Thoughts on an Open Source Company

I wrote this almost a year ago. It's something we want Couchio live by, to build a company we all want to be a part of.

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Our companies mission to make the world a better place through open source software.

People are hired based on contributions to open source. Code, documentation, advocacy, community help, legal help, etc. People who work to make the world better for everyone through open source are the people we hire.

Every employee has an equity stake in the company. The decision to hire will be partially based on "do we think giving this person this % of the company is worth it to us all" Bad hiring decisions impact us all, so we are all motivated to hire those who will add value.

How do we make money? By providing hosting and services. Rock solid apps, hosting and service. We give away our software, but we provide services people want and need at a healthy profit.

If the company is in the shitter, never have layoffs, decrease pay % across the board. If we have to drop pay below levels that can support people, we can't be a company.

Stress kills. Kills motivation, creativity, and in the long run it literally kills people. Most people want to do good. A few try really hard to do good. We make sure people know once they are hired, they never have to worry about their job. We will try hard to not be a source of stress to our employees.

Never fire. We constantly emphasize you can't get fired for lack of productivity or being stupid or foolish. You can get fired for ethical reasons. We should strive for openness and honesty in all matters.

Never ever ever have a hiring binge. We hire based on contributions to open source. Always. When we have the resources, we hire the best contributors. Otherwise we don't hire.

We don't want people who tend to ask "How can I contribute? What should I do?". We want people who identify for themselves what needs to be done and how they can contribute, and then do it. Our employees want to contribute to make things better, not for a paycheck, not for validation from a manager or even the community. They do it because they think it will make things better.

We don't have managers. Everyone who we hire is already a productive contributor on their own. People can take leadership and mentoring roles, but these roles are granted by those being led and mentored. No one ever has control over someone else's time.

We don't hire for positions like HR, sales, etc. We either outsource, or a person we have already hired for their contributions to open source fills the position.

We don't encourage or discourage project or code ownership. In the case of disagreements, working code always has a place. We encourage forks internally and externally. There can be no reals rules beyond this guidance. We acknowledge this is messy and imperfect, and will always be source of friction and disagreement.

How do we ensure people are productive and don't goof off? We don't.

We don't measure productivity? Smart people can always appear to be productive while goofing off, making it seem they are working hard when wasting time, causing stress for themselves and often for others who want to be seen to be strong contributors. We don't monitor people's productively. We let people goof off if they want. It's okay to goof off. I'm goofing off right now as write this.

Then why do our people work?

Our people are hired based on contributions to open source, their contributions make the world a better place. Our company mission is to do that, and we are filled with people who've already done that. We all want it to succeed and make a profit, so we can make ever greater contributions to the world. People contribute how they see fit: By working on profitable projects, by developing new projects, by doing work that will never make a profit but makes the world better for us all. Sometimes it's by taking some time off to recharge so you can contribute later.

If the company becomes unprofitable, or sick, it's everyone's responsibility to make it healthy. No one has to ask permission how to make it better, how to make things profitable, they just do it.

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Already this has been put to the test, as we were presented an eminently qualified hire with a very positive energy. The problem was no open source involvement or contributions. I wanted to make an exception but I realized if we really want to give this idea of an open source company shot, we can't compromise already on the 4th hire we make. So I had to say no, which was hard.

I don't yet know if this will work in the long run, but for now I want us to give it a real shot and see what happens.

Posted February 10, 2010 1:18 PM