The Journey from Side Project to Open Source Company: Taking The First Step

For over two years, while working at EverythingMe, I developed re:dash, an open source tool to query databases, visualize the results, and create dashboards. The goal was to more effectively collaborate on data, facilitating the data-driven culture we had created there.

re:dash is our take on freeing the data within our company in a way that will better fit our culture and usage patterns.
Prior to re:dash, we tried to use traditional BI suites and discovered a set of bloated, technically challenged and slow tools/flows. What we were looking for was a more hacker’ish way to look at data, so we built one.
re:dash was built to allow fast and easy access to billions of records…

(from the project README)

While at EverythingMe, re:dash was basically a 20% project for me, subject to varying capacity. When EverythingMe shut down, I knew immediately what I wanted to do next — continue helping companies become more data driven by taking re:dash to the next level.

In recent years we’ve seen many examples of companies founded around open source projects — HashiCorp, Elastic, InfluxData, Docker, GitLab, Convox, Discourse, WordPress, Sentry, MatterMost, and many many more. Most (if not all) of these companies are also distributed, another trend in recent years.

I’ve followed those companies, generally with the hope of joining one of them, but now I have a bigger — and more challenging — opportunity: create one myself. It’s clear to me that I want to work on re:dash full-time, and also that I won’t be able to do so without adding a commercial aspect to it.

Some of re:dash users

re:dash is already being used by companies around the world to power their decisions with data. In a recent conversation, a product manager at one of these companies mentioned to me he could give up all the tools they currently use for this purpose, except for re:dash. If re:dash is this valuable, it suggests an opportunity to create a business that can sponsor its continued development.

My mission for 2016 is to move re:dash forward, but more importantly, to turn it into a sustainable project and company.

I’ve evaluated different options for supporting myself and re:dash, as there is more than one model for commercial offering for open source projects. For now it looks like the best way to go is a SaaS model for re:dash. It’s important to mention, that self-hosted re:dash will always stay free and open source.

Why SaaS and not some variation of a services model?

  1. SaaS is more scalable than selling hours (services).
  2. SaaS allows me to better understand the users of the product, and have shorter release cycles. My main challenge at the moment is that I don’t have good visibility on how people are using the product.

Why SaaS and not “PRO/enterprise edition”?

  1. Enterprise is tempting, but it has high-touch long sales cycles, that I don’t want to waste time on.
  2. I prefer to avoid “hiding” features behind a pay-wall and proprietary license.
  3. Usually enterprise editions come with support, which is services, which is not scalable (at least, not right now).

It’s possible that at some point there will be an offering for companies that want to use re:dash on premise, but don’t want to manage it themselves. Some sort of “SaaS-like” enterprise offering, but I don’t have concrete thoughts on that and would love feedback from users.

From one man show to team

Currently re:dash is me and the awesome contributors. For the project to become truly successful the team needs to grow and I need to find more permanent contributors. To achieve this, I’m planning to simplify contribution, through a plugin model and simpler way to create visualizations. Aside from that, I hope that by fall 2016, the team will grow from being just me to at least another person.

What’s the roadmap for re:dash?

In the next quarter the plan is to add a few long awaited features (UI for parameters, better control over table visualization, and more), and once that done I want to slow down with features and focus on polishing the UX of re:dash, and the contributor (developer) experience. I’m sure there will be other features that sneak in during this time, but the main goal is providing a smoother experience using the existing tool.

A more detailed roadmap lives on the public Trello board. It’s a work in progress, but you’re welcome to start commenting and voting up features.

2016 is going to be very exciting and along the way I will definitely share more about how I build the business and the community around re:dash. I invite you to follow, ask questions and share your feedback — you can find me on Twitter (@getredash, @arikfr) and also subscribe to the newsletter.

I wasn’t sure where to place this, but I would like to thank: