Recently Matt Mullenweg has been discussing the GPL license and how it benefits WordPress users, theme developers, plugin developers and programmers. In a recent post on his blog, Matt commented about how people were moving from the non-GPL compliant themes such as Thesis to GPL compliant like Woo, StudioPress, iThemes as a result of the Thesis license violation episode.
I have been following this whole episode from the very beginning. After reading the post “Syn-thesis 3: Switchers” I added my own reply about how I feel about the GPL and how it has affected my own WordPress plugin, Event Espresso. As time went on, more people added their comments/experiences with GPL compliance pertaining to how it affects their business (big or small) and why they don’t think that being GPL compliant will work for their business.
There were two comments (by Ash and Liz) in particular that I wanted to reply to, but the comments for the post were closed. So I sent Matt the following letter, via his contact form.
Sorry to bug you on your contact form. I wanted to reply to Liz and Ash about how the GPL license CAN and DOES work for small business, but I noticed that replies were turned off or not working.
I just wanted to give them an example of my situation and how I made the GPL work for my own small business.
In my situation, my web design business was not doing so well. I had a pretty hard time competing with some of the bigger web design firms in my area, as well as competition from design firms in India and other developing countries that offer much lower prices for the same work.
How does this pertain to the GPL?
Well, my wife Shelly is into stamping, crafting and scrap booking. She holds stamping/crafting/scrap booking classes and workshops in our basement about once or twice a month. Ironically, every year (over the last 5 years or so) she has an event called “Stamp Camp” where about 20-30 women show up at a local church or restaurant to learn how to make custom hand made cards, scrap book pages, and other fun stuff using rubber stamps.
I had almost given up on web development, when Shelly asked me to make her an online registration and payment system for an up-coming Stamp Camp. So I figured I would find a plugin in the WP plugin directory, but I had a hard time finding something that met her needs. So I created my own event registration and management plugin then added it to the plugin repository. After a short time, people started using the plugin and asking for more features, requesting support, etc.
As you can imagine I became pretty busy, and a few people were paying me for support or the addition of features. I started realizing that maybe I should add some of these features to a premium version of the plugin and sell a support license for it. This way I could keep the plugin under a GPL license and still make a little money for all of the hard work I had done. So I started selling a premium version (support license) of the plugin (“Advanced Events Registration“) on my blog.
How does being GPL compliant help my business?
Over the course of about six months the premium version started selling pretty well. People continued to give me great feedback and even sending me their versions of the plugin with their modified code. (I did have a little hiccup early on when someone I brought on to help me demanded I change the licensing, but I managed to overcome this poison and keep the license GPL compatible in the end (making me feel much better about the plugin and its development.))
The plugin has become very beneficial to other small businesses/organizations since its conception and is being used all over the world. Keeping the plugin GPL compatible made it possible for other programmers to change the code to suit their or their clients needs. It has also saved many businesses/organizations hundreds and even thousands of dollars a year that they would have had to pay in fees and monthly services at other event registration companies, such as Eventbrite or Reg Online.
Selling a support license for the plugin and keeping it GPL compatible has turned out to be a good move for myself and my business. It has also afforded me the opportunity to keep my business running, as well as allowing me to keep doing what I love.
Since the plugin has started becoming more recognized. I had to come up with a better name for it, because that name just wasn’t doing it for me. So I renamed it “Event Espresso“.
How did I come up with that name?
I love coffee and often frequent the local coffee shops around town. We have a calendar hanging on our wall at home that has different Italian restaurant or cafe themes on it for each month. One month it had a couple of large coffee cups on it and in fancy writing it said “Espresso!” So I started thinking to myself, “how can I tie espresso into the name of my plugin?” Then, just like that, it hit me! Event Espresso was born.