In business: Keeping free software sustainable

Who am I?

Do free s/w businesses matter?

yes, they do matter!

most contributors to free software are volunteer

often works ok, but burnout and limited time kills many projects

of the few that are paid, most work at large for-profit companies

relatively few are paid to work on free software by NPOs, SMBs

donations sometimes work, but people react better to "costs $N"

My story: JMP

what is JMP?

why I chose to make JMP

why I chose to make JMP free software

how JMP makes money

Business model 1: subscription

sell accounts on a free software instance

much easier with service people used to paying for (i.e. phone)

but need people offering/willing to pay for others (i.e. email)

possible options: bundling, like ISPs used to do with email

examples: ProtonMail,, JMP

Model 2: libre non-gratis

sell copies of software, but using libre software license

give people the source - use non-CLA copyleft so promise is clear

unfortunately often relies on non-free stores, doesn't have to

examples: Conversations (Android), games, OsmAnd+ (Android)

Model 3: shipped in hardware

sell copies of hardware, which happen to include software

hardware priced such that it covers cost of software development

like certain other models, easier since people are used to paying

examples: all RYF, Replicant phone, Bit Reader USB, etc.

Other business models

consulting - build features customers ask for, release code

training - show customers how to use s/w, improve per feedback

crowdfunding - examples: Krita, OpenShot, etc.

recap: subscription, libre non-gratis, shipped in hardware

Would you pay for software under one of these models?

alternative: run your own, find volunteer-run, use proprietary/ads

  • for business model 1: subscription

if easy to use credit card, GNU Taler, cryptocurrency: F-Droid/APT

  • for business model 2: libre non-gratis

you likely already pay for hardware with free s/w - consider RYF

  • for business model 3: free software shipped in hardware

Would you start one of these? With free software businesses...

people will often volunteer to help, especially with small business

people have more reasons to use it (less lock-in, no competitors!)

we build a society where the currency is not privacy invasion

it just feels better

Addendum: What do I work on and how do I fund it?

what are you interested in?

start small

launch early and iterate

charge money from the start


want to make free software projects we rely on sustainable

by giving contributors the time(=money) they need: less burnout

build a business: subscription, libre non-gratis, part of hardware

we need a mindset change: don't just buy hardware, buy s/w too

buying software is not a dirty thing to do!



Denver Gingerich -

the slides:

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