CKSource — Open (Source) for 10 Years!

It all started in 2003. The decision of bringing my pet project into the open — to an environment I was still unfamiliar with. In a period when Open Source Software wasn’t yet a fashionable thing to do in order to show that you’re cool. When corpos weren’t hiring unicorns and feeding them rainbows to keep them loyal. It was then that FCKeditor was born, to be later renamed to CKEditor (because of a whatever fcking reason).

The Exciting Lonely Days

It all started as a pet project. Most of us have passed through that phase. You just love it so much that you give a good deal of energy to it. I remember a few years working on the editor during the evenings, nights and weekends. I didn’t need anyone to share my project with. I was fascinated with it and I was sure I could handle it alone.

We see the birth and death of open source pet projects everyday though. However, it all worked very well for FCKeditor. Why?

I have some tips for those of you who are currently going through this initial stage:

  • Focus on making the project successful. This enlarges the perspective and your project becomes something more than just the simple pleasure of coding it.
  • Don’t do it for yourself. Define a target audience and work to satisfy them.
  • Do it for yourself. Yes, use it to solve your problems as well.
  • Quality instead of quantity. It may take more time but make it damn good since day one.

As a final note, don’t be afraid of asking for something back. Don’t be greedy as well, but it’s general understanding that one must earn a living and many people will be happy to support you. I started with a “donation button” but I was also successful in other ways, especially when I had to finance the hardware to help me with my job.

Making it Serious

At some point, the “donation” strategy starts to give you enough to support your everyday living. Even if it’s a modest living. Or maybe you have some extra money that can back you up for a few months (a year?). That may be the right moment for you to decide to drop everything else and transform your pet project into something else: an actual business.

After a few months of thinking about it, it happened to me on a sunny afternoon on the 6th of June 2006. Yes, 6/6/6! Didn’t notice the “lucky” date until later on (good that I’m not an hexakosioihexekontahexaphobic). Anyway, that was the day I went to the registration office to give birth to CKSource, officially.

Let’s Talk About Money

Mentioning money is a big taboo when it comes to Open Source Software. Many people understand “free software” as “free beer” and not as “freedom”. Many expect that the software and its documentation, distribution and even support should come for free.

On the other hand, many people understand that providing quality software and services around it requires financing to support the necessary infrastructure. Additionally, there may be business concerns that push companies to pay for OSS.

Below are some of my thoughts about the money issue:

  • Lawyers in many companies have an “allergy” to open source licenses. They prefer to have a commercial agreement in place and companies are willing to pay for it.
  • Big-ass companies go a step further. THEY want to write a commercial agreement for your software and they’re willing to pay even more for it.
  • In some countries, like the US, I have the impression that money exchange creates a stronger legal binding between the one providing and the one paying. This makes companies wish to pay for software, to have a stronger peace of mind.
  • Having enough energy for it, providing support and customization services is more than welcome by those using your software. Expecting to be paid for it is not a shame.

At CKSource, we had good success providing commercial licenses, support (with SLA) and even customization services to some extent. We try to keep our company NOT a services oriented business, still we have developed a complete and attractive commercial offer accompanying our Open Source project and satisfying the requirements of small companies as well as enterprises.

Enlarging the Commercial Offer

At CKSource, we’re extremely focused on keeping CKEditor open source and free for everyone. That’s the reason for committing to a triple license (GPL, LGPL and MPL), which allows our editor to be used in both commercial solutions and any kind of open source applications.

On the other hand, we understood that we need to provide further financial support for the project to keep it successful. To achieve that, we decided to go with “sister projects” which are purely or partially commercial. This is the case of CKFinder and the CKEditor A11y Checker. These are not essential solutions for CKEditor installations but they add a great deal of value to them. These projects are key to provide the financial means we need to make CKEditor successful and open source forever.

Morphing Into a Team

You start alone. You dedicate a good part of your life to your project. You suffer the failures and celebrate the achievements by yourself, in front of a computer. You feel like god, leaning over that small piece of software you’ve created. Cool!

Now forget about it. That will lead both you and your project to the end.

Becoming part of a team is the most important step you can take to make your project and business successful. Note that I didn’t use “building a team around you”, but “become part of it”. Never put yourself at the centre (nor top) of it. Share responsibilities and decision-making power. This is extremely hard, but after years of transformation I think that we achieved this at CKSource and the results are amazing.

We’re now more than 30 awesome people working hard, hand to hand, to fulfill our purpose of being together on this road. What’s it all bout? Making money? Not at all — that’s just a consequence.

“Amaze People through innovative Software that supports them ​in enlightening the world with knowledge.”

That’s what we’re here for.

No longer I’m the only one doing it. I just try to bring my experience and vision to the team. I’m the public face of the project on some fronts. I’m not much more essential than the rest of us. Actually, every individual on the team shares this “essentiality” with me. I’m pretty proud of us.

Side note — CKSource is a self-managed, holacratic company.

Summing Up!

I feel blessed for having started and being able to participate in a successful open source project for so long. Running a self-funded company for 10 years is also a huge achievement nowadays. It all came with a lot of work, passion, focus but also some humbleness and a solid dose of trust and fun.

This feeling of bliss is even stronger when I look to my side and see a group of people that I’m proud to stand together with and move towards our amazing plans for the future.

Love for the CKSource team! Let’s celebrate our birthday now!