I officially decommissioned License Zero today. The domains now point to artlessdevices.com.
I can’t believe how long 2021 made me put it off. Take care of yourselves, folks. 2020 debts are coming due in 2021.
Anyway, spinning down the old virtual servers prompted some thoughts, looking back and looking forward. As a result, I’m seriously considering paring Indie Code Catalog down yet again:
Double down on the value of cataloging and showcasing projects in a proud and public place. List dual licensing projects whether they’re using my legal terms or not. Continue blogging as a form of public advocacy.
Spin up a private forum for the folks behind projects in the catalog. Make it the premier place for networking and peer support in the industry.
Continue offering legal terms of all kinds. Make money by requiring folks to pay a fee whenever they use my terms to close sales, rather than taking a cut of sales directly. In other words, offer my terms on the honor system.
Having foregone sales-based commission, get out of the marketplace game entirely. Leave payment processing up to the projects, one by one. No more Stripe Connect. Use click-to-pay links for my own fees on the forms.
I suspect what I really offer here is overwhelmingly legal terms, written guides, and a willingness to advocate publicly for the past, present, and future of the business model. Not Stripe integration. Not uniformity. Not command-line tools. Not technical proofs of concept.
Right before I pulled the plug on License Zero, @Glench, who was still making some sales here and there, let me know that he moved to accepting payments through a Stripe Payment link. As it happened, that’s exactly the way I was heading for a forthcoming project publishing SaaS sales terms on a pay-per-use basis. If I were setting out to demonstrate dual licensing in software, rather than facilitate it, I’d likely start with click-to-pay links for that, too. It’s the simplest. Starting simple is good.
License Zero—software licensing with zero friction—proved that maintainers could sell through one platform, standardize their terms, and leverage command-line tools to automate the customer experience. Achieving that existence proof was meant to help folks step out and start dual licensing. Strange coupling there: individuals discouraged from taking action, due to concerns that wouldn’t collectively scale. Solve the scaling problem to earn early adopters.
In retrospect, that was almost certainly wrong. Jump those hurdles by finding and focusing on stronger early adopters instead. Don’t retreat into the comfort zone of source code solutions. Chutzpah, not a user manual.
As for where it led, License Zero’s one-stop-shop payments functionality was never more than a straightforward Stripe Connect integration. That’s saying more about Stripe Connect than anything else—I still haven’t seen a payment processor match its capability, much less its developer experience. It’s also the only way I see to implement commission-based compensation for the facilitator “at scale”. A wholly hypothetical scale.
As I’ve thought about business models for my forms projects—standardized software license agreements, standardized software-as-a-service terms—I’ve ended up very close to what I’ve advocated for software. Publish the work on open channels, but set hooks so common use cases require payment. Rely on customers to initiate the payments they owe. The carrot is doing right by the project and its producer. The stick is ongoing legal risk of getting caught by the producer or some other accountability structure, like due diligence, reputation, or company policy.
That could be more than enough.