I don’t like talking about business much. It kind of feels like a chore I’d rather not have to deal with. But I do have to deal with it because I run my own software consultancy.
I’ve recently come across some interesting articles involving product strategy. And I’ve been thinking about how they apply to the projects I build. I’ve found that these are useful perspectives to consider when building products. Even if it’s just to think about how others are strategizing.
Bundling and Unbundling
“There are only two ways to make money in business: One is to bundle; the other is unbundle.”
— How to Succeed in Business by Bundling – and Unbundling (2014)
The way I like to think about it is that there’s value in producing parts so people can acquire exactly the bits they want. And there’s value in assembling parts into a cohesive whole and giving people a cohesive experience.
Like with every analogy, this is a simplification. But I think it’s a useful lens to apply. When you’re building an (open source) project, are you bundling or unbundling?
In my own work I’ve recently been doing a lot of work around both bundling and unbundling. Choo, Bankai and Tide are all examples of projects where we bundle. The focus is on creating great user experiences, where all the base wiring has already been taken care of for you.
On the other hand, the whole nano* suite is about creating parts that solve one problem well and can be assembled using only the parts you need. This is valuable so people looking to build new experiences don’t have to start from scratch, but can instead use the parts you’ve provided – and help improve those shared foundations in the process.
Commoditize Your Complement
A classic pattern in technology economics (…) is layers of the stack attempting to become monopolies while turning other layers into perfectly-competitive markets which are commoditized, in order to harvest most of the consumer surplus; discussion and examples.
— Commoditize Your Complement (2018)
I found out about this article in the wake of GitHub’s announcement to give everyone free private repositories, where they used to cost a monthly fee. People explained this as a move to curb competition. By preventing competitors from taking people in by offering free private repos, GitHub can retain more people on their platform, which in turn helps their business.
When applying this to more developer-focused projects (e.g. OSS), I can see this being done by creating specs after products are done. For example Kubernetes feels like it’s pulled this trick several times over. They needed a deployment engine that could compete with AWS, so they took an internal project and transformed it into a standard.
And when Kubernetes’ relationship with Docker became contentious, they again moved to replace Docker with a standard, causing Docker to get with the program.
I don’t know if I like this approach much myself. It feels very much like politics, and I don’t like those. But being able to identify when such strategies are used seems like a useful skill to have.
I hope this was somewhat interesting. I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit recently, and found it to be useful. With a bit of luck it can be useful for you too!