longer than that 😉

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Ali Spittel

Hey JJ! Thanks for doing this AMA. What advice would you give to a newer software developer about getting involved in commercial open source?

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Joseph Jacks Ask Me Anything

Hey Ali! Getting involved effectively depends on what your goal is, but diving into the exciting and hyper-growth world of COSS as a new software engineer could be helped by a couple things, I think:

1) Learn about some of the largest and most successful COSS companies that build large software product businesses fundamentally on specific exciting OSS projects! This can serve to offer perspective on the business side of things and the general magnitude of the space at least at the higher end. To support this, I'd encourage folks to look at this spreadsheet: oss.cash/

2) Read Heather Meeker's book "Open (Source) for business": amazon.com/Open-Source-Business-Pr... -- we are deeply honored to have Heather as our founding partner at OSS Capital.

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Ali Spittel

Oh awesome! Thank you so much -- great resources!

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Ben Halpern

What are considerations around open source in terms of international expansion?

How does open source make international relationships more feasible? (Or less so in any way)

How do organizations typically think about enforcement of licenses in different markets across the world?

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Joseph Jacks Ask Me Anything

I think open source is fundamentally sanction-less, borderless, tariff-resistant, censorship-resistant and more... so, the power of open source to transform and elevate positive relationships between countries at a macro level is not only promising, but very exciting and a highly under explored area.

My partner Heather Meeker has written a great post about the pragmatic dimensions of licenser enforcement: coss.media/advent-of-ethos-licensing/

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Ric Johnson

I am the founder of OpenDomain - we have donated domains worth millions to Open Source projects over the last 20 years. Domains including Drupal.com, OsCon.com, Xmpp.Org, Ecmascript.Org, FosDem.com, Schema.Org to Google, and WebPlatform.Org to the W3C. Unfortunately, we have not gotten a lot of love from OSS, so we are thinking about ending the project. We would love your opinion if we should continue. I am considering selling all my current domains (NoSql.Com, Free.TV, Xg.Org, 4NY.com, and more) to fund a new open source project: CharityCoin. CharityCoin is a 'Better bitcoin', where part of the mining goes towards charities. We won the techstart blockchain hackathon becuase we have a better PoW, but I am concerned about creating another altcoin because of the recent drop. Is there still room to create a new Coin? We also have a great idea on how to do an ICO without all the headaches.

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Jess Lee (she/her)

Hey JJ!

  • What are the main things to consider re: licensing when one intends to start a commercial oss project?

  • Have you seen big licensing issues arise when a side project ends up becoming a commercial project?

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Joseph Jacks Ask Me Anything

Hey Jess! My partner Heather Meeker is the world's foremost COSS licensing expert. She has written about some of the more exciting developments around the PolyForm project here: coss.media/polyform-open-core-lice...

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Ben Halpern

Thanks for doing this JJ.

Has your thesis or expectations changed at all since you officially started OSS Cap?

What has gone as expected and what has surprised you?

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Joseph Jacks Ask Me Anything

Hi Ben! Thanks for having me.

Our thesis has remained the same: OSS Capital focuses exclusively on investing in and helping COSS companies.

I have, however, learned a few things over the past few months in our infancy:

1) The world is still far from understanding the magnitude and profoundness of COSS as a highly categorizable thing. We have a lot of educating to do, even with $70B+ in COSS M&A/IPOs/PE events in 2018 alone.

2) The world is still far from looking at COSS from a data-driven perspective and making conclusions from that data. A lot more people need to see this spreadsheet: oss.cash/

3) The COSS category is likely to be $10T+ (trillion) over the next 15 or so years. I originally thought it would be somewhere around $3-5T, but it is much bigger than that. I plan to blog soon on (conservative) data projections to support this.

4) There are far more COSS startups out there than we can invest in (even the absolute best ones at the earliest stages). :-( ... This is only true because we do not yet have billions of dollars to directly invest ourselves (this is a function of how large the COSS space is and our age), but stay tuned over the coming future! Constraints breed innovation!

5) Our thesis has only gotten broader and more expansive: software ate the world, OSS is eating software, OSS is then eating everything else: cloud (Kubernetes), hardware (RISC-V), etc... It is even more exciting on a daily basis to have the privilege to help founders build and grow the next leading COSS companies!

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Thomas Junkツ

A lot more people need to see this spreadsheet: oss.cash/

Looking at the chart, I see clearly RedHat dominating the market, generating half of the outcome. Why should I - as an investor - put my money in other companies than RedHat?

Don't get me wrong on that: I love to see more money being put into Open Source companies - I even work at a OSS Shop (we built among other things GPG4Win, the windows integration for GnuPG). But I see, that being Open Source comes more with a price, than it helps.

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Ben Halpern

From our perspective, commercial open source has become more interesting and viable in the market in the past year or so.

It's hard to say if the right people are finding us now, or the macro trends have shifted, but it's easier to get people excited about the open source component of our future. But still hard to tell if that's sample bias based on things that have changed in our world.

I get the sense that the slowing down of blockchain mania has helped.

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Mark Constable Jr

How practical (or irrational) are fears of a budding startup going the open source route from having business logic stolen from competitors?

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Joseph Jacks Ask Me Anything

In fact, you should encourage competitors to use, collaborate, build products around and standardize on your open source project. Open source transforms the very idea of competition to one of validation, partnership, expansion, distribution and value creation.

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Michael Tharrington (he/him)

Appreciate ya taking the time to do this, JJ! How would you define an open source company?

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Joseph Jacks Ask Me Anything

Hey Michael! I try to call them "COSS" companies as I think that puts a finer point on it. For COSS companies, I like to define them using the following working definition: "If a given company fundamentally relies/depends on a core OSS project (or a handful, like Hashicorp, for e.g.), to justify its own existence, it is therefore, definitionally, a COSS company". I have blogged a bit more about this here: medium.com/open-consensus/1-the-10...

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Andy Zhao (he/him) • Edited

Hi JJ, is there a "why now" reason for open source, or has major investment in commercial open source always been feasible?

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Joseph Jacks Ask Me Anything

I believe the "Why now" can be answered in the context of Open Source 20 ~ years "in", since the creation of the definition Bruce Perens wrote in 1998...and even 35+ years "in" if we factor against the founding of Richard Stallman's Free Software as a movement before Open Source (read more about that history here: coss.media/five-decades-of-permiss...) ...

Here are the major changes over the last 15 ~ years that have made Open Source arguably the most significant movement in technology and, in particular, COSS (Commercial Open Source Software) a new kind of powerful and, I believe, the fastest growing category:

  • the rise of Git networks and developer populations globally: GitLab and GitHub did not exist and now they serve 40M+ developers, and DEV (this site) serves 5M+ developers, and growing exponentially

  • cloud computing: cloud basically did not exist and now it is huge

  • successful COSS examples: COSSI has grown from less than 5 companies to 44+ in half this time and from $10B~ to $145B+ in 6 years or so

  • the continued growth of developers globally: 40M developers globally today, and that number could be growing by 50% YOY over the coming decade, compounding ... this will be hundreds of millions of developers in a pretty short period ... the implications of this are profound

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Liana Felt (she/her)

Hey! thanks so much for doing this! Sounds like you are involved in a lot of different types of projects. Do you have any productivity tips?

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asynchio profile image
Joseph Jacks Ask Me Anything

Focus on what you consider to be highly enjoyable, curiosity satiating and fun!

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notaframework.com

Timing question.

When do you open source? Once you have team and funding that can build a business around the product or when you are still in single founder stage?

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Joseph Jacks Ask Me Anything

With team and funding, I believe a given open source core for a COSS company should be released and built in the open as soon as possible.

If you are a single founder, I also believe that you should build the core technology / software that serves as the basis of your future product/platform as an open source project.. also, from basically day 0.