Yes, as a developer you can make money with open source.
When we talk about Open Source Software we are used to referring to free tools, libraries, or products, maintained by generous developers or companies around the world, which code is publicly available on some repository.
This is far from true.
Every time I hear of developers not knowing you can make money out of Open Source Software (OSS), I feel surprised.
I’ve met people making a living just by contributing to projects on GitHub, and CEOs completely relying on OSS projects to build billion dollars companies.
In this post I’ll share with you the best 9 ways, developers and companies are using to monetize their Open Source Projects.
Here’s a Quick Summary of What You Are Going to Read:
Open Source is a huge market and there are a lot of methods to monetize your contributions:
- Find ad report bugs through Bug Hunting programs.
- Provide premium support to non-technical individuals. Think about WordPress and Magento developers.
- Create associated content, like plugins, Apps, guides and courses.
- Create an Open Source Project and Double license it for enterprise users.
- Find Donations.
- Build an Open SaaS Model and monetize from subscriptions.
All of them are effective methods to build a good revenue as a developer while contributing to the Open Source Community that’s powering 80% of live applications.
If you want to know more on how to effectively apply those points, continue reading.
1. Make money with open source finding bugs.
Those programs are also called Bug Bounty programs and will offer you money to find bugs in Open Source Software.
There are two main ways you can get paid in Bug Hunting programs:
- Finding errors/bugs and reporting them.
- Solving Errors and Submitting a Pull Request to update the Open Source Project.
The size of the reward varies based on the company, but luckily there are huge companies out there ready to pay you real money to find and solve bugs in their products.
How to find Bug Hunting Programs for Open Source Projects
Companies like Google, Mozilla, and Apache have bug hunting programs with rewards of up to $150.000 (Android), for those able to find and solve errors in their Open Source Software (OSS) code.
Of course, those are not the only companies willing to pay for your detective skills. Every medium and big company that’s hosting an OSS, will have a bug-hunting program.
Luckily some platforms are listing all of them in a single place, like bugcrowd.
Although finding and solving bugs is one of the most frustrating/funny experiences for a developer, you might want to start freelancing with real and returning customers.
2. Provide Premium Support to Open Source Products
This is one of the most mainstream ways of making money with Open Source Software for a developer.
Because Open Source Software is usually everything but User Friendly, you might want to sell and provide those commodities that the free Open Source Project maintainers are not providing.
Think about Kubernetes, pretty much every cloud provider has its own hosted version, and they are asking you money for it.
Here’s some idea to sell support and development services for Open source products:
- Code and bug fixing.
- Add new and extra features.
- Write documentation.
- Sell training.
Why selling support?
Open Source Projects maintainers do not always have the time to provide the necessary support to users. This is where you come in:
You can charge others for the help they need and aren’t getting it for free from the original author.
A great example is WordPress developers, which sell fully-fledged websites, and web apps, based on Open Source Software.
Always check the Open Source Software’s license
Before making any changes to the original OSS codebase, make sure the license supports such activities.
Pretty much every Open Source project is, or should be, shipped with a license. Different licenses have different boundaries within which you can base you services.
For example an Open Source project shipped under the MIT License, will allow for closed versions of the same project (versions which code is not publicly available). On the other hand, a GNU GPLv3 license will force you to release any kind of improvement of additional features, as Open Source.
You can learn more about licenses on choosealicense.com.
If the License doesn’t allow you, limit your support to everything that doesn’t modify the author’s original source code.
3. Sell associated content and monetize Open Source Projects
As a developer, you might want to sell content related to Open Source Software.
Think about WordPress Plugins or Shopify Apps as the perfect example of associate content, with huge markets full of potential customers.
If you want to get started with plugin development for WordPress, I really suggest you this full WordPress plugin development course.
If you want to start with Shopify app development, on the other hand, I suggest you this full course of Shopify for developers.
Not all OSS have things like plugins though, but there are different types of content you might want to produce and sell, such as:
- Video courses.
- Guest Technical Posts.
Let’s explore them briefly.
4. Create a video course
Creating one single video or a full course where you teach how to use an Open Source product is a great way to:
- Start building an Online Presence.
- Educate people and create a community.
- Present yourself as an expert of such a product.
- Monetize your content.
If you are just starting out recording videos, a YouTube channel might be the best choice, as you’ll need some practice to feel comfortable in front of a camera.
On the other hand, if you’re already an experienced teacher and/content creator, you might want to create a fully-fledged course and sell it on platforms such as Udemy or SkillShare.
5. Write sponsored guest posts about open source products
Another market that is usually underrated, is one of the technical writers.
There’s a huge demand for developers, able to clearly explain complex concepts, willing to share their technical knowledge around all sorts of products and technologies.
Start writing a blog and get your first readers, providing them value and useful knowledge and resources about your favorite Open Source project.
If you don’t have the time to create a Blog, you might want to use a platform such as:
Those provide an easy-to-set-up blog, and bright communities of developers to share your stories and get known.
If you already have your tech blog, you might want to consider sending your articles to websites paying for technical guest writers such as:
6. Write and Sell books about an Open Source Product
Books are a great way to monetize your knowledge. If you know a lot about Open Source Technology, You might want to consider writing a book and selling it on platforms such as:
It doesn’t need to be 400-page long, it just needs to provide the needed value to acquire knowledge around a given product or tool.
Now, I don’t think every tool can be explained in a book, usually, videos and short on-point tech posts are more useful and common, BUT, I’ve bought amazing books about niche topics where videos were not helping.
There are situations where you have your own Open source product, let’s see how you can monetize it to dedicate it more time.
7. Make money Double Licensing
If you have an Open Source Project that is getting lots of traction, consider the idea of creating two different licenses:
- A free one for Open source projects.
- A paid one for commercial projects.
This is pretty common, as it allows small teams and individual to build their Open Source Projects while monetizing enterprise users and proprietary products.
You might want to also provide premium support to Enterprise users, creating a real business around your product.
9. Maintain Open Source Project through donations
While not typically used by large for-profit companies, some individual developers make pretty good money by taking donations for their open-source work.
The downside of this model is that it’s really hard to build predictable, sustainable incomes.
Although you might not want to relate to Donations to pay bills, with the right community and projects, you might end up building an amazing side revenue.
There are different ways to receive donations.
How to receive donations:
To receive donations or embed donations forms, you can use platforms such as:
Keep in mind that simply contributing to OSS won’t bring any donation, to do so you need to create an audience.
Create an audience to get donations:
Donations are more about connecting with users than just making your open-source products available to them.
If you want your users to support you, they also need to understand the importance of doing that. As always, you need to bring value.
To do so you might want to consider starting a Twitter page or opening a blog in the abovementioned platforms, building a community that appreciates your efforts and that eventually will consider you as an expert to hire for his/her services.
Lastly, if you have your OSS is becoming a fully-fledged application, you might want to consider the adoption of the Open SaaS business model.
8. Software as a Service (Open SaaS)
If you have a fully-fledged application, the OpenSaaS (Open Software as a service) model might be the answer.
This is my favorite method to monetize Open Source efforts but is also the most time-consuming.
The Software as a Services (SaaS) model is a popular way to license software running in the cloud, using subscription plans.
Think about Netflix or Spotify, or your mailing service provider, those are all Software as a Service where Users only need a browser to access the application.
You might want to apply this business model to your Open Source software, integrating also some double licensing:
- Keep your codebase open to anyone.
- Fork an hosted version of your product and sell it via subscriptions offering bonus features and assistance.
With an Open SaaS model, the software is purchased via subscriptions, which price varies with the amount of the functionalities provided.
For example, you might offer technical support, hosted solutions, software customization, and training as package options.
WordPress is a famous example of Open SaaS products, which code is open source, but hosted solutions and assistance services are priced.
You can make money out of Open Source Project but keep in mind that:
- Make some side revenue is easy
- Making a living out of that requires above-average time and effort
So why should you try?
Because Open Source is one of the most important initiatives powering our current world. It will give you the hang for working with large codebases, sending Push Requests, and coordinating with an international team of like-minded people.
Something that is invaluable.