Monetized Open Source: Incumbents, IP Rights, User-Owned Networks

The Monetized Open Source NFT (#0080) from the Meta Trends collection.

View on OpenSea

“GitHub stars don’t pay the rent.”

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❓ What You’ll Learn

  • What is monetized open source?
  • What are the benefits of monetized open source?
  • Who earns $1,000,000+/year from an open-source project as a solo developer?
  • What are 8 ways to monetize an open-source project?
  • What are open-source alternatives to Airtable, Zapier and Shopify?
  • What’s the future of user-owned networks?
  • What is counter positioning?

💎 Why It Matters

Open-source projects give creators and companies flexibility and lowers platform risk.

Monetization makes these efforts sustainable.

🔍 Problem

Platform risk puts you at the mercy of closed-source companies. You are subject to vendor lock-in and rent-seeking behavior.

Using an Oracle database? They just raised prices? And won’t listen to request features?Too bad. You can’t touch the code. And switching costs are high.

💡 Solution

Monetized open-source projects give some or all of the code away for free.

With the ability to change it.Projects are monetized via services, premium features, hosting and more.

🏁 Players


  • WordPress • The most popular website builder
  • Plausible • Google Analytics alternative
  • Elastic • Search, analyze and visualize data
  • Medusa • Shopify alternative
  • Builder • Visual website builder
  • Posthog • Alternative to Mixpanel and Amplitude
  • Supabase • Firebase alternative
  • Semgrep • Static analysis tool
  • AnonAddy • Anonymous email forwarding
  • Penpot • Figma alternative

🔮 Predictions

  • Networks will become public goods. Centralized networks have been one of the most effective ways to generate wealth. For a few. As NFX states, “70% of value in tech is driven by network effects.” See Facebook and Amazon. Value from user-owned networks accrues to network principals and participants. LooksRare is an OpenSea alternative. Network effects will remain powerful. Where value accrues will change.

☁️ Opportunities

  • Counter position to compete with incumbents. Make it hard for them to mimic your strategy. Copying should lead to cannibalizing their existing business. Medusa is a Shopify alternative. It’s unlikely that Shopify will open source. Even if Medusa becomes a formidable competitor.
  • Permissionlessly contribute to open-source projects. Use open-source contributions to build a portfolio and find jobs. Laszlo Block, former VP of People Operations at Google, says the number of Google employees without a college education is rising.
  • Use open-source alternatives to avoid platform risk, vendor lock-in and rent-seeking behavior. Use code that you can fork and self-host. Oracle can raise prices without providing more value because switching costs are high.
  • Turn complaints into contributions. Accept pull requests. Along with feature requests. Augment your dev team with open-source contributions.

🏔️ Risks

  • Consulting Services are less scalable than hosting and dual-license models. Consider marginal costs before you choose this strategy.
  • Community Backlash • Moving free features to paid tiers may lead to backlash.

🔑 Key Lessons

  • Users are the real winners of monetized open source. Public goods have less lock-in.
  • Value creation does not automatically lead to value capture. Two-way rating systems, proof of stake protocols and airdrops are “uncornered” innovations.

🔥 Hot Takes

😠 Haters

“Monetization pollutes intrinsic motivation of developers.”

Why do open-source projects seek donations and sponsors? Great software requires resources. Sustainable public goods matter. This is why Gitcoin is gaining traction.

“This sounds idealistic. Very few people actually contribute to these projects.”

Contributions are one side of the equation. The other is the ability to fork and customize code. This leads to less lock-in and less rent-seeking. The ability to fork a project, paradoxically, makes it less likely that you’ll need to. Forkability forces fairness.

“I can make more money with a closed-source model.”

Monetized open source is not a hammer. Think from first principles. What’s the best way to achieve your mission? Do that.


🔗 Links

📁 Related Reports

🙏 Thanks

Thanks Stewart Townsend, Steve Sewell, Tarun Muvvala, Marc Seitz, Ashwin, Ime Essien, Jorge Masta, Jordan Divecha, Yarty Kim, Chaitanya and Clint Gible. We had a great time jamming on this report.

📈 What else?

Trends PRO #0080 — Monetized Open Source has more insights.

What you’ll get:

  • 30 Projects (200% More)
  • 5 Predictions (150% More)
  • 11 Opportunities (175% More)
  • 4 Risks (100% More)
  • 4 Key Lessons (100% More)
  • 4 Hot Takes (100% More)
  • 9 Links (200% More)
  • 14-minute audio episode with exclusive Monetized Open Source stories, insights and opportunities.

With Trends Pro you’ll learn:

  • (📈 Pro) Who built a $1,500,000/year productized service on an open-source ecosystem?
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  • (📈 Pro) How do NFTs succeed with CC0 licenses?
  • (📈 Pro) Who built a $750,000,000 company on open data?
  • (📈 Pro) How to find 200+ open-source alternatives to popular tools?
  • (📈 Pro) What’s value-market fit?
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