I am going through this list here: https://www.ycombinator.com/topcompanies and will keep going until I find 10 open source companies that are a part of the Y Combinator alumni. Some names I immediately recognise as open source, some are more obscure even after a look so please let me know if my top 10 is incorrect.

To qualify as an open source company, the core product must be open source - or at least should have started out that way. If the company has a bunch of SDKs on GitHub but the core logic closed, they obviously don't qualify - this is where Razorpay didn't make it.

01. GitLab
02. Segment
03. Docker
04. SendBird 🇰🇷
05. InfluxData
06. Mattermost
07. CoreOS
08. Apollo
09. Blockstack
10. Armory

There were 7 companies in the self-published top 100 list - so from #8, I went to my trusty Crunchbase Pro account and found 3 more.

As a bonus I'll include 10 more open source, YC companies:

11. Protocol Labs
12. Expo
13. Pachyderm
14. OpenTrons
15. Swiftype
16. dotCloud
17. Microverse
18. RethinkDB
19. Yhat
20. Open Motors

How do they make money?

  • Usage / user limits on free tier
  • Paid tiers include support, more features
  • Money buys convenience and/or managed infrastructure

While going through these company websites quickly, there's something I noticed about Docker's website. They didn't have a Pricing page and it was very unclear how they were monetising. Surely enough a search about how they monetise led me to a bunch of articles on how their finances are troubled.

What could Docker have done better? I'll come back to think about that another time but maybe they could have had a Pricing page or made it very clear what their paid products and services were? I could only guess from their list of clients that they do some pretty hands on, custom stuff for those clients - which by the way, were just logos that didn't link to anywhere.

The important pattern I noticed

Over time, actual, real, true open source companies (the companies who open sourced their product to a point where anyone could clone the repo and fully set up a working copy of the product with no dependencies on the company's backend services - ie. 'here, take our whole company IP for free') grow to look very similar to those companies contribute selective parts of their IP / tools to open source.

For example, the last 9 to 5 I worked at was a non-profit and we enjoyed using GitLab quite a lot. This is back in 2015 to 2016. I know for a fact that they're a true open source company because we had a copy of GitLab running locally with no phone-home types of functionalities or locks.

Examining their site now, it is clear they learned how to monetise on top of the SaaS model really well. It's clearly defined yet the open source offering is still there tucked away in a secondary tab.

What is the lesson?

You can make great money as an open source company. Leverage the benefits open source at the start - faster organic growth, develop a community and while you're growing, identify one or more monetisation streams, clearly define it for the customer (and for the company) and implement it as quick as you can.