WP-CLI contributors have been working towards a more sustainable future for the project throughout 2016. Daniel Bachhuber, the project’s official maintainer, has launched an experiment to fund ongoing maintenance and new development, asking potential patrons, “How much is WP-CLI worth to you?” Options for contributions range from $100/yr – $7500/yr.
This particular funding experiment is not asking for one-time contributions but rather follows a subscriber model where patrons will be billed annually. Bachhuber said he has a number in mind in order to consider the funding a success but he is not going to share it.
“I want to see if this is a viable approach for funding a for-profit business,” Bacchuber said. He plans to fully refund subscribers if the campaign doesn’t reach its goal.
Last year Bachhuber raised $32,822 in a highly successful Kickstarter campaign from 107 backers, which funded development during the first part of 2016. After the campaign he started a business called runcommand that offered enterprise support and custom development for hosts and agencies. This was an attempt to help subsidize his time spent on WP-CLI, but it didn’t work out the way he planned:
The business is doing alright, not great but not horrible. What I’ve come to realize, though, is that my time is zero-sum. I’m incentivized to spend time on runcommand, when I’d rather spend it on WP-CLI.
Ultimately, the challenge I’m running into is opportunity cost. I’d love to be able to invest more into WP-CLI, but doing so comes at the cost of other business pursuits. Because WP-CLI is such a large project, the several hours I volunteer each week are basically enough to fight entropy — not make headway on larger initiatives.
Bachhuber said he hopes this patron-esque model will scale so he can hire a few people to work on WP-CLI, helping reduce his bus factor and creating a stronger contributor base.
“The project itself is at a point where it needs dedicated attention from maintainers, not occasional changes from contributors,” Bachhuber said in response to commenters on the post.
“I will, however, echo other comments here in regards to the wish for a public roadmap, more transparency, marketing efforts, and more in regards to the business being built upon WP-CLI,” subscriber Pippin Williamson said. “I have chosen to make my subscription payment as a donation to the project, not as a purchase/ of the product / service because, at this time at least, there’s not really anything I get out of it beyond continued development of the project.”
Williamson said the new wp doctor and wp profile commands would not be of much use to him or his team. He also suggested that Bachhuber sell a professional subscription that offers a library of additional commands for popular plugins, such as WooCommerce, Easy Digital Downloads, WP Migrate DB Pro, and Gravity Forms.
“What I’ve come to appreciate is that WP-CLI will be far more successful in the long-term by building all of these in the open, instead of a more traditional model of making some selection of them paid-access,” Bachhuber said.
Subscriptions will help fund the ongoing maintenance of WP-CLI, the creation of new commands, and improvements to the website and package index.
For a project that is geared almost exclusively towards developers, there’s a surprisingly low number of contributors to its development. The brunt of it falls to Bachhuber as the official maintainer. His campaign puts the impetus on subscribers to help improve the tools they use every day through monetary contribution.
Hopefully, funding the organization will also precipitate a culture shift resulting in more developers who are motivated to get their hands dirty and become personally invested in the code base. Funding one person’s time is not the most effective way to keep a project afloat and may not do much to reduce the bus factor on the project unless Bachhuber can hire or inspire more maintainers.
By choosing to wrestle with the challenges of funding open source software in a transparent way, Bachhuber is paving the way for other project maintainers to learn from his experiments and pursue similarly unorthodox funding options. So far WP-CLI has received 17 subscribers. If it reaches 50, Bachhuber plans to create a members-only forum. The funding experiment closes on December 28th.