Open Source ain’t Charity

We’re spending real money on open source. Since hapi has been almost exclusively developed by the mobile team at Walmart, we had to justify the significant expense in open source the same way we justify any other expenditures. We had to develop success parameters that enable us to demonstrate the value and to make on-going investment sustainable.

The formula we constructed produced an adoption menu where the size of the company using our framework translated to “free” engineering resources. For example, every five startups using hapi translated to the value of one full time developer, while every ten large companies translated to one full time senior developer. We measure adoption primarily through engagement on issues, not just logos on the website.

These number change a couple times a year as the nature of contributions evolve, but they provide a solid baseline for progressive comparison. By having a clear way to measure ROI, we can justify more resources. It allows us to clearly show that by paying developers to work on hapi full time, we get back twice (or more) that much in engineering value. Same goes for sponsoring conferences. It all has to translate back to measurable engagement.

Of course, not everything is just numbers. Since Walmart tends to adopt hapi features about six months after they have been introduced, the value of external early adopters means significant quality and stability boost. We are also among the top work destinations for node developers. We have been getting about a dozen qualified candidates for every node opening we advertise. But while these benefits are important, they are very hard to quantify and we rarely rely on them to justify investments.

When we’re asked to sponsor an event we look at the community the event is serving and the impact a sponsorship can have on our adoption benchmarks. Unlike many other companies, we don’t have an evangelism budget. We sell goods, not APIs or services and our current interaction with the developers community is limited to hiring.

If this all sounds very cold and calculated, it’s because it is. Looking for clear ROI isn’t anti-community but pro-sustainability. It’s easy to get your boss to sponsor a community event or a conference, to print shirt and stickers for your open source project, or throw a release party for a new framework. What’s hard is to get the same level of investment a year, two years, or three years later.

What is even harder is to justify hiring a full time node contributor and other resources dedicated solely to external efforts. But with a strong, proven foundation of open source investments, even that becomes an obviously smart move – by the numbers.