Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Where are the OSS billionaires?

Woke up this morning, blogosphere alight with about 40 blogs on the topic. Many of the article quote yours truly's "white paper" where I had written "I for one do not believe there will be an OSS billionaires club". I had written that in 2003, quoting a panel where Linus was talking at Stanford, back in 1998.

That was what, 10 years ago?

We asked ourselves the exact same question, which in itself is part of the answer. It intrigues me how the OSS community seems to recycle the same topics and if they were news items (Linux on the desktop! Aliens make billions from FREE software!).

Each time we discuss the topic with passion, intelligence and ultimately, short memory. Do we suffer from collective 10 years amnesia? We look like fish in a bowl, at every turn of the bowl we look like we have never been here and we ask with bewilderement, 10 years later, "where are all the OSS billionaires?". Let's go for another round, shall we?

In retrospect, I am glad we were on the money, at JBoss, in more ways than one, with "Professional Open Source". Our insight was to "PAY PEOPLE FOR WORK". What a fucking concept. I needed a PhD in difficult stuff to come up with that one.

I am proud we set an example for many young developers where they understand they can make a living at their passion. I still don't think the OSS billionaires club will be big, possible empty for the next 10 years unless Larry Ellison decides to buy RHT and stand alone in the club. I think we will see the emergence of privately held OSS companies as partnerships. Large ones. Public markets have minted billionaires, large consultancies will make money for a few select partners that are "equity partners". It is a cash flow business, a nice one. Larger than lifestyle companies, smaller than public companies.

Well I am personally not doing bad these days, and thank my lucky star every morning. A lot of my JBoss friends are doing just fine. See you in another 10 years gold fishes. Hopefully someone will have beaten the game by then. Look to build large privately held partnerships boys and girls, beware of VCs, drop me a note for help.



Andrew C. Oliver said...

I'm still betting on you to be the first one to do it or get close...once you get off of your ass ;-) I don't think there will be a one-company open source billionaire. I think it will be more of a holding company multi-serial something open source billionaire.

Roy Russo said...

What, Andy? Not betting on me to be the first? I'm hurt. ;-)

Andrew C. Oliver said...

You a billionaire Roy? That is a scary thought. On the other hand Blackwater is probably thrilled at the prospect of invading a small country for you.

marcf said...

getting off my arse, yes, that is the plan.

I am enjoying the time-off though, I read a ton, I am enjoying the raw information.

I want to dance to the beat of a different drum.

marcf said...

roy, blacwater...
ick, scary thought

marcf said...

Oh, and Andy...

I hear you man... it is an interesting concept. From concept to reality is where the difficulty lies... as I said in the article one of my current conclusions is that a large partnership probably an optimal structure. Capital need is fuzzy, either medium or large.

That's the different drum.


Roy Russo said...

I will confess, if I was a billionaire, I would likely have my own private army.

Anyway... to Fleury's point. He advocates organic growth, which I agree with. Big money partnerships are the way to go in this scenario, as they act as seed (or series A) funding. However, it is not easy to get those big money partnerships until one has some traction, ie. a few customers under your belt.

My $0.02.

Jason said...

Marc, if you're still bored, drive
one of these around Wall St. ;)

On a serious note, with everything going towards ASPs, software licensing in general may eventually become moot, although obviously not anytime soon.

An interesting aspect of a holding company is that if a project fails you still have the talent, and can reallocate them somewhere else. The key is of course inspiring (retaining) them.

P.S. Where is the blog about CERN?


Andrew C. Oliver said...

I disagree that everything is going towards ASP. I think the consumer and small business market is going towards ASP. And even parts of the former are constrained by physical realities and gratification limitations (even though there is Amazon, there are still book stores, Marc drives an actual porsche and doesn't just play "Need for Speed"). The latter is constrained by regulation (sarbox means NOT everyone will be using Gmail) and the desire to control your business information/quality of response ("sorry, you're not the only one affected by the latest, rest assured our largest customers should be up and running by the end of the day").

Marcf, agreed. As a matter of preventing WWIII we must prevent Roy from ever becoming a billionaire.

Andrew C. Oliver said...

As far as capital (and no I'm not asking for money, I have enough problems haha), grassroots that too. I don't see you as a great front-man for other people's money. You don't make a good thumb puppet. :-)


marcf said...


I have a CERN blog ready, haven't gotten around to publishing that is all. Will do.