open investments

I recently read “Why I wouldn’t invest in open-source companies, even though I ran one” by Wolfram Hempel and started to write a very long comment, but decided I’d just publish my own counterpoint instead.

The “community” and “license” sections summarize well-known problems without providing any novel discussion about attempts being made today to solve those issues, and I think the same holds for the central thesis: investing.

Saying you wouldn’t invest money in FOSS (and here we assume a venture capitalist’s expectations attached to said money) is like saying you wouldn’t invest (unpaid) time in a company of which you have no ownership. You’re investing something the system is not set up to value. It’s a bad plan on its face in most scenarios.

The natural, low-level value of human society is time. How do I choose to spend it? We all have a finite but unknown amount. It’s the only fundamental thing we get to decide. We typically spend it on people (and the things associated with them) that we care about.

Money isn’t natural; it’s a thing we invented to cope with problems of ownership and resource allotment as our population exploded. It’s a fairly crude tool, and one we often let control our time. The ultimate tail wagging the dog.

There is something very fundamentally human about coming together to build a thing with a community that benefits everyone involved. FOSS is the epitome of that idea. If you don’t think there’s something inherently good about the system, why put your time into it? Conversely, there is something deeply extractive and dissonant about trying to layer money on top of it. Any community manager worth their salt can tell you that carelessly introducing cash payments into a community is a surefire way to tank it.

So when you say “I don’t think you should invest [VC money] in FOSS” I hear “This is a difficult, perilous, and artificial problem we’ve created and I offer no solution for it.”


There’s many folks doing a great deal of interesting work toward reconciling this problem of nesting time investment inside a system that only values monetary investment without going broke or corrupting it. If your thesis is actually that venture capital is not the correct vehicle for solving this conundrum, then on that point I agree 100%.