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How open should your open source business strategy be

What Vembu and others are showing is that success in open source also requires transparency in other areas, even when it comes to development strategy, and a willingness to acknowledge what others may see as mistakes in that strategy.

Sridhar Vembu, CEO, AdventNet
Running an open source company is not like running a proprietary company.

But how different should it be? Does the difference include publicly beating your breast about mistakes both real and imagined?

Sridhar Vembu is not afraid to find out. The CEO of AdventNet, creators of the Zoho online suite, has quickly become one of the industry's biggest advocates of total transparency.

The SaaS provider publishes its status logs in real time. Vembu himself is an active blogger, often ranging far afield of his company's business.

He's also not afraid to confront himself as well as others, which he revealed in a recent note to this blog.

I suffer from a tendency to go swimming in tar. I start out trying to solve a specific problem. I become frustrated with the obvious deficiencies of the tools, and before I know it I’m sketching out ideas for platforms, frameworks, and architectures to solve a whole class of similar problems.

Vembu was responding to criticism from Paul Greenberg that Zoho has lots of tools but little integration, arguing that much of the integration work is taking place "under the hood" and out of sight.

I think the whole exchange illustrates a larger point, the amount of transparency it takes to succeed as an open source start-up.

We are accustomed to the idea that open source means you can see the code.

What Vembu and others are showing is that success in open source also requires transparency in other areas, even when it comes to development strategy, and a willingness to acknowledge what others may see as mistakes in that strategy.

This goes beyond merely engaging with your community, but treating critics as adults rather than as adversaries, and questions as opportunities to provide insight.

A willingness to listen and even change your mind in response to criticism is not something we see in many entrepreneurs. Is it an essential part of the open source business toolkit?