I found this article from Builderau.com, a site dedicated to software development in Australia, and although it is a bit old (2005), I think the tips given on it explain well how a small business around libre software can be created and be sustainable today.
The article examines the commercial opportunities for libre software in a practical way. Here I summarize the main ideas that I learned.
- If you are a small company, opening your software may attract customers that in other way would rarely stop at your offer.
- By opening your software you drop down the barriers to dissemination and reach the global market.
- For the same reasons, many libre software projects are also available to you, to take advantage of reusing the code, integrating it with your products, modify it…
- You may integrate with your product solutions existing in the market since long time ago: well tested, with a level of maturity that would be difficult to achieve for a newcomer.
- Making your software available from internet downloads does not prevent you to sell the software by other channels (for example, with printed manuals), or packetized in a vertical solution (preinstalled OS, database, application server and your application on top).
- Marketing your offering:
- You give your customers the complete source code: they are secure against the possible bad future of the IT company
- There is no restrition to use (for any purpose, for anytime)
- You can give local support (same region/timezone as your customers)
- You are product-specialist: you can give the best support.
- You can provide installations, customizations, enhancements services… for profit
- And if you own all the copyright, or use third party components with permisive licenses, you can also relicense your product.
The conclusion of the article is what I liked most: there is no guarantee of success with libre software, but neither with closed source software. And financial investments for setting up a business based on open source are lower so…