On top of so many reasons to build open source software, is working on open source also more fun than traditional software?
Philip Tannor, co-founder and CEO of Deepchecks, thinks so.
Philip and his team made a bold move in January 2022 by pivoting their entire company approach from building enterprise-first to building open-source software as their core offering.
And since doing so, Deepchecks is more aligned with their vision and goal, excited every day by their work, and realizing more people want to work with them.
Because open source is fun. It’s creative, community-minded, and innovative.
Here’s more on why Philip and his team made the pivot, and what other leaders should learn from the open-source movement.
From Enterprise to Open-Source
In the field of machine learning, Philip sees developers and data scientists moving in one key direction: coding with examples instead of coding with rules.
So Philip and his co-founders started Deepchecks, a company building continuous validation tools that ensure machine learning systems are doing what they’re supposed to do. That includes:
- Testing during CI/CD
Together, these make up the building blocks for continuous ML validation required to ensure companies receive the results they want.
Originally, Deepchecks started by building a traditional enterprise model—selling their product in a top-down motion. The shift came after Philip and his co-founder, Shir Horev, realized that there were more monetization opportunities in the monitoring aspects of coding.
Meanwhile, they started a side project for testing machine learning models and data - and sought feedback from the ML/data science community. People loved the testing aspect of their product, and that’s when they got onto the idea that open source is, in Philip’s words, a “big deal.”
This led them to devote about 80% of the company’s time to open-source development to determine its effectiveness. After three months of doing that, they launched their open-source project in January 2022 and saw massive growth from there.
Maintaining Company Identity and Needs
Philip’s been clear on one thing from the beginning—being an open-source company does not define his company nor does it solve all strategy problems.
Instead, it’s one component of your strategy that helps solve real business problems.
What this means is that, like any business, an open-source company needs to have a product that fills a gap in the market—a product people want. All business strategies need to serve KPIs you determine for the company. And open-source is one of those strategies.
The community aspect is an important one, of course, but it can’t be done to the exclusion of solving real problems and meeting real business KPIs and objectives.
Hiring for Open Source
One way open source impacts company identity is through hiring and talent acquisition. Philip and his team have seen a huge increase in applications and interest in his company. He’s seeing an influx of eager, bright, and knowledgeable prospects all excited to work in open source.
Philip believes people love working with open source because of the collaborative nature of the work—everyone is part of the solution, together. Instead of selling a product per se, they’re working on a solution. The innovation and creativity behind that are compelling to people.
Besides the interest in working for open source, the main difference between it and more traditional companies is that all employees need to be somewhat user-oriented. This means focusing on community and collaboration, not just following rules or implementing codes to the tee and stopping there.
There are also different roles in open-source companies, such as developer advocacy. This can be someone who doesn't need the same level of technical expertise or science data background—they need to know about keeping a community engaged.
How to do an Open-Source Launch
Launching an open source is very different from a traditional product or service launch. Because it involves a community of people, the approach is different.
For Philip, there’s one key thing to focus on: fast time to value. Having a good product is important, of course, but people need to see value very early on in the process—you can focus on developing a great product down the road. Having a fast time to value depends on both the product and the documentation and the README.
There are two different approaches to an open-source launch:
- Go to the community anytime something’s ready.
- Go to the community when you have something of value to share. This prioritizes an amazing experience for your community because you know that they are only going to look at it every few months to give something new a shot. And if they don’t like it, chances are they’re not going to give it a second shot.
Philip and his team follow the second approach, opening up to the open-source community in stages. Once their team feels there is something of real value, they give it to two users to play around with. At this stage, they ask:
- Would you use this?
- Would you recommend it to a friend?
From there, they can share it with four people, then maybe 10, 20, or 30+. Philip’s team picks users from a defined population and target demographic. They then randomly select who to share with from within that population.
A key guiding principle with this phased approach is don’t go to the next phase until the feedback’s good. This staged approach ensures there’s always something of value to share and it keeps the community engaged in the process.
Philip also has a few tips for working with influencers in this process:
- Make their life easy: This includes fast time to value so that it’s a short time from when they click the link to getting their “Aha!” moment.
- Make it easy to share: In your documentation and README, include images, GIFs, blurbs, or anything else that will make it easy to share with other people. The easier it is, the more likely people will share and write about you.
Measuring Open-Source Success
An open-source company operates differently than a more traditional one. And that means there are different measurements of success, too. Philip always keeps in mind the fact that being open source doesn’t define his company; it’s one strategy to meet their goals.
But with that in mind, there are some valuable metrics to look at:
- Stars and star growth usage
- Usage metrics
- Import location
These all show who is using it and where they’re located around the world. It’s helpful in determining how valuable people see your open source and how engaged they are with the product.
There’s so much more to open source than we covered here. If you want to learn more from Philip about his company's pivot to open source, watch his full interview with us.