Today’s topic on Founders Corner is about having an Open strategy to technology and business. Like other topics, this is one of the foundational elements of our strategy at RunSignup. In fact, one of the reasons I wanted to create the company was the closed business and technology approach registration vendors were taking – and to a large extent still are. Our open approach has been a pretty big reason for our success, so let me give some background and details on our open approach.
There are several primary influences to the idea of being open. Like many, I was influenced originally by my parents to culturally tell the truth and to be open and trusting of others. This concept of open really clicked for me in the 1990’s with Open Source.
Open Source started as a way to develop software, where anyone else can see the actual source code to a program, and then use that software however they wanted. The concept was popular years before that with UNIX (Linux is the primary derivative of that today and drives most of the Internet). The 90’s saw the emergence of the Web and the Apache Software Foundation – with the Apache webserver and a number of other great projects. Java was another key technology that had an open source foundation that spurred many related projects.
There were a couple of key observations that I learned from this:
- Developers that shared their source code with the world were above average. They had the confidence to show their work, and they were by definition peer reviewed.
- If code and a project were good, it attracted other typically quality people to collaborate and work on the project.
- Since it was free, if a project was useful and good, then it got very wide distribution – like Linux, Apache and Java.
- Since it was open, everyone in the community knew what was going on. And the entire community could promote the use of the project, which meant that there were large networks of “word of mouth” promotion and distribution.
I’ve worked with a number of open source pioneers, and have been a part of a number of successful open source based companies. JBoss was the first open source company I worked at starting in 2002. We were able to grow from 6 people to over 200 people and Red Hat acquired us for $350M by 2006. There is no way we could have grown so fast without an open source foundation. Most recently, I have been a part of CloudBees, which is the company behind the Jenkins open source project. Jenkins runs on literally millions of servers across the globe, and CloudBees now has over 500 people. Again, there is no way we could have had that success without an open source based strategy.
Open Concepts for RunSignup
Things have changed since the 90’s, and our customers aren’t really interested in the source code. But there were a number of concepts we embraced:
- Available to anyone as a cloud service for free. Our business model is to charge money when a transaction happens. If an event is free, then the customer can use everything for free. This has led us into some costly areas, like providing free emails with unlimited contacts – we sent over 300 million emails last year and will likely send over 500 million this year for free.
- We do NOT own the participant data. Many vendors own the data and resell it – ether by sending them emails or marketing other events to them. This just did not make sense to us.
- OpenAPI. This has been very important to cultivating a set of technology partners and advanced customers who use the API to integrate tightly with our system. This has been especially important to the timing community, since there is a diverse set of applications that are used – RunScore, CTLive, Agee, iResults, RMTiming, and others. We offer support to other vendors and leave the decision on access to each race to decide.
- Open Business and Technology Communications. We share a lot to ensure our community understands what we are doing and why. This enables the entire community to be ambassadors of what we are doing. Also, but putting out information like our annual Trends report, we become a source of industry information and trust. We are also public about our failures, for example having full information on our availability, or how we responded internally to the pandemic, or our yearly reports on the status of our company including transactions and registrations.
- Non-Exclusive Contract (No Lock-in). This is probably our most unusual business practice. If a customer wants to move off of our platform, we do not want to lock them in like many vendors do with a 3 year click-through contract. If we do not continually earn our customer’s business, then they should be free to leave.
All of these open elements help to create an open community that is much larger than our company and employees. Our customers and partners can also are ambassadors that help to continue to expand the community, which in turn help provide the resources to continue to expand what we can offer customers. By being so open, we build trust and strong relationships that help us all.