Appwrite raised $27 million in April 2022 to support the development of its backend-as-a-service platform for developers. That’s one way to create sustainable open source. The other is the fund that Appwrite announced this week to support open source development driven, in significant part, by Appwrite CEO and founder Eldad Fux’s own “financial pain” to get Appwrite off the ground.
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Fux isn’t the first to try to figure out open-source sustainability; nor will he likely be the last. Appwrite also lacks the funds that, say, a Google brings to the issue. I talked with Fux to better understand the open-source sustainability conundrum.
Sizing up sustainability
To begin, while $27 million is a significant start to sustaining Appwrite’s own product and go-to-market ambitions, it’s not nearly enough to tackle open-source sustainability in general. While Fux is quick to point out that big tech support for open source “is just not enough,” how does he propose to go further?
As it turns out, this might not be the right question.
“By supporting open source from such an early stage as a company, we hope to set a higher bar for smaller startups and medium-sized organizations,” he noted. The point, then, isn’t to solve the mega issue of open source sustainability all by itself but, rather, to make sustaining open source an integral part of the company’s journey. “This is a responsibility we believe any company should have for the success and sustainability of the entire ecosystem.” He’s not wrong.
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Is this a model he thinks others should follow? “I believe that every company of every size should examine and see what it is gaining from open source and what it is making to ensure it also gives back to the community. Not only is it a wise thing to ensure the ecosystem around your technology is healthy, but it’s also the right thing to do.” Though normative statements like “right thing to do” have not tended to gain currency, there’s more support for the first part of his statement. The more companies help to shape the open source upon which they depend, the better they’re able to create value for their customers.
So where to begin?
“While some projects are used by millions, they might still struggle to find a reasonable way to monetize and sustain themselves. This is where we believe we can help,” Fux said. Open-source projects need all sorts of support, he continued, but in his experience, “financial support was my biggest concern” as a maintainer. Sometimes, however, there’s no intent to ignore cash-strapped maintainers. “Companies benefit from your work but are not always aware of the challenges you need to face to deliver it,” he suggested. Therefore, Appwrite’s open-source fund is as much designed to raise cash as “awareness of the challenges required to deliver high-quality, open-source products.”
In so doing, he hopes that corporate supporters will discover what he has: “The best-hidden perk is that you will always get a lot back by giving to open-source. It’s mainly about deciding to take action.”
Disclosure: I work for MongoDB but the views expressed herein are mine.