It's a little hard to believe that we've been building free and open source developer tools for almost 10 years now!
I still remember the reaction the first time I demoed Kalabox 1 at the East Bay Drupal Users Group in 2012. People were like NO WAY! WHAT IS THIS NEW DEVILRY? I also remember the excitement when we successfully closed our Kickstarter for Kalabox 2 in 2014 and the subsequent relief when we finally released it later in 2016. More recently, I remember feeling the undeniable love energy when Lando surpassed 10,000 active monthly users, almost 10x more than we'd ever had in any iteration of Kalabox.
Throughout this journey, however, we'd often be asked about the business side of our free and open source developer tool ambitions. The collective attitude of these people towards our work was perhaps best encapsulated as:
That's cool bro, but what's the business model?
And totally fair enough! I mean, afterall, we were a business and we were spending non-trivial amounts of time and money. Shouldn't we have a business model? SHOULDN'T WE?
I must admit that I struggled to find an answer that was satisfactory to the asker the first few times. Afterwards, I remember feeling some combination of sheepishness and shame, mixed with a healthy dose of imposter syndrome. Over time I got marginally better at responding but after maybe the hundreth ask I just sort of accepted the implied premise: We need a business model!
# Searching, searching, always searching
Unbeknownst to us at the time but the Kickstarter we launched for Kalabox 2 in 2014 was probably our first attempt to find a "business model". While it did confirm that some people were willing to pay some amount, the math ultimately didn't really work out. Specifically, net proceeds from the Kickstarter funded less than 5% of the at cost work for Kalabox 2. To be clear, that miscalculation was totally on us and definitely not on all the great people and organizations who contributed to the campaign and to whom we remain eternally grateful. 😉 Regardless though, clearly not tenable.
After the Kickstarter we actually sold our equity in our first company, Kalamuna, to fund a year's worth of looking for a business model. Along the way we also turned down an offer for additional funding, though more on that later. The highlights during that year of biz-model searching range from the obvious, to the, shall we say, interesting:
- A premium version of Kalabox
- Monthly support subscriptions
- On site trainings
- Paid-for features and bug fixes
- A CI/CD/hosting service
- An Opt-in feature to let Kalabox mine Bitcoin on your machine for us (really proud of that one btw)
Needless to say none of the above were sufficient to sustain our operations and cover our costs. So, when the year was over we pivoted back to our bread and butter, running a digital agency, and Tandem was born. To this day Tandem's legal business name remains Kalabox Inc. and Kalabox's spiritual successor, Lando, remains without a business model.
# Challenging assumptions
In the aftermath of our failure to find a business model for Kalabox 2 we realized that if there actually was a business model to find it definitely required a tool that could scale to more users, was less costly to develop and maintain and that also had the funding to scale up until a business model was RFO. (Real. Fucking. Obvious)
We resolved to continue the quest by first attacking the scale and cost problems. Done. Enter Lando, with ten times the users of Kalabox 2 at one half the development and maintenance cost. It's the Model 3 to our Model S. More on that here if you're interested.
We further resolved to kick the can on the "business model" part of the equation until we reached 10,000 active monthly users mostly because, on some level, I don't think we actually ever expected to get there...
Fast forward to six months ago and I'm at a bar, where all great ideas happen, looking over a cheap and neat double whiskey at my business partner Alec who utters: ok, so, yeah, we got to 10,000 users, um, sort of fast, without, uh, basically any marketing.
We spend the next few hours rehashing all the old conversations we had years earlier when trying to build a business around Kalabox 2. How do we monetize? Do we try to raise money? What's the go to market strategy? Perhaps, most importantly, how can we sustain the continued development and maintenance costs of this project as we continue to grow?
We quickly realize that we've been this way before and while now better equipped the terrain looks pretty much the same. Sadness. 😭 Another drink. 🍺 Frustration. 😠 More drinks. 🍻 Then...
Then The Question.
Why are we doing this?
It's really amazing to me how easy it is to forget why you are doing something. How easy it is to be captured and held hostage by what other people think you should be doing. It's even more embarrassing when you get convinced that these are actually your own ideas, and that you've believed them for years.
Maybe we couldn't find a business model because there shouldn't be a business model.
Why are we doing this? To make money? Clearly not 😉 Why are we doing this?
It's because we give a shit.
When we first started making these kinds of tools it was to make our own and other developers lives easier. It was because we felt the pain of developer life and we wanted to help. Period. Full stop.
Along the way, however, we lost sight of that deeper truth; caught up in the shiny of marketing plans, business models and raising money. Now, freed from the mind-forged manacles called the assumptions and expectations of other people we recalculated our situation.
- If we give a shit about making developers' lives easier, then we need to be accountable to developers
- If we need a business model then we are at worst accountable to shareholders and at best distracted from our primary mission in pursuit of dat cash
- If we are willing to spend our own time and money making developers' lives easier, then there must be others
And that was it.
This isn't supposed to be a business! This is supposed to be a god damn fucking righteous movement! And with that the circle was now complete and hope was rekindled. So we got right to work on...
# The Lando Alliance
The Lando Alliance is a movement with a single purpose: to make developers' lives easier. The membership criteria is simple and straightforward:
If you give a shit about developers, want to make their lives easier and are willing to give some of your time or money to do so, then join us.
This means that the The Alliance encompasses much more than just Lando the local development tool. In fact, you don't even need to be a Lando user or supporter to join because it is also...
- A tech blog by and for professional developers
- A Slack channel where developers can get help for any of their dev problems
- A group of evangelists committed to making dev easier through presentations and trainings
- A place with helpful guides and video tutorials
- A place for developers to find new work opportunities
- An advocacy group for developers.
You can think of it as both a developer's Q, doling out best in breed (or in some cases only in breed) tools so they can accomplish their current mission and also their Oracle, advising and guiding them in their fight against The Matrix.
You can also think of it as a positive feedback loop where your participation increasingly grows and strengthens the movement.
And, of course, at the end of the day we aspire towards no business model and no funding which means we answer to no one but each other. If you think it's valuable then vote with your time or money!
# Giving time
The first way to help grow our movement is with your time. We are looking for people to help with all of the bullet points above and with Lando itself. In fact, we've even put together programs to coordinate these specific things.
If you've got something to share that could make a developers life easier then share it on this very blog! It could be technical advice, a case study, some comparison of the hottest new dev tools or devlife coaching. We'll promote your content!
Similarly, If you've got a presentation or training that focuses on making things easier for developers then add it to our events listing and we will sound the clarion call so even more people show up to hear you!
If you've done something super cool with Lando and want to share it with the rest of us then this is for you! Share that recipe or configuration in our guides. We'll give you credit for your contribution and share it with our users!
If you're interested in helping out with Lando itself, either by writing code, contributing docs, improving DevOps or even working on our various websites then we need you! In the future, if this movement grows and is successful we hope to build even more great free and open source developer tools.
# Giving money
The second way to help grow the movement is to sponsor it with your hard earned cash.
The reason why we've always looked for a business model is because paying for this ain't easy, and its decreasingly easy at increasing scale. Infrastructure needs to be paid for, contributors need to be compensated and users demand timely support and consistent releases.
We, as Tandem, are more than happy to continue sponsoring the movement ourselves at the highest level. However, if this movement is to succeed we need others to do the same.
Sponsoring includes many additional benefits depending on the tier you choose but our immediate goals are to fund...
- A stable Lando 3.0.0 release on May 4, 2020
- A dedicated full time developer to work on Lando so there is a consistent release cycle with new features and bug requests. The way we develop is always changing and this means that Lando itself will never "be done" and needs to be updated frequently.
- Another dedicated full time developer devoted to helping people with their #devproblems on Slack, regardless of whether they are Lando related or not.
If every Lando user sponsored at the $4/month level we would be able to do all of the above and much, much more. This leads me to our longer term plans.
If we are able to grow this movement beyond the above we would love to...
- Build more awesome developer tools
- Sponsor developer events
- Sponsor our evangelist's trips
- Pay our extended contributors
- Provide even better support for even more things on our Slack channel
If the above reasons are not compelling enough we've also prepared a few articles that highlight some of the business reasons why you might want to sponsor.
- Why you should sponsor Lando
- Why your agency or org should sponsor Lando
- Why your PaaS or dev tool should sponsor Lando
# What are you waiting for?
Join our movement to make developers lives easier!