SOS—Surviving Open Source

If the software you make is free, how do you support a family and pay a team? MODX co-founder Ryan Thrash discusses this topic and how it plays into the future of the MODX ecosystem.

By Jay Gilmore
August 1, 2013
SOS—Surviving Open Source
Image: 'businessman jump through the gap' from Shutterstock

“So, what do you do?” …

This is invariably followed a short while later by, “So let me get this straight … anyone can download it and use it for free!?!? How do you eat?”

For the longest time, there wasn’t a simple answer. In fact, in 2004, if someone had come to me with the wonderful idea that I co-found a software company to create a free/open source content management system in PHP, I would have promptly directed them to the closest drug rehab facility, and firmly resolved myself never to fall victim to that idiotic idea.

But as it turns out, the open source song is quite siren-like, after all.

Fast forward through the idealism and naivete of sharing something cool with the world just to see what would happen, winning awards, Microsoft sponsoring our first user conference, going to conferences where no one knew what “mode ex” is (it’s “mahd-ex”, by the way, as in modular), and building a team that believes in and is excited by the vision of helping people have amazing experiences on the web (some in the Community call it “build awesome” which I love). We’ve experienced our fair share of open source drama™, too. But by gosh, not only did we survive, but now we’re thriving.

The Oldest Profession in Open Source

It only took about 9 years for us to figure out how to make it work, without having the benefit of deca-millions in funding to make it happen. We dodged bullets more than once, including very early on when Susan Ottwell came through big time with a major donation for MODX.

Today, commercial support is the engine that propels MODX development. Advertising revenues from our much-loved MODX Sponsors such asA2 Hosting, other great advertisers on our MODX Services page, the monthly fees from our talented and vetted MODX Professionals, and the amazing Community members who chip in, help offset some server and overhead costs. Cloud is starting to contribute, but we are still investing in its ultimate success. We also have plans for a killer MODX App Store, which we’ll talk more about at MODXpo 2013 in Germany.

We’ve grown from just Jason and me in 2005(!), to a team of 10+ folks today. We’re actively seeking the right type of people who share our vision for MODX and how it can impact the world. We hire like Seth Godin: we won’t work with you, until we work with you. A great way to get on our radar and shortlist is to start contributing to the code. We know we’re headed for a 30- then a 50- then a 100-person+ headcount, with the best and brightest MODXers on board, no matter where they are in the world.

In short, we’re planning for an amazing future where we no longer hide in plain sight as we did for our first 7 or 8 years. As we continue our journey, the free software you enjoy today will pale compared to what’s planned for the “mythical” MODX 3.0 (which we’ll also talk about at MODXpo). Even our next 2.3 release is shaping up to be an amazing upgrade for later this year. We’ve never invested more in putting out free software than we have in the last 12 months, and we look forward to having the resources to do a whole lot more.

If the Shoe Fits…

MODX only takes on strategic projects and customers, those that help us continue investing in the future software platform:

  1. Organizations whose governance mandates having a direct relationship with the software vendor for commercial support
  2. Engagements that keep us in the trenches when it comes to MODX scaling and security, or that lead to improvements in the core software itself
  3. Projects with MODX Professionals with challenging migration or integration requirements, or where deep domain expertise in MODX itself helps meet deadlines

If you’re a company that needs assistance and you fit one of the above profiles, we’d love to help you, too. Just let us know.

Destination Next: Awesomeville

MODX has finally figured out how to fund its own growth from its own operations. I won’t lie and say we haven’t made missteps, but we try not to mortally wound ourselves on a regular basis. We have a bright future as indicated above, so make sure to get to MODXpo to get a glimpse, and look for more news as we continue making progress. Until then, happy MODXing!