We’ve ditched MailChimp for Free Software PHPList, working on API

PHPList LogoI’m proud to say that the move from proprietary Mail Chimp to Free Software PHPList has been completed. In addition, I’m going to be helping to improve and extend the PHPList public API to allow for closer integration into crowdfunding campaigns.

Good newsletter management software is critical for effective communication, both for crowdfunding platforms like Open Funding, and also crowdfunding campaign managers like Susan at Valentina (she’ll start funding on June 16th with a handful of other projects – stay tuned). Proprietary tools are very popular, with MailChimp in the lead. However PHPList is a competitive Free Software alternative, without the nasty license restrictions. Open Funding has taken advantage of their offer of free hosted accounts for other Free Software projects.

And I’ll take advantage of the additional freedom our new mailer offers by refreshing and extending its public API on the 14th and 15th of June, when I’ll be joined by Michiel Dethmers, PHPList CEO, and other developers for a weekend-long sprint. The Open Funding technical team are hoping to integrate PHPList commands directly into the Open Funding dashboard. The plan is to provide simple “subscribe” and “unsubscribe” buttons in an Open Funding release later this year. During the sprint we’ll be looking at more advanced function calls too, like adding and removing newsletters and their subscribers remotely.

So if you’re in Berlin, Manchester, or London at the weekend, and have some coding smarts to share, come by and say “hi”!

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A new industrial model

We discussed in a previous post how new initiatives are changing the way we make cars, houses, furniture, clothes, and probably, in the end, everything we actually make. We said it is a consistent movement, but if so, what makes it so? All of these projects share a common model:

  • Don’t protect the knowledge. Share it. It’s probably the hardest thing to understand as we’re living in a society of strongly protected knowledge with patents, trademarks and copyright. But an open source model enables the rise of a community, and that may be worth much more than the copyright that you’re protecting. So you need to switch from “Don’t copy me!” to “Please copy what we do, use it in another market, improve it and try it in ways we haven’t”. 
  • Make a network based on open standards. No need for one company to rule everyone. People will be able to join as they like and do things you would never have thought of. Open Standards are essential as they are what ensure you can use your improvements with other people’s together.
  • Adopt a horizontal governance that is open to contribution. As there is no hierarchy between the entities of the network, there will be no boss deciding what is to be done. Decisions need therefore to be made on a consensus basis so that everybody in the community feels empowered.
  • Produce locally and customize. That’s what open source is about. A new group can emerge anywhere to use what you’ve designed for their own needs, and adapt it to their reality. You could download your next piece of furniture, for example, cut the pieces in a workshop close to your home, and adapt it to your own living room. Forget about boring everyone-has-the-same furniture!

So at this point you might be wondering why you should consider this instead of a good old proprietary control model. The real question is actually this: how long can these proprietary models survive, each in their own silo, while communities gather to build something common? It’s not about giving up the project, but about growing the community by empowering people and enabling diversity. In other words, it is not a threat, it is an opportunity.

But yet some critical success factors need to be kept in mind in order to get that community actually growing. The community needs to be taken into account to set the right governance, organize the right communication, set the right standards, and document them so others can join. And most importantly, encourage the initiatives so that people feel empowered.

So whatever you do, whatever the domain you’re in, you should consider it,  because it is the world of tomorrow.


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Distributed growth

As discussed in a recent post, the structure of stock can be the source of much tension in collaborative start-ups, whose main purpose is to connect people who will make business together. Such structures need a certain size to be sustainable, and the growth needed to reach that size requires a lot of efforts. And to achieve these efforts, start-ups raise a lot of money, that they have to pay back with a large retribution. So customers, who are the ones who actually create value in this model, happen to leave a non negligible part of that value only to grow a network that will benefit others. That doesn’t really sound fair.

We discussed an alternative to this funding model. But beyond this question of funding, it might be reasonable to find another way to grow. This is even more obvious when you think that any other functions in an Internet start-up is so scalable. Making a web platform requires very little work. Testing and fixing it is so easy. Hosting costs are negligible. And most functions can be automated. So the web can connect distant people who have no relation to the company to make business in a distributed way, but we should communicate in a highly centralized, hierarchical way?

There may be an alternative. The same way Internet start-ups compete with traditional businesses by externalizing their main service, they can grow by externalizing their sales/communication/community management function to a distributed network of local connectors managing their own community of users. You end up with a “glocal” community, a network of networks. Each single community is a small start-up of its own, managed by a connector. It is linked to the global network on which it relies for the platform development, and coordination. But it can live its own life, grow to any size one likes and have its own animation and culture. This model has the relevance of a small local group, but the strength of a global network.

If the Internet is to make all business models distributed, there is no reason why there should still be hierarchical armies of sales persons to sell those distributed services. It means giving up some money, and also some revenue. There are probably many obstacles on that path, difficulties that we don’t foresee. But it looks like it might be worth giving a try. And we will.

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Collaborative shareholding?

We recently discussed on this blog why it makes sense to crowdfund free software. That’s why we created a crowdfunding platform tailored for free software. But as any other platform of that kind, it needs to reach a certain size to be sustainable.

All platforms of the so-called collaborative economy gather people so that they can make business together. But because of the network effect, the more people gather, the more value the platform has. And until the platform reaches a certain size, it needs extra effort to live. And after that size the bigger the network, the greater the value. That’s why so many platforms raise millions. So that they can communicate about it and make it grow.

But then you need to pay back the investors, which means for the platform to grab some of the value made by the users. You end up with users working together, paying for the platform to grow, in order to pay the investors. From that moment on, the platform is in conflict between the interests of its users and those of its investors and tensions may appear. This issue has been raised a lot recently under different aspects, such as the analysis by Janelle Orsi of the recent lawsuit against Lyft, or questionings on who owns the sharing economy platforms and on the impact of the sharing economy on social conditions.

So how can we solve this conflict between the interests of the users and the shareholders? Just make the users your shareholders! And offering users a chance to invest in a platform they rely on for their own revenue is not only a way to prevent conflicts, it is also a good way to improve users commitment. Plus if you get a large number of users to join, it can bring the platform a good quantity of cash! For the users, it is a way to secure the platform that brings their income, and to make sure it doesn’t move in a way prejudicial for them. And also to get some cash if some dividend is paid.

After all, we make the platforms for our users. It’s reasonable they should get involved in building them, and become part of them. That sounds just more sustainable and fair. And more collaborative.





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Funding free software?

Open Initiative arose from the need to make software in a different manner. To make software that works. To stick to the real needs. To share to go faster. Because that’s not how the industry works currently.

The software industry was built in an industrial culture. Large investments, strong Intellectual Property protection, long development cycles, and standardized products with mass sales. And in fact, that made sense for heavy industry, but it still made some sense, for distribution issues, in the early IT world.

But the Internet came and disrupted all of this. Software is specific because it has no replication cost. With virtually no distribution costs, there is no need for a long cycle anymore. You can make your prototype, test it, distribute it, upgrade it and fix it again. All of this with no heavy cost. No production line to build, no shipment to organize, no stocks to manage. And yet, we still think of IT companies the same way we think of industrial companies.

There is another way. If you invest a lot in a product to get it done, it is crucial to protect it strongly so that you can get good return on your investment. But if your investment is small, it can be better to let others use it, so that you can profit from their work as well as they profit from yours. That’s what open-source software is about. So free software is not only more transparent and fair, it is also more efficient, because it creates an ecosystem on which you can base your work to create quickly very powerful software.

But that’s not all. As software can be updated easily, it’s better to test it as often as possible. Free software makes it even easier because you get a community that can test your software quick and often. So, less risk, less investment, more efficiency, more fairness. That sounds like a good deal right? That’s what we mean by “make software in a different manner”. That’s why Open Initiative came to life.

And you say: if it’s free software, how do you make a living? Well, as Stallman said, it is free as in “free speech”, not as in “free beer”. Free software developers need to earn money, as everybody else. And that’s why we created Open Funding. Free software brings value to everybody. So the price should be shared between everybody. And crowdfunding is about sharing the effort of funding, when free software is about sharing the effort of development. It just makes sense.

So, fund it by the crowd, make it by small steps, let users test and validate, make it open source. This is a different way.

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Can free software change your life? This is how it changed ours

When we thought about the title for the workshop of the Journées du Patrimoine Des Startups that take place in Paris between 12 and 14 September we talked about the importance of free software for us and how really it has been a life changer in many levels.



There are many reasons we work with free software and why we have started a crowdfunding site for it. Each one of us has personal reasons for this, but there are some common factors that have changed our lives since we first knew free software. Here are some of them:

1.    Money and time saver: how many times have you fought against permissions, licenses and all kinds of obstacles that don’t let you use software in its full potential? Free software makes you confirm that it should be open and free as its name stands for. We’re not saying that free software is equal to no money, but to being up for everyone. Anyhow, it’s always a cheaper option than any other private software.

2.    If you know something, get into it: when we’re talking about development, of course there’s a big importance of the work you can do making the software better. But on Open Funding, we are not all a group of developers and that’s the great thing about free software. You can really contribute from what you know and this really finishes with the idea that free software it’s reserved to geeks. We found ourselves being useful for a good cause from different points of view, because it’s not only about doing the software but also making people aware of it and distribute it.

3.    Great entourage: have you ever been to a free software event? You may find that the people that work around free software can be the most open and sharing people you can ever meet. There’s a sense of sharing and working together that’s natural from this environment. And also, if you really don’t understand something they will try to help you. Maybe some of them can escape from explaining in a language that seems out of this world, but they’ll try their best. Since we first starting attending this kind of events our network has really increased and we have met great people to work with.



4.    Developers are good at what they do: when the idea of creating Open Funding came to life, we talked about how valuable developers work is and how sometimes it doesn’t get recognized as it should. There are many creative people with great projects and we think they deserve to get a fair recompense for the value of their work. Also when developing, it’s sure you’ll be near great creators who will challenge your competences

5.    Share, share, share: the spirit of free software exhales sharing and distributing. As we said before, you really can help from what you know and spreading the word out may be one of the best ways and literally anyone can do it. For example, there are many people in events who work as volunteers with a project they trust. With free software, the community is really everything and we confirm this every day with the projects we are co-funding.


There are many other positive reasons why free software has changed our lives, and that’s exactly what we’ll be talking about this week in our workshop with the heads of three different free software companies who will share their experience and tell us how it really has changed their lives. If you want to get inspired by their stories, join us!


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