Anything You Want

My three readers know that I’m a fan of new and alternative ways of doing business, and of people and companies who change the status quo.

One person I follow is Derek Sivers, who founded the company CD Baby. By leveraging emerging technologies he helped change the way music is sold. Back in February of 2010 I blogged about both my experience with CD Baby and about a TED presentation Derek did that really reflected my experience with open source communities.

Well, he has a new book out called Anything You Want. I ordered mine this morning (I was one of the 100 people who got an autographed version). From the Amazon review:

Derek is the entrepreneur’s entrepreneur. Just as important, perhaps more so–he is a phenomenal teacher. Whether detailing the fascinating rise of CDBaby, explaining catastrophic (but common) founder mistakes, or teaching me about relational databases in two minutes using analogies, he makes the complex simple. Moreover, he makes it all actionable.

If you want a true manifesto, a guidebook with clear signposts, and a fun ride you’ll return to again and again, you have it here in this book. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did

I rarely recommend a book sight unseen, but my guess is Derek will not disappoint.

Neat Trick: Holiday Notifications

I got an interesting question from a support customer today. Due to the Fourth of July holiday this weekend, they wanted to send all notifications to the On Call destination path, but starting on Tuesday morning at midnight they wanted them to go back to normal.

I thought of an easy way to do this. Copy the notifications.xml file to notifications.normal.xml and to notifications.oncall.xml. Edit the latter file and change all of the <destinationPath> tags to point to the On Call path.

Since changes to the notifications.xml file do not require a restart, all they have to do is to set up a cron to copy the “oncall” version of the file to notifications.xml when the holiday starts, and another cron entry to copy the “normal” version back when the holiday ends.

Easy peasy.

Save the Date: OpenNMS Users Conference Europe 2012

The next OpenNMS Users Conference in Europe will be held 10-11 May, 2012 back in lovely Fulda, Germany.

Building on the last three years of this conference, we’ll be changing the format yet again.

The first day will be a traditional conference. We will have a call for papers and set up several tracks for people to get the most out of their OpenNMS experience.

The second day will be a barcamp, an “un-conference” similar to what we did this year. The attendees will determine what they want to see.

In between will have another social outing involving fine German beer.

For those who are interested, just before the conference we will offer two days of intense training on OpenNMS. On 8 May we will have a repeat of the training I did on the first day this year – covering all of the basics of OpenNMS, and on 9 May we will have an advanced training day, building on that. So if you came to the conference this year, you can choose to show up a day early and build on what you learned, and if you didn’t make it this year you can attended both days if you like.

Hope to see you there.

Changing Business Models

Matt Aslett has a new post today in which he pointed out that “a significant number of high profile open source-related vendors had stopped using the term open source as an identifying differentiator.”

As I read through his list of 14 companies, it seemed to me the reason that some of them are finally refraining from using open source as a differentiator is that they were never open source companies in the first place. Despite their best efforts to rebrand the term, they failed. Two of them, Groundwork and KnowledgeTree, haven’t had a “community edition” since 2009, so I think we can stop referring to them in any discussion of open source software, except perhaps as an example of what not to do. Red Hat is on the list, but they are still proudly open source and they are also still profitable.

When you get right down to it, profits are a major measure of the success of a company. When I find myself surrounded by VC-types, their measure of profit is often in how much money they made when selling a particular company. If that company does well or poorly after that is no matter to them. That doesn’t make them evil, but it also doesn’t mean they make great businesses.

More often than not, VCs have to make a decision about when to stop funding a company. Many of the companies in Matt’s list have been around for five years or more, and this tends to be the event horizon for VCs to cash out or quit, so I can fully understand why they are trying to rebrand themselves in search of a business plan that works. If they don’t, they die.

The survival of my company, on the other hand, is totally up to us. We adopted a business model that resulted in profits from Day One, and we work hard to keep it that way. Although this doesn’t gain us any respect in the Valley, it doesn’t matter all that much since we don’t need it. And that is kind of the point – the traditional VC model is dying as quickly as the open core model is dying.

Just to be clear, I am thinking of VC-backed software companies. With the rise in true open source solutions and the big growth areas in software coming in the form of inexpensive apps (think Angry Birds) and “freemium” applications (think Farmville), VCs are becoming unnecessary. I still think the VC model can work in areas such as biotechnology where huge startup costs are the norm.

The thing that really excites me these days is seeing how traditional business models are being disrupted. Open source is definitely changing the software industry, and the technologies open source enables are changing things on even a larger scale. I love reading about food trucks that tell customers where they are through Twitter. And I love what Kevin Smith is doing to the movie industry.

The entertainment industry is undergoing huge changes. First, digital distribution means that the cost to deliver content has gone way down. Second, decent home theatre systems are within the reach of many, which means a trip to the local multiplex, with its high costs, talking patrons and sticky floors, is becoming unnecessary. And much like VCs, the movie studios are trying to find a role for themselves in a world that doesn’t need them.

Today, Kevin posted a long rant about his new movie “Red State” (warning – profanity). In it, he has a novel idea for getting people into movie theatres. Instead of just showing a movie, he couples it with a personal appearance after the show for Q&A. Not only are people willing to pay for this, they are willing to pay a premium.

Of course, even a novice VC would look at this and say “it doesn’t scale”. Kevin addresses this in part by proposing using network technology to provide live Q&A over the network or via satellite. Using Twitter, Facebook, SMS, etc. people could still ask questions and interact with the artist.

This new “self distribution” plan has one amazing upside: it’s profitable. By using social media to market, he doesn’t need to spend millions on advertising. By running his art as a business, he’s already in the black – the rest is just gravy. Will “Red State” make as much as “Avatar”? Probably not, but it will net more than “Gulliver’s Travels” did, at least domestically.

And the best part is that most of that money will end up in the pockets of the people who created the content.

The movie studios that survive, like Lionsgate, will adapt and embrace these new models. Those that don’t will be looking for another business plan. Perhaps we’ll see on the cover of Variety a story reading “major studios stop using the term ‘movie production’ as an identifying differentiator.”

2011 Dev-Jam: Day Five

Well, it is hard to believe that another Dev-Jam has come to a close.

I’m not lying when I say this is one of my favorite weeks of the year, and this one didn’t disappoint. A lot of code got written and OpenNMS 1.10 is much closer to becoming a reality.

Also, we inducted two new people into the Order of the Green Polo (OGP).

The OGP is the governing body of the OpenNMS Project, and new people must be voted in by the existing membership. This year Donald Desloge was inducted based, in part, on his work with the JasperReports integration, and Seth Leger joined the group on the strength of his IPv6 work.

Seth was involved in the OpenNMS project back before I was when he worked at Oculan, so it is nice to see someone with his background still working on it after ten years.

We’re already talking about next year.