Pratyush Choudhury, 08 Sep 2022

An Indian Entrepreneur’s Journey of Building Open Source Software (OSS)

Introducing the panel: Rushabh and Manisha

To begin with, we had Rushabh Mehta share his journey and learnings from building Frappe and ERPNext, World’s Leading Open Source ERP. As the Founder, CEO, Author, and Lead Contributor of the project, Rushabh has built out a world-class engineering team that has over a decade worth of experience in building products and frameworks. Rushabh also engages with early-stage founders and advises them on OSS licensing models and initial Go-To-Market strategy.

The session was moderated by Manisha Raisinghani, the Co-Founder/CTO of LogiNext, a logistics management SaaS company. She’s an Enterprise Advisor to Polygon, an angel investor, and a distinguished alumna of Carnegie Mellon University.

In case you want to, you can watch the entire session here. However, we’ve got you covered with the summary right below.

🗒️ Rushabh’s Journey in tech

Rushabh founded Frappe in 2008 and wrote the code for ERPNext in 2005. He was a hobbyist computer scientist who had a computer at his place and used to be a tinkerer early in his life and used to play with things like web frameworks and assembly languages.

Rushabh recalls how the emergence of Github changed many things for the entire OSS ecosystem. It was a brilliant UX that solved many problems, including discoverability across all open source projects in one place.

Zerodha, at the time a very small startup, started using ERPNext in 2016, and they were on a self-hosted version of the solution. ERPNext also started organizing a conference, and Zerodha attended one of those where Rushabh found out that Zerodha’s tech team uses them.

🤔 Brainstorming ideas with Manisha & the community

The challenge of scalability and infrastructure is a big challenge w/ OSS products

Startups are big adopters of open source projects and products but taking care of things like installations, updates, and scaling the infrastructure as the companies, and their workloads grow becomes a hassle.

Zerodha has billions of records & transactions and has openly talked about how they think about scaling challenges. Rushabh believes scaling comes down to two things at the core:

  • Database Optimization – how are companies thinking and dealing with things like sharding and indexing the data
  • Tech architecture – does it create too many bottlenecks? Especially consumer use-cases would have a lot of inbound volume of traffic and it might need investment in human resources to be able to write those tuning logical aspects to make exceptions and provide an uninterrupted end-user experience.
    • Things like being able to write a faster invoice or optimizing throughput on invoicing etc require people with domain knowledge and subject matter expertise on the technologies being used.

Manisha had a note around the services or the application layer. Every server will have some kind of throughput regardless of the programming language being used: Java or Python, or any other language. This configuration and management require solid developer bandwidth, and hence, companies might prefer out-of-the-box solutions that work seamlessly without requiring much interference from the developers.

Rushabh believes this is an opportunity for OSS products and startups to build a business model. A large community of independent consultants and/or ISVs around OSS products can be leveraged for this while ensuring that the end customer has a lot of flexibility in using the source code to build workflows around it.

Importance of sharing product roadmap with the community and customers

Buyers of (closed-source) enterprise software products like to see a product roadmap, especially at the earliest stages. Sophisticated enterprise products present quarterly product roadmaps to existing and potential customers as a standard practice.

In the case of open source, buyers, users & contributors of open source projects and products have a say in the product roadmap of the software. Rushabh says that the paid customers would not differentiate between an open source product and a closed source product because their expectations regarding the product roadmap would be the same across both types.

The community or free edition of the product can be used as leverage to learn more about the product roadmap and QA aspects. The tricky thing for an OSS business is to balance the needs of the paid enterprise customers as well as the inputs on the community/free edition and execute on both fronts effectively.

How to compete with enterprises as an OSS company?

The hardest thing about any business is in building a great product. Open Source communities are very unforgiving. The code and the project have to be outstanding for you to win over the community.

Open Source, from a commercial point of view, is a lot about distribution and how to solve it effectively. It does require investments in community evangelism and documentation while keeping on top of the product building.

Will OSS become the best way to distribute SaaS in the future?

There’s a book by Chris Anderson called Free where Chris argues about software wanting to become free at an end state because the marginal cost of building and distributing software is 0. Rushabh believes that anything that is purely or significantly digital will likely have stacked odds against proprietary software players.

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