193: Sustainable contribution - 2/2 - "Giving back is the same as making money."

Part 2 of 2 - I spoke with John Faber, Managing Partner with Chapter Three, on March 17th, 2015.

In part 1 to talk about the business advantages of contribution and sustainability when basing your business on open source software. We also touch on Drupal 8's potential power as a toolset and for attracting new developers, doing business in an open source context, and more!

This conversation was recorded via Google Hangout and hotel WiFi. I apologize for the occasionally poor audio quality.

Open source and doing business

"Doing business in the context of the open source world at times has a tendency to straddle the double yellow line. Sometimes there's making money and then there's contributing back. We've tried to do a good job of that."

"For me personally, I find that the open source community is just an easier place to do business for my personality and for the type of person that I am. I don't like really structured things. I like things that have a lot of possibilities. I don't like being constrained in things; I don't like having edges. Drupal gives me no edges. For [me as a business person], that's been the most exciting part of operating and working within the Drupal world. You can really take on any project from a crazy simulator data model project to helping out universities to anything you want. And that's what I love about doing business in this open source world."

What about "finding time to contribute"?

In October 2015, "Chapter Three will have been an incorporated organization specializing in Drupal for ten years. We have always been an organization focused on helping the Drupal project grow. That means giving time back and we don't really look at it as 'making money' and 'giving time back.' When we give back time to the community it's the same as making money. It's in the DNA of our organization to give back and to be part of what's going on right now. And we have always been that way."

"Is it a marketing expense? For us it's worked. I spent no [other] money on marketing at all. I can reallocate things. So I can say my marketing expense is giving back to the community," so John has decided to make the investment in Alex Pott working full time on Drupal core, believing that it will benefit Chapter Three in the long run, whether it be through 'karma' or simply getting a better toolset released faster.

"It's like a karma stream. When you give, it gives back after time. This is paying off on our investment with Alex and it's paid off with our investment that we've made into Drupal in the last ten years. For me, giving Alex a good, full-time, basic salary was driven by my need for Drupal 8 to come out. I watched this for a little while. I talked with my team. We need this trajectory to pick up; let's do it. And we just did it."

John says they didn't go through much mental math on the subject, like, "If we hire Alex, we're going to get this, we're going to make him do that. Alex is fully self-directed. He does what he wants to do. Nobody on my team manages him ... My team asks him stuff all the time! And we do have that resource ... Maybe that was a subconscious game plan. It's been a year now of solid getting this thing together." John waited until Alex was giving the team messages that they could build something solid in Drupal 8 and then he was off selling it into enterprise businesses. "Maybe that was a business plan from my perspective, but people need to understand, we don't ask Alex to do anything. We just want him to feel as though he can actually succeed at this project."

Contribution is a pragmatic choice

"We know that everyone's boat is going to rise (including Chapter Three's) and we're not going to have spent that much money and think about what has happened! I have a pile of clients waiting in the wings. It's the next two years of work for Chapter Three. I think that all of the clients that I've worked on for the last four years to get into these nice infrastructures can easily be upgraded into Drupal 8 and we can actually give them even better stuff."

This idea of paying it forward and sharing the investment in a common toolset is not completely intuitive to those unfamiliar with open source. I asked John to explain the value proposition of open source business cooperation and he admits it's a hard one to get used to. He acted like it wasn't a big deal, saying jokingly, "But Chapter Three? I don't care. We're going to do it!" He is actually making a calculated move. He cares very much about getting the next generation of his chosen toolset--Drupal 8--out, and the best it can be. He also has a core contributor as a resource to help his teams learn and grow. He then admitted as much to me. "Chapter Three is a large organization and all of my employees work in downtown San Francisco, one of the most expensive cities in the country to operate in. There is a business pressure that we need to deal with. But our business pressure is focused on a specific open source world carries with it certain values that definitely work."

"It's the mentality of Chapter Three that we have a little bit more of a ... It seems on the outside, a little bit more of a mellow way of doing things, but we've also developed a process for doing business in San Francisco and staying successful in what we do."

How about we all try contributing?

I asked John for a call to action for people and companies on the fence about giving back to the community that builds their tools. "I would say give it a try. Let's see what happens when all boats rise because people have contributed into the ocean of development. It's almost a no-brainer. The karmic value will come back to you and the business will come back to you. Maybe employees will come back to you. And all of those things are important for running a Drupal shop. You'll feel good about yourself!"

And it's not that much of a financial business decision in my opinion. If you're really into the Drupal 8 stuff and you need that module working, go find [that module maintainer] and give them a job. Say, 'Hey, fix that thing and make it kick ass for everybody!' And then you can sell your projects till you're blue in the face. I think that it works all the way around. I know that there are core contributors out there right now that could use a full-time salary and that would increase the trajectory or our project and that's an important thing to support."

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Interview video