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Business based on Open Source Software
Hey, Zhiyuan here! I’m running a B2B Infra Startup. I share monthly stories and insights about Customer Experience, Industry Trends, Products, Team Building, and Technical Stack.
As time passes and after meeting more people and experiencing more things, my perspectives on the same matter can change. This post records my understanding of business, which is built on top of open-source softwares.
In 2020, I joined API7.ai as the first full-time member to participate in the Apache APISIX community and project. I was thrilled because I could devote 100% of my time to the open-source community. At that time, I was living alone in Shenzhen, and every day, I focused on Apache APISIX: tracking posts mentioning "APISIX" on Slack, GitHub, and Twitter, replying to question authors, and trying to schedule online meetings with them to discuss usage scenarios.
However, this excitement lasted until the end of 2020, when we started offering enterprise products based on Apache APISIX. We needed to communicate frequently with various enterprise clients online and offline, which changed my focus.
I didn't realize until the end of 2021 that I had been deeply involved in the "open source commercialization trend." Despite the internal rush and chaos caused by the demands of enterprise customers, the fact that so many large enterprises and financial institutions were using our products filled me with joy.
In early 2022, we expanded into overseas markets to introduce Apache APISIX to more developers and architects outside of my country and encourage them to try it out. As of September 12, 2023, we have seen the fruits of our efforts over the past year and a half, with an increasing number of companies contacting us for consultation.
During our expansion into overseas markets, initially, I was solely focused on the developer community. I hoped to attract developers by answering product usage questions and thus increase our user base. This approach effectively created a solid and lively open-source community where users could discuss and solve problems. However, it did not generate more business leads.
Our company provides commercial products and support services based on Apache APISIX, and we require a sustainable and healthy cash flow to keep operating. Thus, relying solely on "passion" was not a viable long-term strategy. As a result, we shifted our focus towards providing commercial products and support services to enterprise clients. This shift in mindset was natural and is my most crucial ideological shift in 2023.
We have encountered many voices that do not understand the concept of commercializing open source, both internally and externally. However, let us take a look at what we have accomplished:
The Apache APISIX project consists of multiple sub-projects. Since 2019, we have resolved over 6000 issues. However, there are still hundreds of issues that need to be addressed.
API7.ai has established a dedicated documentation team to revamp the Apache APISIX documentation. We have set high standards for recruitment (I am responsible for resume screening and interviewing), resulting in lower output efficiency but exceptional quality.
API7.ai has made significant investments in building a professional DevRel team. On the one hand, they interact with developers from different countries to obtain project/community feedback, and on the other hand, they continuously produce content to enrich the community. In 2022, our DevRel team completed hundreds of presentations.
API7.ai invests ample time and resources in reviewing every plugin design of Apache APISIX to ensure the delivery of production-ready features and capabilities.
Our product team, comprising founders, pre-sales, and product managers, designs every product feature to meet customer needs rather than just conceptual capabilities.
I am responsible for supporting customers. Consequently, I collaborate with the technical team to troubleshoot issues and provide feedback to the documentation or technical teams to incorporate the problems encountered into the product.
In summary, our goal is to provide easy-to-use and reliable products and services to enterprise customers and community users. By earning the trust of our enterprise customers and their willingness to pay, we can ensure our longevity and provide more assistance to customers and the open-source community. Therefore, open-source commercialization is a win-win situation.
P.S. Refer to the COSSC Report