Subject: Re: Lead developers vs 'Helpers'
From: "Stephen J. Turnbull" <>
Date: Thu, 21 Aug 2003 13:11:07 +0900

>>>>> "David" == David N Welton <> writes:

    David> I suppose I was idly wondering about the relationships
    David> between lead developers and helpers as far as the business
    David> world is concerned.  I'm sorry I don't have a very clear
    David> question in my head, but it would be along the lines of the
    David> following.

It's nothing to be sorry about if you're not clear.  In fact, it's
where things that are muddy that the best ideas are generated.  I just
want to avoid discussion using economic jargon that has a natural, but
different, meaning to you.

    David> Let's also assume, just for the heck of it, that they are
    David> all independant, and don't belong to any large
    David> organization.

OK.  But economics clearly says that cartels make more money than
competitors, and psychology says competing against your friends is
good way to lose them, unless the rules of the game are clear.  And
since you're hanging out together (if only virtually on mailing lists
and IRC), creating some formal organization is rather natural.

I think the more important scenario is when they all have prior
loyalty to a large organization---but a different one for each

    David> Do helpers have a shot at making money off of the project
    David> in terms of services?

Of course.

    David> How much of a shot do they have, if they are going up
    David> against the lead developer?

Not much, if they go head to head.  But remember, there are an
infinite number of ways to distinguish yourself.  "Less filling!"
"Tastes great!" ... and that worked!  Even if you have no stomach for
deliberate fraud of that kind, think of it as an extreme to show how
flexible "niche creation" is.  It's all in your clients' minds.  :-)

Of course if you're dealing in pretty much anything but video games,
eventually software is going to have to have a productive aspect,
which is somewhat objective.  But take "risks" and "TCO".  These are
inherently fuzzy; some people like to gamble, other people would give
up their left leg to avert a 0.56% chance of losing both.  Let alone
the probability assessments.  So there's always room to create a
favorable opinion of your product among a certain segment of clients,
and you target them.

    David> How big does the project have to get to give helpers a shot
    David> at carving out their own space?  Your examples above
    David> indicate projects that are big enough to support more than
    David> one consultant.

Anything that involves user support will have geographical niches
defined by how far a consultant is willing to travel to hold a user's

Also, remember that it's not how big the project is, it's how big the
market is.  If you've got a 1000-line project that is useful to every
Windows user, that's a lot of handholding you can (theoretically)
charge for.

So far, of course, all this is theory.  In practice, how do you _do_
these things?  I don't really know, but if you look around you'll see
lots of people doing lots of different things, with varying degrees of
success---both by your standards and by theirs.

Institute of Policy and Planning Sciences
University of Tsukuba                    Tennodai 1-1-1 Tsukuba 305-8573 JAPAN
               Ask not how you can "do" free software business;
              ask what your business can "do for" free software.