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Inside Bountysource, a Crowdfunding and Challenge Site for Open-Source Software
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Inside Bountysource, a Crowdfunding and Challenge Site for Open-Source Software

The widespread use of open-source software is a testament to the power of crowdsourcing. By leaving software’s underlying source code open for anyone to copy, edit, tweak, and use, far-flung programmers can achieve some incredible things, like the creation of an operating system that today powers most servers and supercomputers. Even the software on your cell phone may be the byproduct of open-source code: Google’s Android OS is built on the Linux kernel.

Although most open-source developers work for primarily for passion’s sake — to maintain an open and collaborative internet, or simply to learn and contribute — the community has long relied on online donations to keep projects alive. Bountysource aims to streamline the funding process for open-source projects. With a fresh $1.1 million seed round on hand, the company is betting on crowdfunding as a game changer for the open-source community.

We reached out to Bountysource founder and CEO Warren Konkel to learn more about the site; you can find a transcript of our email correspondence below. Topics covered include the platform's history, functionality, and community; its reward fulfillment services; the software funded through Bountysource; and the company's recent seed round raise, among other subjects.

Eric Blattberg, Editor: Briefly introduce our readers to Bountysource. What inspired the site’s creation, when did it launch, was it always about open-source software, etc.?

Warren Konkel, Bountysource CEO: Bountysource is the crowdfunding platform for open-source software. There are developers all over the world that build open-source software, and users and companies that rely on open-source software, but there hasn’t really been a solid marketplace to connect the two together.

We’ve been around in one form or another since 2004. David Rappo and I initially created Bountysource as a full project management platform for open-source software that included code repositories, file hosting, issue tracking, and bounty support. Bountysource was the response to the roadblocks that David and I experienced in trying to accelerate improvements and fixes within the projects we used. We’ve re-launched in 2013 with more of a focus on crowdfunding. Rather than building our own project management platform, we now integrate with all of the services developers already use (GitHub, Bugzilla, etc).

What’s the difference between a ‘bounty’ and a ‘fundraiser’?

Bounties are crowdfunded cash rewards put on specific bugs or feature requests within open-source projects that encourage development. For example, developers could create a $500 bounty using PayPal on a GitHub issue.

Fundraisers, on the other hand, are time-limited campaigns that allow open-source developers to raise money from their community with a specific goal in mind. For example, developers could raise $10,000 to help fund the next big release of their project.

How large is your community? How many projects have developers posted on the site? About how many succeed?

We have dozens of fundraisers, hundreds of bounties, thousands of users, and our community is growing on a daily basis. The majority of our fundraisers have been successful. It’s rare that a project sits empty, as generosity is one of the core traits of the open-source community as a whole.

Most crowdfunding platforms leave reward fulfillment in the hands on campaign creators. What made you decide to help creators fulfill their campaign rewards? What type of services do you offer?

We have found that offering physical goods as rewards for fundraisers is a fantastic incentive to increase pledge activity. That said, developers simply do not have the time or desire to design, print, ship, and manage the distribution of t-shirts and other goods — their time is best served managing the project.

That’s why we offer a soup-to-nuts fulfillment program for developers for a small fee. We can fulfill all merchandise rewards from t-shirts to stickers to mugs, from creation and printing to delivery.

What sort of software projects has Bountysource helped fund? Do you use any of the software developers funded through your site?

Any open-source software project is eligible to use the Bountysource platform. A project does not need to be on a specific issue tracker to benefit from bounties, but the experience is greatly enhanced if the project utilizes GitHub, Google Code, Trac, BitBucket, Jira, Bugzilla, Pivotal, or LaunchPad.

Bountysource has helped fund projects that have a wide variety of uses, including improved development tools (Erlang, JSHint), gaming and app prototyping tools (Kivy on RaspberryPi), and text editors. More projects are being added and funded daily.

We use some of the software funded through Bountysource, such as JSHint — a JavaScript syntax checker. We have also placed bounties on issues within the software we use, such as TextMate, AngularJS, and ZNC. Most recently, we decided to place bounties on issues within our own frontend — using Bountysource to build Bountysource.

Who do you view as your primary competitors, and what gives Bountysource the edge?

Crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo invite a natural comparison, but we’re very different. We provide merchandise fulfillment (t-shirts and stickers), we have several payment methods, and we pay out quicker. But what really separates us is that we’ve built our platform from the ground up with the needs of open-source projects and developers at the core. We’re focusing on sustained funding for projects through bounties, not just a one-time fundraiser.

In some ways, we’re competing with contractors. Companies can use the Bountysource platform to address issues that they would typically solve through hiring. By placing bounties on those issues instead, the existing open-source community is more inclined to resolve them sooner. Bountysource replaces the need to hunt for contractors.

As users of open source ourselves, we’re tightly integrated into much of the community. We work side-by-side with developers to support their projects that are using the system. We have an entire team dedicated to connecting our developers with potential sponsors.

What’s the hardest part of running Bountysource? The best part?

There is no shortage of great ideas — from our team, from our community, from our investors. The hard part is figuring out priorities as focusing on one idea means neglecting another.

Watching our community grow and seeing the excitement of our engaged users is certainly the best part of running Bountysource. Enabling our users to solve real problems with Bountysource is exhilarating.

You announced a $1.1 million seed round last week. Was it difficult to raise the funds? How long did that process take? What will the money go toward?

I initially met Dusan Stojanovic, founder of True Global Ventures, while traveling through Berlin with Geeks on a Plane. We stayed in touch over the next year and when the time came to raise money for Bountysource, he was the first person I contacted. Bountysource is an easy idea to get excited about, so convincing him of the vision wasn’t difficult. The hard part was quantifying the investment opportunity and working through an endless supply of legal documents. The entire process took several months but was well worth it. These funds will allow us to grow the team and increase our marketing efforts. It’s an exciting time for us!

What advice would you give to a crowdfunding startup trying to attract angel and venture capital?

Start small. Crowdfunding is a large space and is growing very fast. Instead of looking at all of crowdfunding as a market, pick a niche where you have experience and see an obvious need. If you are solving real problems, attracting capital is easy.

What else should our readers know about Bountysource before we wrap up?

We’ve started working with large organizations like Mozilla, Walmart Labs, and Adobe on corporate sponsorship of fundraising projects. The buy-in from the broader tech community has been very encouraging.

Another exciting project we’re working on is the concept of a corporate “Bug Bounty Budget.” There are many developers at large companies using open-source projects as part of their daily workflow, and Bountysource offers a productive way for companies to put money toward bugs or feature requests so their developers can focus on internal projects instead of diverting attention to keep those open-source projects running smoothly.

We’re already testing out the concept with Gust, a global platform for managing early-stage investments. They give their engineers $500 a month to create bounties on the open-source projects they utilize at work. Our hope is that organizations will start to see the value of supporting their engineers with the bug bounty budget concept and support projects on an ongoing basis.

Great, thanks so much for your time.

Warren Konkel is the founder and CEO of Bountysource, the first marketplace and funding platform for open-source software projects. He co-founded the company in 2004 with David Rappo and restarted the effort in 2013. Warren was the first employee at LivingSocial, and as a developer with a strong entrepreneurial spirit, he also founded domain registration service Badger and mobile app development company Topzy. Warren holds a BS in Computer Science and a MS in Information Technology from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, specializing in software development and database design.

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