Subject: Re: Successful FSBs
From: Rich Bodo <rsb@ostel.com>
Date: Mon, 28 Oct 2002 13:02:16 -0800 (PST)


Ben,

I read all your and Tim's posts carefully and I want to understand
them because I think you guys are smart.  I might read Christensen's
book.  I did just read a lot about him on the net (several articles and
some other stuff).  He seems to have formalized a lot of good business
common sense.

Forgive me if I do not accept your stipulation that the management
believes Clayton Christensen's thesis (And believe your
characterization of it.) until I have learned a little more.  (Mainly
because I don't know precisely what you meant by "the management", but
if you mean by that "Ben", then I accept ;)).

Even though I haven't read The Inventor's Dillema, I would like to
discuss what I have read about Christensen (CC), and how I think it applies
to the subject at hand.

I agree that many free software based products fit the characteristics
that CC laid out for disruptive innovations.  Many OSS projects begin
life less effective than a commercial counterpart but with a clear
trajectory of improvement.

One could argue that the open source development model puts OSS
projects on a potential trajectory of improvement that proprietary
projects cannot match.  Observing these trajectories is either
exciting or scary, depending on where you stand.  It is easy to
observe that useful OSS projects typically gain momentum along a
trajectory as they improve.  This can become avalanche-like if they
become de-facto standards.

According to CC, when a cheaper, simpler version of your established
product is rejected as crap by you and your customers, watch out.  The
disruptive technology may be on a trajectory of improvement to kick
your ass.

Will big companies watch for disruptive technology?  It's interesting
to speculate as to who takes OSS seriously as and who doesn't.  I
could point to a few internal MS memos that suggest they don't, but I
think any student of CC probably does.  MS in particular, can afford
to cover all avenues of attack.  You can't count on assymetry of
motivation.  You can't count on new markets and disruptive innovations
scaring them away.  Those bastards are too damn rich and wily ;).

Will a disruptive OSS technology be used to disrupt the businesses who
have use that same technology in their products?  I don't think so.
Being an architect of a free software project puts you in what I
believe Tim called the "driver's seat".  (Although there is not always
a "driver's seat", you are either more or less of a driver than a
passenger.)  You don't have a monopoly on driving the project, you're
just an expert.  The playing field tilts toward the experts.  Anyone
can compete with you, but as long as you are better than they are,
they will be the relative passengers.

I know, it's not a good enough advantage for most, but it's good
enough for me.  It's probably not good enough for those who have
tasted monopoly models and become addicted (and I don't mean those
little hotels and green houses).  There are a number of little perks
to sweeten the deal, too.  If you take a chance and invest your time
developing free software products, you get free marketing, development
help, and lots of good will.  Some of the people helping you will
become competitors.  That's o.k.  Pick a big market.  Compete on
skill.  Run on revenue.  As your technology matures, you can compete
in more markets.

-Rich

Disclaimers:

I use free software and OSS in the same document quite often because
free software is a subset of OSS and it doesn't seem right to use free
software to describe packages under other licenses.

It may look like I am making fun of a competitor or some other
company, but I don't think that way.  I'm joking around.  Enjoy ;)

Rich Bodo | rsb@ostel.com | 650-964-4678