A great time to start an open source company

The alternatives to Maven cost millions of dollars, and it's already used by companies with up to 1,500 developers, in multiple locations, juggling 15 projects at once. You can't do that with a spreadsheet.

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Think of a redwood forest after the fire.

Great time to be a seed. Or imagine being an alligator after the peat in your swamp is burned out. Life is good.

In that same way, now may be the best time to launch an open source company. Especially if, as in the case of Mark deVisser, CEO of Sonatype, you have a technology with a ready market and competition that is easy to fend off.

Apache Maven is the project Sonatype is commercializing. Maven is a project management tool that is already strong in many enterprises, with 70,000 binary files for use with Spring, AJAX and other things.

It's a great fit for customers, and a great fit for the times.

"We're going beta with our professional version next week, and we've got 20 significant clients signed up who have seen that. We're getting ready to do an Eclipse plug-in. There's a lot of interest in that. And we have 7 more products lined up."

Now is just the right time to launch this open source project into the commercial world because it can save enterprises money in project management, and the hard times let deVisser start with the project's chief committers on-board.

"You have to have committers and you have to have product," he said.  It also helps if that product is popular. The Maven database was linked to 250 million times in September alone.

"I have 20 of the world's best engineers on my payroll. They are now working full time to make Maven a better ecosystem.

"Open source projects are strengthened with a commercial company behind them. And for a large corporation, they want to know the vibrancy of your ecosystem and what committers you have on board.

"If you have the right names they are happy to sign contracts."

Notice that deVisser didn't brag on his salesforce. In fact, he has hired just one salesperson, someone who knows how to send out invoices. "They were productive within a week."

Maybe this is a unique opportunity. The alternatives to Maven cost millions of dollars, and it's already used by companies with up to 1,500 developers, in multiple locations, juggling 15 projects at once. You can't do that with a spreadsheet.

"There are dynamics to Maven that make further growth likely," he admitted.

"It's a model for describing projects. It's a language. And it's in the interest of the people who speak that language to get others using it." It's a professional tool, and building professionalism around a community of professionals is simple logic.

So maybe this isn't the best time to be launching a company, unless you're an alligator or a redwood seed. But when disaster strikes the business forest it opens up new niches.

That's an important lesson to remember at times like this.