Open Source Business Model: Setting Up Your Business

Companies that develop open-source software employ various business models to generate revenue. These models typically involve offering additional services, features, or elements of value that complement the free open-source software. By understanding and implementing effective open-source monetization strategies, businesses can tap into the benefits of the open source model to build successful ventures.

Throughout this article, we will explore different open source business models, examples of successful open source businesses, and the revenue models behind open-source software. Additionally, we will discuss the open source business model canvas and how to create a sustainable and profitable open source business.

Key Takeaways:

  • Open-source businesses employ various strategies to monetize their software and generate revenue.
  • Dual licensing, open core models, SaaS, freemium, donation-based funding, and crowdsourcing are some of the popular open-source monetization strategies.
  • Successful open-source businesses like MySQL, Red Hat, and GitHub have implemented innovative business models to generate revenue.
  • Open-source software revenue models include consulting services, additional service offerings, branding and merchandise, and partnerships with funding organizations.
  • A well-defined open source business model helps companies adapt to market needs, leverage community collaboration, and build sustainable ventures.

Dual Licensing Model: Maximizing Revenue from Open Source Software

In the world of open-source software, companies have found innovative ways to generate revenue while still providing free access to their software. One such model is dual licensing, which allows companies to offer software under both an open-source license and a proprietary license.

Under the dual licensing model, users have the choice to either use the software for free under the open-source license or purchase a proprietary license for additional features or support. This flexibility caters to different user needs and maximizes revenue potential for the company.

A notable example of a company that has successfully implemented the dual licensing model is MySQL. They offer their database management system under the GNU General Public License (GPL) as open-source software. However, they also provide a commercial license for customers who require additional features and professional support.

Benefits of Dual Licensing

The dual licensing model offers several benefits to companies:

  • Increased revenue: By providing an option for users to purchase a proprietary license, companies can generate additional revenue streams beyond traditional support and services.
  • Flexibility for users: Users have the freedom to choose the licensing option that best suits their needs, whether it’s accessing the software for free or purchasing a proprietary license with added features and support.
  • Protection of intellectual property: The proprietary license allows companies to protect their intellectual property and maintain control over the software codebase.
  • Encourages commercial adoption: The availability of a proprietary license can attract commercial users who require certain functionality or assurances that may not be available under the open-source license alone.

The dual licensing model has proven to be a successful strategy for software companies looking to monetize their open-source software while still benefiting from the collaborative nature of the open-source community.

Open Source Licensing Models: A Comparison

To better understand the dual licensing model, let’s compare it to some other common open source licensing models:

Licensing Model Description Example
Dual Licensing Software offered under both an open-source license and a proprietary license MySQL
Open Core Core open-source software with additional proprietary features or services Red Hat, Chef
Software as a Service (SaaS) Open-source software provided as a cloud-based service GitHub, Moodle
Freemium Basic open-source software offered for free, with premium versions available Sentry
Donation-Based Funding Reliant on user donations to fund development and maintenance SourceForge, GitHub
Crowdsourcing Community-driven development of open-source projects Linux, Google Android, Wikipedia

Open Core Model: Combining Open Source and Proprietary Elements

The open core model is a popular approach in open-source software revenue models. It involves developing a core open-source software and offering additional proprietary features or services on top of it. This model allows companies to generate revenue by selling the proprietary elements while still benefiting from the collaborative development of the open-source community.

One of the key advantages of the open core model is the ability to balance the benefits of open-source collaboration with the monetization potential of proprietary offerings. By creating a core open-source software, companies can leverage the expertise and contributions of the community to continuously improve and enhance the software.

However, to generate revenue, companies can monetize the additional proprietary features or services by offering them as premium add-ons or subscriptions. This allows them to provide value-added functionality, support, or customization options to customers who require more advanced capabilities.

Some successful companies that have adopted the open core model include Red Hat and Chef. Red Hat, for example, offers its core open-source operating system, CentOS, for free, while providing a range of proprietary services and certifications for enterprise customers. Chef, an infrastructure automation platform, follows a similar approach by offering a free open-source version and premium features for large-scale deployments.

Comparison of Open Core Model with Other Revenue Models

Open Core Model Dual Licensing Model Software as a Service (SaaS)
Combines open-source core with proprietary features Offers software under both open-source and proprietary licenses Provides open-source software as a cloud-based service
Allows companies to monetize proprietary elements while leveraging open-source community contributions Gives users the choice between free open-source or paid proprietary versions Charges a subscription fee for accessing the software hosted on the company’s infrastructure
Examples: Red Hat, Chef Examples: MySQL, Qt Examples: GitHub, Moodle

Software as a Service (SaaS): Monetizing Open Source Technology

Software as a Service (SaaS) is a revenue model that allows open-source companies to monetize their technology by offering their software as a cloud-based service. With SaaS, users can access the open-source software through a subscription-based model, paying a recurring fee to use the software hosted on the company’s infrastructure.

This approach provides several benefits for both companies and users. Companies can generate revenue by providing ongoing support, updates, and additional features as part of the SaaS offering. Users, on the other hand, benefit from the convenience of accessing the software through the cloud, eliminating the need for complex installations and maintenance.

Popular open-source platforms like GitHub and Moodle have successfully employed the SaaS model to monetize their technology and provide added value to their user base.

Advantages of the SaaS Model for Open Source Businesses

The SaaS model offers several advantages for open-source businesses:

  • Revenue Generation: By offering their open-source software as a service, companies can generate a consistent stream of revenue through recurring subscription fees.
  • Enhanced Support and Updates: With the SaaS model, companies can provide regular support, updates, and maintenance to users, ensuring they have access to the latest features and security patches.
  • Scalability: The cloud-based nature of SaaS allows companies to easily scale their infrastructure to accommodate a growing user base, ensuring optimal performance and stability.
  • Flexibility: Users can access the software from any device with an internet connection, providing flexibility and convenience in their workflow.

SaaS Model Example: GitHub

One of the notable examples of an open-source platform successfully implementing the SaaS model is GitHub. GitHub provides a cloud-based platform for version control and collaboration, allowing developers to host and manage their code repositories.

With a range of subscription plans, GitHub offers various features and services, including collaboration tools, code review, and project management functionality. By leveraging the SaaS model, GitHub has been able to monetize its open-source software while providing an extensive suite of developer-focused tools.

GitHub SaaS Features Pricing Plans
Code collaboration and review tools Free plan with limited features
Paid plans starting at $4 per user/month
Project management and issue tracking Additional features available in higher-tier plans
Extensive integration ecosystem

GitHub’s success showcases how the SaaS model can effectively monetize open-source technology and provide valuable services to developers around the world.

Freemium Model: Offering Free and Paid Versions of Open Source Software

The freemium model is a popular open-source software revenue model that allows companies to offer a basic version of their software for free while providing an option to upgrade to a premium version with enhanced features and functionality. This approach attracts a large user base by providing value through the free version, while generating revenue from paid upgrades.

The freemium model leverages the concept of “try before you buy,” giving users the opportunity to experience the software’s core functionality before deciding to invest in advanced features. This strategy not only fosters user engagement and loyalty but also serves as a marketing tool to drive conversions and boost revenue.

Key Benefits of the Freemium Model

  • Large User Base: Offering a free version enables companies to reach a broader audience, allowing for greater brand awareness and market penetration.
  • Upselling Opportunities: The freemium model provides a clear pathway for users to upgrade to the premium version, creating potential upselling opportunities and driving revenue growth.
  • User Feedback and Iteration: The free version serves as a testing ground to gather user feedback and identify areas for improvement, enabling companies to iterate and enhance their software based on user needs.
  • Competitive Advantage: By offering a free version, companies can differentiate themselves from competitors and showcase the value proposition of their premium offerings.

One successful example of the freemium model in the open-source space is Sentry, a popular application monitoring platform. Sentry offers a free plan that includes essential features, allowing users to experience the software’s capabilities. Users can then upgrade to premium plans, such as Business or Enterprise, to access advanced functionalities like unlimited events, enhanced security features, and priority support.

The freemium model strikes a balance between providing value to users and generating revenue for open-source software companies. It empowers users to explore the software’s potential while offering a compelling reason to upgrade for additional benefits, making it a win-win situation for both parties.

Donation-Based Funding: Generating Revenue from User Contributions

Donation-based funding is a key revenue model for many open source projects. These initiatives rely on the generosity of users and supporters to fund their development and ongoing maintenance. By providing the opportunity for individuals to contribute financially, open source projects can continue to thrive and innovate.

Platforms like SourceForge and GitHub have implemented features that make it easy for users to donate directly to supported projects. This enables users to show their appreciation for the software and provide financial support to ensure its sustainability.

One notable example of successful donation-based funding is the Mozilla Foundation, known for its popular open-source browser Firefox. The foundation has carried out large-scale fundraising campaigns to support their open-source initiatives, leveraging the support of their user community to drive donations and secure the necessary funding.

Overall, donation-based funding offers a unique opportunity for open source projects to receive financial support directly from the users who benefit from their software. By fostering a sense of community and appreciation, these projects can continue to thrive and make a lasting impact.

Benefits of Donation-Based Funding
1. Financial Support: Donations provide a reliable source of funding for open source projects, allowing them to cover development costs and ensure ongoing maintenance.
2. Community Engagement: Donation-based funding fosters a sense of community involvement and encourages users to actively support the projects they value.
3. Sustainable Development: By receiving direct contributions from users, open source projects can sustainably develop and improve their software over time.
4. Independence: Donation-based funding allows projects to maintain their independence and focus on their mission without relying on traditional business models or venture capital funding.

Crowdsourcing: Harnessing the Power of the Community

Crowdsourcing is a valuable approach for open source businesses to tap into the collective knowledge, skills, and resources of a community. By involving a diverse group of contributors, businesses can benefit from different perspectives and ideas, leading to the development of innovative open source projects. Examples of successful crowdsourced open-source initiatives demonstrate the effectiveness of this collaborative approach.

Examples of Successful Crowdsourced Open Source Businesses

Several prominent open source projects have successfully harnessed the power of crowdsourcing to create impactful software solutions. Here are a few notable examples:

  1. Linux: The Linux operating system is a prime example of a crowdsourced open-source project that has achieved widespread success. Developed by a global community of contributors, Linux has become a leading operating system used by individuals, businesses, and organizations worldwide.
  2. Google Android: The Android mobile operating system is another notable example of a crowdsourced open-source initiative. With contributions from developers around the world, Android has captured a significant market share in the smartphone industry.
  3. The Pirate Party Movement: The Pirate Party movement, focused on issues related to intellectual property and the internet, has utilized crowdsourcing to drive its advocacy efforts. By engaging supporters and volunteers, the movement has been able to raise awareness and influence policy discussions.
  4. Wikipedia: The collaborative online encyclopedia, Wikipedia, relies on crowdsourcing for its content creation and editing process. With contributions from millions of volunteer editors, Wikipedia has become a valuable resource of knowledge accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

Crowdsourcing enables open source businesses to harness the collective wisdom and creativity of a community, resulting in the development of robust and innovative solutions. By embracing this collaborative approach, businesses can leverage the contributions of passionate individuals to achieve their goals.

Consulting Services: Leveraging Expertise in Open Source Technology

Open-source companies can offer consulting services related to the open-source software they develop. Consulting services are a valuable addition to the business model, allowing companies to leverage their expertise in open source technology to provide specialized assistance and support to clients. These services can encompass a wide range of areas, including:


Companies can offer comprehensive training programs to help clients understand and utilize open-source software effectively. Training can be tailored to different levels of expertise, from beginner to advanced, and cover various topics, such as installation, configuration, and optimizing performance.

Technical Support

Technical support is crucial for clients using open-source software, as it ensures smooth operations and timely issue resolution. Open-source companies can provide dedicated support teams that offer assistance through various channels, including phone, email, and online chat.


Open-source software can be highly customizable to suit specific business needs. Companies can offer consulting services to assist clients in customizing and adapting the software to meet their unique requirements. This may involve developing custom modules, implementing integrations, or modifying existing functionalities.

By offering consulting services, open-source companies can create additional revenue streams while establishing themselves as trusted experts in the field. These services not only contribute to the financial success of the business but also foster long-term relationships with clients who benefit from personalized guidance and support.

Additional Service Offerings: Enhancing the Value of Open Source Software

Aside from the core open-source software, companies have the opportunity to provide additional services that enhance the overall value and user experience. These services not only address the specific needs and requirements of users but also contribute to the monetization of open-source businesses. By offering services such as hosting, maintenance, and customization, companies can generate revenue while providing added value to their customers.

Hosting services allow users to have their open-source software hosted on reliable and secure servers, eliminating the need for users to set up and manage their own infrastructure. This ensures that the software remains accessible, available, and optimized for performance at all times. Companies like SUSE specialize in offering comprehensive hosting solutions for open-source software.

In addition to hosting, maintenance services provide users with ongoing support to ensure the smooth and efficient functioning of the open-source software. This includes timely updates, bug fixes, and security patches to address any issues that may arise. Hortonworks is an example of a company that offers maintenance services for open-source technologies like Apache Hadoop.

Customization services offer users the flexibility to tailor the open-source software to their specific requirements. This can involve modifying existing features, adding new functionality, or integrating the software with other systems. Companies like Percona provide customized solutions for open-source databases, catering to the unique needs of businesses and organizations.

The Benefits of Additional Service Offerings

By providing additional services that complement the core open-source software, companies can differentiate themselves in the market, attract more customers, and generate additional revenue streams. These services offer users convenience, expertise, and peace of mind, as they can rely on professional support and tailored solutions that enhance the value of the open-source software.

Examples of Companies Offering Additional Services

Company Additional Services
SUSE Hosting
Hortonworks Maintenance
Percona Customization

Branding and Merchandise: Expanding the Reach of Open Source Initiatives

Open-source organizations have recognized the potential of branding and merchandise as a means of not only generating revenue but also promoting and raising awareness of their initiatives. This strategic approach allows them to connect with their community and expand their reach.

By selling branded merchandise, open-source organizations like the Mozilla Foundation and Wikimedia Foundation have found a valuable revenue stream that complements their core open-source software projects. Through the sale of merchandise such as t-shirts, mugs, stickers, and more, they not only generate additional income but also create a sense of community among their supporters.

Branded merchandise serves as a physical representation of the open-source projects, allowing users and enthusiasts to showcase their support and identification with the initiatives they believe in. Wearing a t-shirt with a project logo or using a mug with a recognizable brand design helps to create visibility, strike up conversations, and spread the word about the open-source principles.

This type of branding not only provides financial support but also works as a form of grassroots marketing. When individuals become brand ambassadors through the merchandise they purchase, they contribute to the organic, word-of-mouth growth of the open-source initiatives. It becomes a collective effort to promote and advocate for the projects.

Additionally, by leveraging the power of branding and merchandise, open-source organizations can establish themselves as recognizable entities within the technology industry. The association of their logos and brands with quality, innovation, and community-driven initiatives helps to solidify their position and attract further support.

Branding and Merchandise

Advantages of Branding and Merchandise for Open Source Initiatives
1. Additional Revenue Stream
2. Community Engagement and Brand Loyalty
3. Grassroots Marketing and Visibility
4. Establishing a Recognizable Brand

By monetizing their initiatives through branding and merchandise, open-source organizations can further their mission, reach a wider audience, and cement their position as leaders in the industry. The revenue generated can be reinvested into the development and improvement of the open-source projects, ensuring their longevity and continued success.

Partnership with Funding Organizations: Collaborating for Financial Support

Open-source projects can greatly benefit from partnering with funding organizations, such as governments, universities, and non-governmental organizations. These collaborations provide valuable financial support that can help sustain and develop open-source initiatives. Funding can come in various forms, including grants, stipends, and even custom development contracts.

One notable initiative that offers financial backing and resources to open-source projects is the Google Summer of Code. Every year, Google provides funding and mentoring for selected open-source projects, allowing participants to work on these projects and contribute to their growth and success.

When partnering with funding organizations, open-source projects gain access to crucial resources and expertise that can accelerate their development. They can receive guidance and support from experienced professionals, access cutting-edge technologies and infrastructure, and engage in collaborative networks and communities.

Additionally, partnerships with funding organizations enhance the credibility and visibility of open-source projects. By aligning with reputable institutions and leveraging their resources, these projects gain recognition and establish themselves as trustworthy and valuable contributors to the open-source community.

Here is an example table showcasing some notable funding organizations that support open-source projects:

Funding Organization Description
National Science Foundation (NSF) A U.S. government agency that provides grants for research and development projects, including those related to open-source software.
Linux Foundation A non-profit organization that supports and promotes the growth of Linux and open-source software through financial contributions and collaboration.
Open Source Initiative (OSI) An organization dedicated to promoting open-source software and advocating for its use in various industries.

These funding organizations, along with many others, actively invest in open-source projects and provide the necessary financial backing for their sustainability and growth. Through strategic collaborations and partnerships, open-source projects can secure the resources and support they need to thrive and make a lasting impact in the software industry.


The open-source business model presents a range of benefits for entrepreneurs and businesses looking to capitalize on the power of collaboration, adapt to market demands, and expand their reach. By embracing this model, companies can tap into the collective expertise and resources of the open-source community, driving innovation and growth.

One of the key advantages of the open-source business model is its adaptability to changing market needs. With open-source software, businesses can quickly pivot and tailor their offerings to suit evolving customer requirements, ensuring they stay competitive in a dynamic marketplace.

Furthermore, the open-source business model enables companies to enjoy a global reach. By embracing open source, businesses can attract a diverse and international community of contributors, users, and customers, expanding their impact and market reach beyond traditional boundaries.

To create a successful open-source business model, companies should explore various revenue streams, such as offering consulting services and additional value-added services that complement their open-source software. By implementing creative and strategic monetization strategies, businesses can build sustainable ventures that thrive in the open-source ecosystem.


What is an open source business model?

An open source business model is a strategy used by companies to generate revenue from open-source software while still offering some elements for free.

What are some examples of successful open source businesses?

Examples of successful open source businesses include MySQL, Red Hat, GitHub, and Mozilla Foundation.

How can companies generate revenue through dual licensing?

Companies can offer software under both an open-source license and a proprietary license, allowing users to choose between free usage or paid access to additional features or support.

What is the open core model?

The open core model involves developing a core open-source software and offering additional proprietary features or services to generate revenue.

How does the software as a service (SaaS) model work in open source business?

Companies offer the open-source software as a cloud-based service with a subscription fee, providing ongoing support, updates, and additional features.

What is the freemium model in open source business?

The freemium model involves offering a basic version of the open-source software for free, with the option to upgrade to a premium version with additional features for a fee.

How can open source projects receive funding through donation-based funding?

Donations from users and supporters can help fund the development and maintenance of open-source projects.

How does crowdsourcing benefit open-source projects?

Crowdsourcing allows projects to leverage the collective knowledge, skills, and resources of a community to contribute to their development.

How can companies monetize open source technology through consulting services?

Companies can offer consulting services related to the open-source software they develop, including training, technical support, and customizations for clients.

What additional services can open-source companies offer?

Open-source companies can offer services such as hosting, maintenance, and customization to provide added value to users and generate revenue.

How can branding and merchandise contribute to open-source initiatives?

Selling branded merchandise helps raise awareness, promote open-source projects, and generate revenue for organizations like the Mozilla Foundation and Wikimedia Foundation.

How can open-source projects collaborate with funding organizations for financial support?

Open-source projects can partner with governments, universities, and non-governmental organizations to receive financial support through grants, stipends, or custom development contracts.

What are the benefits of an open source business model?

The open source business model allows companies to tap into the collaborative power of the open-source community, adapt to market needs, and potentially reach a global audience.