I'm the founder and sole developer of my own open source software called open3A. It's a web-based invoicing application that I started in 2007 and have developed ever since.
I initially developed open3A because I needed it myself to write invoices to my customers. When it was working I just put it out there in the internet because I thought someone else might find it useful. It was one of the first (maybe the first, idk) web-based solutions in this area after all.
In fact someone found it useful and asked if I could add some features. I was still in the university and did it for free because I didn't think much of it. After a while he wanted to pay me money for my work and why should I have declined? 😉
Then others came and asked for more features which I implemented. Sometimes payed, sometimes free.
After a while doing this I had collected quite a bit of functionality and thought about how I could sell open3A as a product and not only my time developing it. But I didn't want to sacrifice what I believe in:
In short: I wanted to make software like I wanted software to be. After 14 years I still do it this way and my business is better than ever 😃
What have I done?
I have a demo version directly on my homepage where anyone can try open3A without login or setup. It's reset once a day. It is my primary mode of sale. I let the product speak for itself.
I have a free version of open3A which is as useful as possible without any limits but of course it is missing advanced functionality. This version gets full support by me via phone and email. This is my bait I put out there and I'm sure there are hundreds of people who use it this way and it's fine for them.
If someone wants advanced features, I have a shop! 🎁
In my shop the users can buy many of the extensions I have developed over the years. The prices are reasonable and start at 20€ (~$24) up to around 80€ (~$96) or so. The price contains updates for this extension for one year which means the next two versions.
Here comes the crucial part: My shop remembers all the extensions a customer bought and every time she downloads her version it puts all the paid for extensions together in a zip file for the update. This is how I sell open source. The customer gets the code (and functionality) after she bought it.
In 2013 I added a cloud service where open3A can be rented from me and I take care of all the technical things like backup and updates. This is great for steady income.
In 2018 (I think) I also added a subscription model after several customers asked me for it. Which means they can always download the most current version and get a discount. In return I get steady income.
In 2021 I recently launched my newest product: It's called open3ABox and it's a raspberry pi with open3A pre-installed which I deliver to my customers who have not the technical skills for their own server but don't want a cloud version either. It's fully remote managed and monitored by me ➡️ more steady income, yay 🎉
Aside from the technical part I sell open3A through really good support. I think this is a very important part for keeping the customers I already have.
In this post I have focused on the things that worked. But I have literally sunk hundreds of hours and thousands of euros along the way for things that didn't work. I tried to sell open3A on a CD in 2010 and sold exactly one copy. I had someone program an installer and never used it. I built several websites for sub-applications of open3A until I realized it was way too complicated. I tried to spin off a new application called office3A and dumped the idea after a lot of work. I had multiple projects with business partners which sounded like a great idea but never sold. Selling software B2B is the second hardest part I am doing in my life. Right after keeping my sanity through the craziness that is life.
I'll have my first part-time employee starting April 1st and probably next year I can have two full weeks of uninterrupted holidays. I can't even remember the last time I've done that. It's been a really long road but I wouldn't want to miss a piece of it. It made me the the confident woman I am today because I made it work with my own hands. I did all of it and I'm so damn proud.
Thank you, life, for continuing to teach me the lessons I need to learn.