This is the first of a series of posts that will present our publicly developed Project Handbook.
Any open source project with the intention to commercialize its value creation should be able to answer this question: How will you make money?
Seth Godin's "The Modern Business Plan" provides a very useful, prose-focused template that lends itself well to consumption by the general public. This is the v0.1 release of our Open Business Plan.
It’s not clear to me why business plans are the way they are, but they’re often misused to obfuscate, bore and show an ability to comply with expectations. If I want the real truth about a business and where it’s going, I’d rather see something else. I’d divide the modern business plan into five sections:
The truth section describes the world as it is. Footnote if you want to, but tell me about the market you are entering, the needs that already exist, the competitors in your space, technology standards, the way others have succeeded and failed in the past. The more specific the better. The more ground knowledge the better. The more visceral the stories, the better. The point of this section is to be sure that you’re clear about the way you see the world, and that you and I agree on your assumptions. This section isn’t partisan, it takes no positions, it just states how things are. Truth can take as long as you need to tell it. It can include spreadsheets, market share analysis and anything I need to know about how the world works.
If you want to set up an advanced content search for your website or app today, the leading options are Algolia and Elastic. Both great products, but neither can service a large segment of small to medium-sized businesses that are operating on a tight budget and/or need an easily maintainable setup for on-premises management.
We are not setting out to kill, crush or destroy our competitors. We are here to question, challenge, and elevate the status quo.
Meili SAS is in large part modeling itself after Algolia and Elastic. We also take loads of inspiration from the business strategies of WordPress, Discourse, Sentry, CockroachDB and TimescaleDB. Like them, we are building a Commercial Open Source Company.
One of our most important competitive advantages is Rust. It enables us to confidently engineer the highly complex machinery of a search engine without crippling risk of technical debt or dead-ends. With Rust we can fearlessly explore the next frontier of search, safe in the knowledge that our code can always be refactored without bringing the whole foundation down.
The assertions section is your chance to describe how you’re going to change things. We will do X, and then Y will happen. We will build Z with this much money in this much time. We will present Q to the market and the market will respond by taking this action. This is the heart of the modern business plan. The only reason to launch a project is to change something, and I want to know what you’re going to do and what impact it’s going to have.
We are going to spend the next year building trust, starting with an extensive developer community. We intend to rally this community around our out-in-the-open construction of Meilisearch as the easiest search engine of its kind to set up and modify to your application's needs.
Eventually, customers will get to choose between the instant value of SaaS, or the full control of self-hosted.
SaaS will be our initial focus as a company. It's the more proven model available to us. But we won't build any exclusives into our offering; any search feature we build for our SaaS offering will either be open source or source-available (i.e. freely available for non-commercial use; purchasable license for commercial use).
Incentives for self-hosting
We intend to structure our business in a way that incentivizes a continued investment in the self-hosting capabilities of Meilisearch. Many open source companies with a SaaS offering end up with inverse incentives to continue improving their user-facing installation story because it competes with their SaaS business. By exploring fair ways to monetize our on-premises offering in commercial contexts we will ensure an ongoing equilibrium in our incentives.
Self-hosting as a self-negotiator on pricing
A SaaS product that can be alternatively self-hosted with ease is inherently pricing-transparent. When discerning customers can effortlessly compare the experience of our managed SaaS versus our on-premises package, it keeps our pricing honest.
Of course, this [assertion] section will be incorrect. You will make assertions that won’t pan out. You’ll miss budgets and deadlines and sales. So the alternatives section tells me what you’ll do if that happens. How much flexibility does your product or team have? If your assertions don’t pan out, is it over?
The likes of Elastic, CockroachDB and GitLab have proven that there is not a singular best option for product delivery. Many customers just want the simplicity of SaaS, but many others must have on-premise services. We do not yet know which there will be more appetite for when it comes to Meilisearch, but we are prepared to follow the path of least resistance.
The people section rightly highlights the key element… who is on your team, who is going to join your team. ‘Who’ doesn’t mean their resume, who means their attitudes and abilities and track record in shipping.
Meet the team (WIP)
And the last section is all about money. How much do you need, how will you spend it, what does cash flow look like, P&Ls, balance sheets, margins and exit strategies.
We raised a pre-seed round in may, and are backed by LocalGlobe, Seedcamp and Kima. We have already partnered with industry heavyweights like Louis Vuitton and Platform.sh.
Next step is to create pages similar to these:
We hope you enjoyed this very early v0.1.0 release of our Open Business Plan. You'll notice that Seth's article asks for several items of information that we have not yet addressed here. We hope to share more over time, but this requires more dialogue with our investors and other stakeholders.
Interested in what Meilisearch could do for your business? If you answer this survey you will be the first to know when our initial service offering is operational.