The Challenge of Product Management in Commercial Open Source

Open source is a viable business strategy for software vendors to disrupt existing markets and conquer new ones. Just why is it easy in some markets and hard in others? I argue that you need to cut the product in such a way that there is a clear separation between what a never-paying community-user wants and what a commercial customer needs. In addition, you need to tie the commercial features closely to your company’s intellectual property and capabilities to keep competitors at bay. If you can do that, you are in the right place. If you can’t, you may want to get out of there.

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The Cardinal Sin of Commercial Open Source?

Redis is a popular open source database. Its proprietor, Redis Labs, recently announced that some add-on modules will not be open source any longer. The resulting outcry led to a defense and explanation of this decision that is telling. I have two comments and a lesson about product management of commercial open source.

The two comments are about messaging, both ways: What Redis Labs is telling the world and what the open source world is telling Redis Labs and the rest of the world.

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Professors and Startups

My primary goal in becoming a professor was to turn my (hoped-for excellent) research and teaching into startups. For that reason I created the Startupinformatik program and set-up my teaching to support it. Sadly, I’ve been noticing over the years that things don’t seem to get easier but harder. Specifically, “the system” (I’ll explain below) seems to view professors with mistrust rather than as the natural allies they should be when it comes to leading students to create a startup.

Let me illustrate this using two experiences:

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Entrepreneurship Panel at IT-Gipfel Göttingen #itgipfelgoe

A few days ago, I participated in a panel on entrepreneurship in the beautiful but small city of Göttingen, Germany. While a university town, it isn’t exactly the Silicon Valley either, much like my current home town of Erlangen.

Thus, on the panel, I ran into the usual German morals on what makes a good entrepreneur, respectively, how to treat one:

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Mitgründer für Startup mit Existierenden Kunden Gesucht

Für Uni1 ( suchen wir mindestens einen weiteren technischen Mitgründer (oder frühen Angestellten, wenn weniger Risiko gewünscht ist).

Uni1 will die Zusammenarbeit zwischen Unternehmen und Hochschulen weltweit revolutionieren. Uni1 hat bereits Kunden und basiert auf einem erprobten Konzept. Wir können zur Zeit wg. (noch nicht) ausreichender Softwareunterstützung leider nicht skalieren.

Ideal wäre ein Full-Stack-Entwickler mit entsprechender Erfahrung in Java + Javascript und Web-Technologien. Sozialkompetenz und die Fähigkeit in einem schnellen Umfeld zu arbeiten sind ebenso wichtig. Als Ort ist Berlin oder Nürnberg ideal, aber kein Muss.

Bei Interesse bitte Email an mich.

Dirk Riehle,

Wed Nov 19: At Offener IT Gipfel and Hochsprung Award

Today, I was in two places at once. I participated in the Offener IT Gipfel of Germany’s green party where I had been invited to give a talk on open source and to participate in a panel moderated by a member of the German national parliament.

(Local copy.)

I was also present at the Hochsprung Award ceremonies by way of a video recording where we received first prize for our Startupinformatik concept for creating student startups from our computer science Master program.

(Local copy.)

I would usually would have chosen to be in Erlangen to receive the award in person, however, I had long been announced in the Offener IT Gipfel program and could not withdraw, after the Hochsprung-Awards had been decided. My students represented me well.

Student Startup Passion vs. Market Potential

As part of my Startupinformatik initiative (in German), I’m trying to motivate student startups. Here, I want to talk about student startups coming out of a Master’s program. These are different from startups coming out of my research lab, which are based on work with my Ph.D. students. Master student startups are typically smaller, not based on significant intellectual property, and my working relationship with the team has been much shorter than with my Ph.D. students.

What are the three most important factors that make a startup successful? As the old saying goes: Team, team, and team. There is plenty of advice on the web on finding and building teams. I have a bit to add to this as well, but will do so in a different post. Here, I would like to focus on the next two most important success factors, which are product and passion. Without a good product there is no money to be made, and without passion, the startup will fall apart too quickly.

Sadly, being a student, having a good product idea, and having passion for it are factors that are hard to align. The following figure helps illustrate the problem.

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