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Funding Open-Source Maintainers Using Ethical Advertising - With Eric Berry

Eric Berry talks about CodeFund and what it does to help the open source community.

It's challenging to sustain open source projects, a lot of time and energy is poured in without any compensation in return. Eric Berry created CodeFund to give developers who are finding it difficult to justify putting their time into open source projects a means to get compensated.

Open source today is not the same as it was five years ago. Ninety-six percent of all web apps are using open source. The web relies on it. Sixty-five percent of all projects have only one or two maintainers, and their work is providing value to a lot of companies and people. Maintainers having the option to be compensated benefits not only the maintainer but also everyone who relies on the project.

Advertising is a scary word these days with big advertisers tracking people across the web and gathering their data. CodeFund doesn't use third-party trackers and doesn't collect data from the developer's audience. Advertising doesn't have to be evil, it can serve a good purpose if it's used correctly.


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Eric Berry

Eric Berry


Transcript

Kent C Dodds: Hey hey everyone, it is your friend Kent C Dodds. I am here joined by my friend, Eric Berry, and we're going to be talking about funding open source, among other things. I'm really excited. Eric and I have been friends for a couple of years now. We meet at Costa Vida for lunch about once a month or so and it's been great. Yeah, just love talking with Eric about the things that he's working on in making open source sustainable. This enormous problem that many people have worked on, and it's been a real challenge to to find solutions, but I'm really intrigued by Eric's solution and some of the things that he's done have just been phenomenal these last couple years. So I'm excited to chat with Eric. So yeah, Eric, can you give us a little intro to yourself? You can tell us, you know, who you are, what things you're interested in, they can be software related or not, just to get to know you a little bit.

Eric Berry: Yeah, absolutely. First off, thanks for letting me come on. It's, it's always a pleasure to see you once a month. It's definitely the highlight of the month for me to get to hang out with you and kind of get some wisdom from you and, you know, talk about all sorts of life stuff. A little bit about myself. I am a software developer. I've been programming for about 20 years. I'm an old guy. I've got gray. So yeah, I'm learning that the older I get, the hair just kinda gravitates downward. Not Fun. Yeah. So yeah. My favorite programming language is Ruby on Rails. I've been doing that for almost 10 years now, I think right around 10 years. And you know, I'm just passionate about programming. I'm passionate about programmers. I have a family, I've got three beautiful kids and a wife, and I live in Utah. And so yeah, life is pretty good over at the Berry house.

Kent C Dodds: That's good. Cool. So Eric, it was ... was it two years ago that we met? Something like that. I feel like it was just yesterday, but time flies when you're having fun. It was a while ago, but you sent me an email a while ago about this thing called Code Sponsor and I think that I said something like, "I don't know, I'm not really into that." But then Tanner Linsley, Linsley I think-

Eric Berry: Tanner Linsley, yes.

Kent C Dodds: Yeah. I think he connected us again and said, "Hey, let's do lunch," and we did, and we hit it off great. The rest is history there.

Eric Berry: What really happened is that I knew ... So Tanner told me that you're the person to say get in contact with, because you would validate the idea or you would negate the idea. So this is way back in, I think, August of of 2017 and you are making a trip somewhere. So you were in your car, and you announced to everybody that you're just going to have an open discussion and anybody can ask ... You were going to have an AMA in the car. And so I thought, "Okay, this is perfect." I'm going to get his attention where he cannot leave. So that's what we did.

Kent C Dodds: That's right, yeah.

Eric Berry: Then I called you up and we were talking and that really was the biggest kick starter to not only our friendship but Code Sponsor in general. I mean, you were involved from the ground floor. So yeah, that was pretty exciting.

Kent C Dodds: Yeah, that was a lot of fun. I am actually maybe going to be making another trip like that later this year when I bring that same car back from St. Louis, back to Utah. So for those who never heard about this, a couple of years ... Well, back August of 2017, my brother was moving out to St/ Louis. He had a couple of cars and family that he needed to take over, so I drove his car for him. And you know, I was in the car by myself, so I did a conference call. Anybody could call and we'd just talk to keep me awake. And yeah, that I might be doing that to bring his car back now that he's moving back to Utah. He finished up with school. But yeah, so I do remember that. That was great. So Code Sponsor kind of went through some experiences and had a brand name change to CodeFund. Why don't we get a high level overview of what this idea of sponsored open source projects, how that really works in the CodeFund world and what is the reason that we would even want to have that? You can just go on and give us all of your thoughts about sustaining open source from this perspective.

Eric Berry: Okay. All right. So I think to start off, I got to say, back in August the whole idea ... I worked for a company at the time. I was a programmer. Every single day I used open source software. I'm always on GitHub. It was the place where everybody, in my view, everybody kind of goes to. There was recently the sustain report that came out in 2017, talked about all of the issues around open source sustainability and how funding is a core part of that. Well, I thought to myself, "Why don't we have advertising involved?" And the reason I thought of advertising, one, I've worked for advertising companies in the past, and I understand advertisers are very interested in one thing, getting a return on that ad spend. So as long as they could see a positive return on the ad spend, their budget will expand as much as it needs to be. So at the time, in my view, most everybody who was trying to get funding for open source was doing it through either buttons that say "please pay me" or trying to raise funds on Open Collective. But all in all, it required the developer to who they were as a developer. For some of them, at that time, to really get substantial funding on a recurring level, they'd have to basically campaign for it. So I thought that was ridiculous when there's money already there on the table. So what I did was I thought, "Okay, well let's do this. Let's create a simple platform that allows developers to tap in, connect their GitHub account, and then place a single line of code in their readme, and then a dynamic sponsorship would be displayed. Any time a developer clicks on that sponsorship, the project would get money." And that ran for a good five months before GitHub shut it down.

Kent C Dodds: Yeah. And as a user it was awesome, because before, any efforts that I made to make money on my open source was actually time taken away from the time I could be dedicating to open source. And so there was a conflict there where I want to make this open source stuff sustainable, but I only have so much time to work on open source, and if I take all of that time working on sustaining myself in open source and I don't have time to work on it, right? So it's a catch 22 kind of situation. And so with Code Sponsor it was just so easy to just, you know, stick that. You sign up, set that up, that was really quick and easy thanks to you, and then we go to the readme, stick that one line of code in there, and that dynamic sponsorship gets added in there and it just, magic. Magic happened, and it was awesome. So yeah, that was a really good run of five months there.

Eric Berry: Yeah. Well, we've continued on. In January, we actually rebranded completely to CodeFund, so our website is codefund.io. We now focus more on the documentation websites and websites for what we ... What we call it is, we fund bloggers, builders and maintainers to open source. So we try and help anybody who is providing value to the open source ecosystem and the developer ecosystem with a way to continue doing what you're doing. There's no reason that you should have to go out and find funding if it's there, readily available through advertising. Now, advertising is such a scary word nowadays and I've learned a lot now. As you know, I'm a developer. I'm not a marketer. I'm not an advertiser. I don't have a formal education at all beyond high school. So I approach things from very common sense points of view where I think, "Well, it makes sense that we should show ads but not do any type of tracking. We shouldn't abuse the audience of the developer." And so that's the approach that I took. CodeFund, you know, for all time and to this day we still don't do any tracking or allow any third party scripts. We don't collect any data on people. The only thing that we look at is the IP address when a visitor comes and then we know exactly what location they're in. However, beyond that, we don't collect anything. So even if we were to get hacked, there's nothing to collect. And that's what we're seeing nowadays so often, is that companies like Facebook and Google, there's so many scandals around advertising, which is really making digital advertising look terrible. The reason is, is because they're abusing the data that they have. Well, it's impossible to abuse data that you don't have. That's why we do what we do, and we're open source as well. So our goal is to get money into the pockets of developers and designers, maintainers, bloggers, and builders, without them having to sacrifice the trust that they've worked so hard to build with their audience. I compare us to another ad company, Carbon Ads. We're the non tracking version of Carbon Ads, if anybody listening knows Carbon Ads.

Kent C Dodds: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. That element of the advertising platform that CodeFund is by itself is the number one draw for me, because I'm sure many of the people listening have ad blockers because they don't like to be tracked. That makes a lot of sense to me. I'm one of those people, I have ad blockers, because I don't like to be tracked around the Internet. I don't want to have, you know, these companies know more than I explicitly ask them to know or want them to know. On the other hand also, or in the same frame of mind, I also don't want their scripts to slow down my browser and eat up my resources and whatever either. So it just makes a lot of sense to me. But if you're not doing that, and all it is is a simple asset that loads on the page and it's just displayed and I can click on it if it's interesting, I just ignore it. If it's not, then ... and that's our entire engagement, then I'm more than happy to. The fact that you're so targeted toward open source and developers makes it so that often the advertisements are very relevant to me, which is good for both me and the advertisers, I imagine. So I just think that that's a wonderful thing. It also speaks to the mission of CodeFund to be, you know, we're really just about making open source sustainable. What place does tracking users have in that mission? It has no place in that mission. And so [crosstalk 00:11:52] the fact that you aren't doing that just kind of holds up even further the idea that no, we're really just interested in making open source sustainable. So what success have you had in the last few years as you've been working on this? Can you tell us a little bit about the, you know, the challenges and the successes of CodeFund as a sustainable option for open source developers?

Eric Berry: Yeah, absolutely. We've had a lot of challenges and growth. You know, coming from a non advertising or marketing background, we're having to learn a lot of lessons that I think other people probably learned long ago. But it's a good thing, you know, it allows us to really approach things from a point of view of, "Does it make sense for me? Does this concept follow our ethical standards that we have written in stone, and if it does, let's think about it." It also makes choices often easy because you pre decide on who you are as a company and who you are as a person, and that decision will inform some things that might be questionable for some people. We can look at it and immediately say, "No, that's not us." If you don't like it, go to the other guys. You might make it a tiny bit more money with somebody else, but you know, you're making money off of your users and all that. So it's just a different way that we approach things.

Kent C Dodds: Actually, I love that, Eric. I think that's really applicable to life in general. When you intentionally decide what kind of person you're going to be, what kind of company you're going to be, it makes many questions answered on delivery. Right? As soon as you hear the question, you know what the answer is going to be because you've already decided what kind of person you are or what kind of company, what your values are. They become more than just the words that you write down, because that's what companies do, but it becomes ... Or what, you know ... Actually, that's not what people do, but maybe we should. But it becomes an integral part of yourself. I just think that's an awesome thing. A really great takeaway for people listening is, maybe it's a good idea once in a while to be intentional about the type of person you want to be, and consider those things, so that when you're in the heat of the moment, when opportunities arise and somebody says, "Hey, I want you to come help me do this thing." You know, if it doesn't match your priorities as a person. And it doesn't have to be like that thing is an ethically immoral thing to do, it just could be out of line with your goals as a developer. The things that you want to learn to do, the direction you want to take your career, whatever. So being intentional about that, I think, is a really great idea, and I'm glad that that's worked out for you so far.

Eric Berry: It has. In fact, that's kind of been our guiding post. It's a hard sell, to be honest. It's somewhat hard to sell to advertisers. Advertisers are used to being given all the data. They're used to be able to say, "I only want to target people who have visited these websites in the past month, and who's, you know, who has black hair and is a male." You know, these crazy points that they can get to. You ask yourself, "Why do you need this?" So for us, the biggest part for them is that they can't do any remarketing. And for listeners who don't know what that is, it's basically when an ad haunts you or website haunts as you go around the Internet. So let's say you go to a certain website and look at something, and then you start browsing around, and all of a sudden you see ads for that website for the next week. That's called remarketing.

Kent C Dodds: Super annoying.

Eric Berry: Super, super annoying-

Kent C Dodds: And creepy.

Eric Berry: Yes. And so we don't allow any third party scripting or third party tracking because of that. Our advertisers, it's been a hard pill to swallow for them, but I mean, the ones that have stuck with us are truly understanding of the developer community and truly understanding that we as developers don't want to be tracked, and to be honest, there's no reason to. For example, let's say somebody visits your website, one of your JavaScript websites. You know for a fact that they're probably a JavaScript developer, they're probably a React developer and for your audience or probably anywhere ... Well, I guess you would have all ranges, but still. As an advertiser, if I knew that my product is geared towards JavaScript developers, why would I need to have any additional information beyond that? So that's what we tell our advertisers and we say, "This is what we charge, this is what we share with our developers, our publisher network, and take it or leave it." And that's worked really well for us. This month, we're on target to bring in probably about $15,000 and we're sending out well over I think $11,000, we're sending all over the world to developers.

Kent C Dodds: No, that's remarkable. That's so awesome. The bulk of the money that comes in goes to the developer's pockets, which I think is great.

Eric Berry: Yeah. We, we, we pay the developers on a gross margin, not a net margin, meaning we pay them immediately with the actual money that comes in and we don't take out our expenses before we do that split. We typically pay out anywhere between 60 to 70% of the money to, to the developers.

Kent C Dodds: And that really motivates you to figure out how to keep your costs down because you only get the money after the [crosstalk 00:17:56] happen. Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. Or after the ... Yeah. Well, cool. So what about for software developers who are working on open source? I know lots of them kind of feel like maybe they don't don't deserve to be be funded or they feel like funding open source changes the game a little bit. You know, some people have kind of embraced this idea and and gone full time with it and stuff. You've got Vue.js and Babel with Henry. Some people have just kind of embraced this, but for lots of people, they feel like once you put money into open source, it totally changes how open source works. They're worried it's going to change who they are as a developer or change the project. And I'm sure that you've had these questions before. So what do you say to people with those kinds of questions?

Eric Berry: First off, I think that open source today is not the same as open source 10 years ago or even five years ago. Not too long ago, there was a study done. I have leaks to all of these, but they found that 96% of all applications, all web applications are using open source. And of those of those projects, on average 50% of the total code base was open source. So if you think about that, 57% of almost every company out there, their code is open source. It's crazy to think about. And when you also think about how many developers are actually maintainers of projects ... We talk a lot about a bus factor. There was a truck factor study done a while ago and that truck factor basically determined that 65% of all open source projects are being maintained by one or two people. Now when I say maintainer, the maintainer is the person who actually is the person who makes the decisions, who's really in charge of doing the dirty work, the cleanup work. There's going to be a bunch of contributors on most open source projects. But as far as maintainers go ... I mean, you look at even your stuff-

Kent C Dodds: Yeah, most of my stuff, I'm the sole maintainer.

Eric Berry: You're the sole maintainer, right. What happens, you know, God forbid, if you get hit by a truck?

Kent C Dodds: It would be sad.

Eric Berry: It would be very sad. I would have a hard time, yes. So developers, I think, tend to devalue who they are and their role even as a passive maintainer on projects, because one, I don't think they understand how much their code is being used, but two, I think that we have a mindset of saying, if we're not actively working on something, we shouldn't be paid. Or if we are actively working on something we shouldn't be paid. So that's one of the issues that I deal with often with people. The other issue is that sometimes they think that getting paid for open source actually devalues working on open source. Like it's more of a thing that people ... The purity of open source goes away if there's money involved. For those people, I say, "I understand, that's okay, don't get paid for it. Just keep doing what you're doing if you can." If you get to a point where you can't do it and you actually have to decide whether the project dies or not because you can't afford to do it, then the viewpoint might change a little bit. But on the question of, does money change open source? I would say yeah, it probably does a little bit, but I think that that's an inevitability. Open source now is being used so heavily in so much that people are working nights and weekends and their own free time, not getting paid, to do something that, in all reality, that was not their intention when they started. So why is that okay?

Kent C Dodds: It's interesting, because they're doing this to make other companies money., right? So the thing is that it took you maybe two hours to work on that bug fix for your library or whatever, and it was not a huge deal to you,. You know, that was two hours that you didn't spend with your family ,or you know, going skiing, or whatever it is that you do for enjoyment. Maybe it was an enjoyable experience for you. But then those two hours you spent on there, you multiply that across the number of companies that benefit from those lines of code that you wrote, and the value that you're providing. It becomes, it can be a ton of money. I feel like, you know, we can talk about the merits and the demerits of the capitalist society that we live in, but the fact is that we do live in a capitalist society and you should be compensated for the value you create in the world and in that kind of society anyway. And so, yeah, if you create some value that's worth hundreds of thousands of dollars for companies, I don't think that there's anything to sneeze at to get some compensation for some of that.

Eric Berry: Yeah, I agree. I might make one slight change in that that they shouldn't necessarily be given the money, but they should be given the opportunity to make money off of their work. But if your intention for working on opensource is to get rich or is to make money, then you probably shouldn't be building open source

Kent C Dodds: You'll probably fail as well.

Eric Berry: Yeah, I mean, open source is something that we do for ourselves first, I believe, for the companies that we work for but also we give back to the common good. Your career, my career, all of my peers' careers are all built on open source. I don't think I could build anything close to what I'm building today if it wasn't for open source.

Kent C Dodds: Absolutely.

Eric Berry: I'm trying to give back in my way, but I don't think that any of those people who built those libraries that I use did it with the intention of getting money for it. But I think that they should be given the opportunity and the array of choices to make money so that those projects can continue to thrive, be maintained, be relevant to our community.

Kent C Dodds: Absolutely. And you know, another thing that I think some people might be thinking is, "Well, you know what, my job pays me really well for my work and I do open source for fun. If I got the money, that's great. I can buy an extra sandwich at lunch or whatever, or potentially that ..." You can tell us the numbers, but CodeFund can actually finance more than a lunch. But for lots of people, they're like, "Well, I don't need that money. I'm doing fine." So why don't you tell us about some of the other things that we can do with this money, and somewhat broaden our vision of what is possible when we start making money from that open source work.

Eric Berry: Sure. So there are a bunch of options that people have when they make money. So to answer your question about how much can people make, my payments that I make are typically anywhere between $20 a month to a 2500 a month, maybe? And it's going up, I mean ,we have some large properties, but we just signed on a new one that you know, has a potential of making actually 100,000 a month. So wwe'll see. That's a big order to fill.

Kent C Dodds: [inaudible 00:26:01] The whole CodeFund ecosystem-

Eric Berry: That's literally for one publisher.

Kent C Dodds: For one publisher, holy-

Eric Berry: For one publisher, yeah. So again, the amount of money that you can make varies based on where your audience is, what's the context of your content, and how many, how much demand is there for that with our advertisers. But at the end of the day, we want to be able to reward those people who are providing value to the developer community by creating passive, recurring, consistent revenue month over month that they can just count on. To answer your other question, what to do with that money. A lot of us are privileged. I consider myself privileged. I'm a white male living in America and right out of the gate, there's a lot of privilege that comes with that and I acknowledge that. A lot of my peers are not as privileged, where they might, you know, money might not be as easily accessed. So depending on your situation, a lot of people, what they do is they take the money that they generate and they put it right into their Open Collective. We have a strong relationship with Open Collective, which is a way for companies and ... or, not companies, but projects to be able to collect money on a donation basis that's tax free. Oftentimes ,people put money into that open collective, and then that money's used for traveling to meetups, or sponsoring education, or paying for tee shirts and stickers and stuff like that, to help build the brand of the library or what they're working on. So, you know, that money can be donated. The money can be used for car payments. My idea behind CodeFund, Code Sponsor originally is, I want to be making tens of thousands of car payments every month for people.

Kent C Dodds: That's great.

Eric Berry: No, I don't know what kind of car we're talking about but still.

Kent C Dodds: Can you pay off my Tesla for me?

Eric Berry: Right. [inaudible 00:28:18] But still, I think that, yeah. I hope I answered the question-

Kent C Dodds: No, that's perfect. I think the real thing that I wanted to make sure we take away here is that if you, as you know, dear listener, if you have an open source project and you're struggling to justify your time working on it, consider using something like CodeFund to to give that justification. You do deserve it, and it is like something that, there are platforms like CodeFund that enable that for you. If you are one of these people who are in a privileged position, you have a really nice paying job and whatever and money's not hard to come by, consider the fact that your open source work could benefit not only the people who are using the project, but also whatever organization you choose to donate your funds to. Your time spent in open source can be even more altruistic than it is already, which I think is a wonderful thing and is really encouraging that it can provide that. You raise this money in a way that benefits. There's all upside and no downside, right? Maybe people don't want to have their pixels on their screen dedicated to an ad, but that's the worst case scenario. That's as bad as it gets. There's no tracking of users, and the only real, the real thing that happens is you're connecting developers with real services that have been vetted and are actually interesting and probably useful to most of the people who are going to be looking at it anyway. You're not going to be seeing weird advertisements for, I don't even want to say some of those things on this podcast. You're not going to see stuff like that. These are gonna be useful and interesting things for the audience that's going to be consuming them. And so all upside, no downside to using something like code fund.

Eric Berry: So the way I view it is that companies that ... For example, if you've ever used Heroku, they have a Heroku add ons list with probably 150, 200 companies. Now, these companies all provide high value to developers on their system, but also most of them are providing high value to developers outside of Heroku. So each one of these companies could be spending tens of thousands of dollars a month on Google and Facebook and Twitter ads. What I want to do is get that money out of Google's hands, out of Facebook hands, out of Twitter's hands, and put it into the developer's hands. That's our goal. We think that we have a product that is good enough to compete with those guys and we believe that the money is better served by giving it back to the community.

Kent C Dodds: I love that Eric. It's been a pleasure to chat with you today. We got to wrap things up. Before we do, do you have any last words for our community?

Eric Berry: I got to say, I'm a huge Kent C Dodds fan. I love him. I think you're a great guy. Your family's incredible. I'm just very excited to be here. I suppose my last thing would be ... When you think of advertising, try and approach it from a new perspective, whereas maybe advertising isn't the evil part. Maybe it's the misuse and collection of private data that is the evil part, and maybe advertising can serve a good purpose if it's used correctly.

Kent C Dodds: That's great final words. I almost hate to ask you this next question, because it'd be great to end on that, but my last question is just pretty general. If people want to connect with you and connect with CodeFund and get started with CodeFund or whatever. Yeah, let's start with that. So can you tell us, how do people get started with CodeFund, and then how do people connect with you if they have questions?

Eric Berry: Sure. To get started with code, just go to codefund.app and just fill out the form under the publisher tab. I will be there to be able to check out the website. We do have a certain criteria that we follow. Basically we require that a publisher's website, a publisher meaning whoever, like a developer, their website needs to generate right around 5,000 impressions per month and it has to be relevant to the ... it has to be something that contributes back to the developer community. We get a lot of requests that are very unrelated to the developer community. We get some requests to meet publishers, but they're actually a paid app. We won't do that. We only provide funding for projects that are serving the community. To contact me, you can reach me on Twitter anytime. I'm Coder Berry, C, O, D, E, R, B, E, R, R, Y. or you can connect with me on the chat on our website. So again, codefund.app.

Kent C Dodds: Very good. All right. Hey, thanks so much, Eric. It was always a pleasure to chat with you. I'm excited to get this audio into the ears of listeners soon and yeah, we'll see everyone next time. Actually we won't see everyone next time, but you'll hear us next time. Goodbye.

Eric Berry: Take care.