Could You Adopt a Hacking Business Model?


Once more there is a lot of heated discussion about what constitutes a “real” open source business model – that is, one that remains true to the spirit of open source, and doesn't just use it as a trendy badge to attract customers. But such business models address only a tiny part of running a company – how it generates money. What about the many other aspects of a firm?

That's precisely what The Hacking Business Model seeks to spell out.

The assumption is that the company produces software, which is preferentially made available freely, although with a slight twist:

The employee will get a shared copyright to all code and documentation he/she produces according to the spirit of the Sun's SCA license agreement.This doesn't include confidential code/documentation or code/documentation that we do for customers that require full ownership to the produced code/documentation.

All software produced by the company will be open/free source (with the exception of classified customer projects). At equal profit, the Company will prefer to do open/free software projects.

Moreover, the influence of free software is evident throughout:

The Employee works in distributed company and may work from anywhere.

75 working hours per two weeks. Ideally, employees should work schedules that are kind to them and to others.

The Company will, whenever it's possible, largely let the employee choose their own work, instead of being told what to do. By letting the employee set their own goals, he is more likely to meet them. When working on a chosen project the employee needs to work with the team lead, but after the project is done, the employee should decide on what to do next.

Free software is produced in a distributed fashion, with people working where they want, when they want on what they want. This tends to produce happier employees and better work, so enshrining it in the Hacking Business Model makes sense.

Even the management structures betray their origins in the open source development methodology:

The Company will be led in an open and democratic fashion:

All (not customer classified information) information will be public inside of the company. This includes salaries, bonuses, shares, birthdays, etc...

Decisions will be done in a democratic fashion and all employees should have a chance to have their say in things that matter to them.


Company should work according to the moto: "Do good decisions fast but be prepared to quickly change course if there is a way to do it." This implies that the following should hold for 'controversial decisions':

If requested, the decision makers need to clearly define the basis for a decision and provide means for proving/disproving that the decision is in the Company's best interests. If a decision is proved wrong, it needs to be reverted and the decision makers need to analyze why it went wrong and take steps to ensure that it won't happen again.

The Company should learn from its mistakes and its successes. It should strive to repeat its successes and avoid its mistakes in the future.

All of these are classic features of free software's management process: everything is done in the open, with input from all levels, with a readiness to admit mistakes and correct them.

The document is quite long, and deals with many other aspects of running a company – including things like the apportionment of bonuses, how holidays can be taken and the involvement of spouses. It's well-worth reading for its thought-provoking ideas, even by those in companies not involved in producing software.

The Hacking Business Model was drawn up Zak Greant and Monty Widenius (one of the founders of MySQL), and the latter's company, Monty Program Ab, has already adopted it. It will be interesting to see if anyone else possesses the requisite rigour to follow suit.

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