Open source, business and free pens

14 10 2012

I was philosophing on Open Source and business today, thanks to a triggering article my friend Ole Lensmar, founder of SoapUI, forwarded the other day : It’s official – Open Source engines growth.

One thing that came up in my mind was how Open Source style strategy would work in another business, say pen’s

Say I run a company who designs and produces pens, of good quality, multifunctional, really nice and good pens.

One day I start to give pens away for free. To attract a great mass to my great pen.

This companies have done for ages, right..?

With the difference this time, that I keep giving them away for free. Not on a time limit.

What could I then make money from?

Obviously – amount. If one customer gets more than 10 pens, then he has to pay.

Kind of easy to work around as a pen customer I guess, but still it would mean some trouble for me as a pen user to have my friends getting pens for my company mates all the time, signing up as customers with their names and all. And they would then have spent their amount of free pens..

Or obviously – I can offer the same pen with a more cool feature, say integrated and really smooth and great designed laser pointer, for a certain price. I would probably get some paying customers that really likes that.

But what about all those tens of thousands pen users that couldn’t care less about an integrated laser pointer, and never would use such a feature? They’d stick to the free pen, and stay happy about the great bargain, right?

Well, one thing I could do so they too will give me some money so I can continue developing new great pens, is to offer some sort of convenient service for them, that makes their life easier.

Maybe a subscription? With some decent data gathering, I deliver new pens at their office door just before the moment their old pens stops working. They’d pay for the convenience of never again have to think about ordering pens.

And maybe I can offer a package with both pens and notebooks? And then they’ll give me their money. But hey, the notebooks are ALSO free. They could just go get them themselves.

But not bundled into nice packages, delivered at the door at exact the same moment I need them. For that busy people of today would pay i believe. People DON’T like shopping anymore, not in the old school sense. They don’t want to run around or browse around for hours to get the right pen and notebook.

Knowing how good my free pen is, they assume the notebook would be as great, and they’d pay to NOT HAVE TO THINK ABOUT IT anymore.

Of course the notebook, HAS to be as good as expected, otherwise they just stop paying for the bundle and get the notebook somewhere else. I cannot just send whatever notebook that happened to be around. It need to be aligned with the great pen, for keeping the trust.

And probably they’d bring the subscription to their next place of work.

Probably there are thousands, or at least a decent amount, of other needs related to pen usage, buying, storing, garbaging that my company could solve for them, experts of pens that we are. Without going into pen consulting (writing stuff for them) business.

How could I get knowledge about these needs?

1. Target the buyer. Is it the users of pens, and who are they really that can influence purchasing? The office manager? The purchasing manager..? Do I need to address all, with what message, and what design? Differs from small to big companies? Get to know your customer.

2. Get to know the customers life around pens and maybe notebooks. Pay some study visits, do observations, from observations you get so much information that you probably never need to go into any interviews, and also you should get a loyal customer idea generating community.

3. Fail forward. Try business ideas, count on to throw some or many of them away. Google does this every day.

These are no new truths about business right? Business have done just this for thousands of years?

Open Source no different.

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