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Don’t lose your (open-source) soul: why we founded Ondsel as a public benefit company

· 3 min read
Brad Collette

For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? -Mark 8:36

Late last year I was talking with Open Core Ventures about the possibility of starting Ondsel. It was exciting to hear from people outside the FreeCAD community who shared the vision that this software was important and could be so much more than it already is. As the idea of actually starting a company took hold, the first important decision was which legal structure the new company would have. Two things that I read deeply affected me and shaped the final decision.

The first was an article by Jen Barnette that highlighted five considerations for being a public benefits corporation (PBC).

At a time when ambition often clashes with integrity, the formation of Ondsel as a Public Benefit Company (PBC) should stand as a testament to our belief in conscious entrepreneurship. The ethos of open-source software, characterized by collaboration and transparency, frequently finds itself at odds with the profit-driven dynamics of the modern tech landscape. Ondsel's genesis as a PBC exemplifies a commitment to upholding the soul of open-source values, even in the pursuit of success.

Open-source software, a cornerstone of the digital age, embodies the spirit of sharing, transparency, and collective betterment. But, as projects mature, they can wrestle with the challenges of sustainability. Developers who once dedicated themselves to a project out of love find their efforts ensnared by financial considerations and proprietary boundaries, straying from the core essence of openness. Ondsel's inception as a PBC is a direct response—a proactive stance to prevent the dilution of these core values.

The five points that Jen described meshed well with my own thinking and I made sure to include them in our own handbook. I revisit them often to make sure my thinking doesn’t drift away from the core values we started with.

The second thing I read was Simon Sinek’s book The Infinite Game. He suggests that a company should have a “just cause” that inspires people because it explains why you’re doing what you do.

For me, this one was easy.

Human beings are creative and social creatures. Not everyone creates physical things but everyone is a maker of ideas. We enjoy sharing our ideas, talking about them and improving them. Sometimes those ideas turn into physical things that have beauty, utility, and value. These days, you need tools to express your ideas so others can build on them and we need everyone’s best ideas.

People deserve access to tools to help them express their ideas, share them with other people, and use them to produce useful things that benefit all of us. Ondsel wants to make powerful, efficient, and beautiful design tools available to more people.