Tag Archives: crowdfunding

Geary crowdfunding: What went wrong?

OMG! Ubuntu ran a postmortem yesterday: Why Did Geary’s Fundraiser Fail?  It’s a question we’ve been asking ourselves at Yorba, obviously.  Quite a number of people have certainly stepped forward to offer their opinions, in forums and comment boards and social media and via email.  OMG!’s article is the first attempt I’ve encountered at a complete list of theories.

Although I didn’t singlehandedly craft and execute the entire Geary crowdfunding campaign, I organized it and held its hand over those thirty days.  Ultimately I take responsibility for the end result.  That’s why I’d like to respond to OMG’s theories as well as offer a few of my own.

Some preliminary throat-clearing

Let me state a few things before I tackle the various theories.

First, it’s important to understand that the Geary campaign was a kind of experiment.  We wanted to know if crowdfunding was a potential route for sustaining open-source development.  We weren’t campaigining to create a new application; Geary exists today and has been under development for two years now.  Unlike OpenShot and VLC, we weren’t porting Geary to Windows or the Mac, we wanted to improve the Linux experience.  And we had no plans on using the raised money as capital to later sell a product or service, which is the usual route for most crowdfunded projects.  Our pitch was simply this: donate money so we can make Geary on Linux even better than it is today.

Also, we didn’t go into this campaign thinking Yorba “deserved” the money.  We weren’t asking for the community to reward us for what we’ve done.  We were asking the community to help fund the things we wanted to develop and share.

Nor did we think that everyone in the FOSS world needed to come to our aid.  Certainly we would’ve appreciated that, but our goal was to entice current and prospective Geary users to open their wallets and donate.

I hope you keep that in mind as I go through OMG!’s list of theories.

OMG’s possible reasons

“$100,000 was too much”

This was by far the most voiced complaint about the campaign.  It was also the most frustrating because of its inexact nature — too much compared to what?  When asked to elucidate, I either never heard back from the commenter or got the hand-wavey response “It’s just too much for an email client.”

It’s important to point out — and we tried! — that Yorba was not asking you for $100,000, we were asking the community for a lot of small donations.  Your email account is your padlock on the Internet.  Just about every online account you hold is keyed to it.  It’s also the primary way people and companies will communicate with you on the Internet.  Is a great email experience — a program you will use every day, often hours every day — worth $10, $25, $50?

Another point I tried to make: How much did it cost to produce Thunderbird?  Ten thousand, fifteen thousand dollars?  According to Ohloh, Thunderbird cost $18 million to develop.  Even if that’s off by a factor of ten (and I’m not sure it is) we were asking for far less.  (Incidentally, Ohloh puts Geary’s current development cost at $380,000.  I can attest that’s not far off the mark.)  Writing a kickin’ video game, a Facebook clone, or an email client takes developer time, and that’s what costs money, whether the software is dazzling, breathtaking, revolutionary, disruptive, or merely quietly useful in your daily routine.

The last Humble Indie Bundle earned $2.65 million in two weeks.  Linux users regularly contribute 25% of the Humble Haul.  Is that too much for a few games?  Not at all.

“The Proposition Wasn’t Unique”

I agree, there are a lot of email client options for Linux.  What I don’t see are any that look, feel, or interact quite like Geary, and that’s one reason Yorba started this project.

We were in a bind on this matter.  We wanted the Geary campaign to be upbeat, positive, and hopeful.  We saw no need to tear down other projects by name.  We preferred to talk about what Geary offers and what it could grow into rather than point-by-point deficiencies in other email clients.  (Just my generic mention in the video of Geary organizing by conversations rather than “who-replied-to-whom” threading was criticized.)

That there are so many email clients for Linux does not necessarily mean the email problem is “solved”.  It may be that none of them have hit on the right combination of features and usability.  That jibes with the positive reaction we’ve received from many Geary users.

“People Consider it an elementary App”

I honestly don’t recall anyone saying this.  If this notion stopped anyone from contributing, it’s news to me.

To clarify a couple of points: OMG! states there are a few elementary-specific features in Geary.  That’s not true.  The cog wheel is not elementary’s.  We planned that feature before writing the first line of code.  Geary once had a smidgen of conditionally-compiled code specific to elementary, but it was ripped out before 0.3 shipped.

elementary has been a fantastic partner to work with and they supported Yorba throughout the campaign.  Still, Yorba’s mission is to make applications available to as many free desktop users as possible, and that’s true for Geary as well.

“They Chose the Wrong Platform”

Why did we go with Indiegogo over Kickstarter?  We had a few reasons.

A number of non-U.S. users told us that Paypal was the most widely-available manner of making international payments.  Kickstarter uses Amazon Payments in the United States and a third-party system in the United Kingdom.  We have a lot of users in continental Europe and elsewhere, and we didn’t want to make donating inconvenient for them.

Unlike Indiegogo, Kickstarter vets all projects, rejecting 25% of their applications.  And one criteria for Kickstarter is that a project must be creating something new.  We’re not doing that.  One key point we tried to stress was that Geary was built and available today.  (We even released a major update in the middle of the campaign.)  There is no guarantee they would’ve accepted our campaign.

Another point about Kickstarter: a common complaint was that we should’ve done a flexible funding campaign (that is, we take whatever money is donated) rather than the fixed funding model we elected to run, where we must meet a goal in a time period to receive anything.  Kickstarter only allows fixed funding.  A few people said we should’ve done a flexible funding campaign and then said we should’ve used Kickstarter.  It doesn’t work that way.

“Not Enough Press”

I agree with OMG!, we received ample press, but more would not have hurt.  The Tech Crunch article was a blessing, but what we really needed was more coverage from the Ubuntu-specific press.  Even if that happened, I don’t feel it would’ve bridged the gap we needed to cross to reach the $100,000 mark.

A couple OMG! missed

There are two more categories that go unmentioned in the OMG! article:

“You Should Improve Thunderbird / Evolution / (my favorite email app)”

We considered this before launching Geary.  What steered us away from this approach was our criteria for conversations over threading, fast search, and a lightweight UI and backend.

Thunderbird is 1.1 million lines of code.  It was still under development when we started Geary.  We attended a UDS meeting where the Thunderbird developers were asked point-blank about making its interface more like Gmail’s (that is, organizing by conversations rather than threads).  The suggestion was flatly rebuffed: use an extension.  For us, that’s an unsatisfying answer.

Evolution is 900,000 lines of code, and includes many features we did not want to take on.  Its fifteen years of development also bring with it what Federico Mena Quintero succinctly calls “technical debt”.

(Even if you quibble with Ohloh’s line-counting methodology, I think everyone can agree Evolution and Thunderbird are Big, Big Projects.)

In both cases, we would want to make serious changes to them.  We would also want to rip features out in order to simplify the interface and the implementation.  Most projects will flatly deny those kinds of patches.

In comparison, Geary stands at 30,000 lines of code today.

“I Use Web Mail.  No One Uses a Desktop Client Anymore”

Web mail is convenient and serves a real need.  Web mail is also, with all but the rarest exceptions, closed source.

Think of it this way: you probably don’t like the idea of installing Internet Explorer on your Linux box.  If you do, you probably would at least like to have an open-source alternative.  (Heck, even Windows users want a choice.)  Web mail locks you out of alternatives.  People are screaming about Gmail’s new compose window.  What can they do about it?  Today they can temporarily disable it.  Some time soon, even that won’t be available.

Consider the astonishingly casual way Google has end-of-lifed Google Reader.  Come July 31st, Google Reader is dust.  I don’t predict Gmail is going away any time soon — it’s too profitable — but every Gmail user should at least have a fallback plan.  And if Gmail did go away, Google would take with it all that code.  (This is why Digg, Feedly, and others are rushing to create Google Reader lookalikes rather than forking what exists today.)  Not so with open-source email clients.  That’s why asking Yorba to improve Thunderbird or Evolution is even askable.  Yorba improving Gmail?  Impossible.

That’s the pragmatic advantage of open-source over closed: code never disappears.  Even if you change your email provider, you’re not stuck relying on your new provider’s software solution, if they even have one.

The principled advantage of free software is that you’re supporting open development for applications that don’t carry riders, waivers, or provisos restricting your use of it.

My theory

That’s the bulk of the criticism we received over the course of the campaign.  However, I don’t think any or all get to the heart of what went wrong.  Jorge Castro echoes my thinking:

Lesson learned here? People don’t like their current email clients but not so much that they’re willing to pay for a new one.

All I’d add is that over one thousand people were willing to donate a collective sum of $50,000 for a new email client.  Let’s say Jorge is half-right.

I don’t intend this post to be argumentative, merely a chance to air my perspective.

Next time I’ll talk about the lessons we learned and offer advice for anyone interested in crowdfunding their open-source project.

Geary crowdfunding: What’s next?

geary-yorbaThirty days comes and goes faster than you think.  The Geary crowdfunding campaign’s 30 days are up, and unfortunately, we didn’t make our target amount.  That means Yorba will take in none of the $50,860 pledged by 1,192 generous donors over the past month, who will receive refunds.

I’d like to thank each person who pledged to the Geary campaign.  That money represented more than dollars and pennies, it represented trust in Yorba and the work we’re doing to bring high-quality software to the Free Desktop.  $50,860 is not small potatoes, and 1,192 donors in 30 days tells me we’re doing something right.  Even if we “failed” I like to believe we succeeded in some sense.

What’s next?  In some ways, it’s back to business for Yorba.  We’re still coding.  In fact, we released new versions of Geary and Shotwell (even Valencia!) during the crowdfunding campaign, which has to be some kind of record.  We’re working now to find other sources of income to cover our costs.  All options are being considered.

That said, please consider giving directly to Yorba.  If you pledged and are going to receive a Paypal refund, you can still donate some or all of that money to Yorba knowing it will be put to good use.  Every dollar we take in is a little more oxygen for Yorba to continue developing free software.  Just follow this link to donate:


Thanks everyone!

Geary crowdfunding: CiviCRM comes through

I’m pleased to pass on that CiviCRM and one of its funders have collectively pledged $10,000 to the Geary crowdfunding campaign!  This is a huge shot in the arm to the campaign, pushing us over the $40K mark.  As they told me, they “know and understand what Yorba & Geary needs and are supporting it with what counts.”

This is a fantastic show of support for Yorba and its vision.  We have five days to go.  Our goal of $100,000 may seem far-off but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.  Please share the campaign with everyone you know, and if you’ve not donated, please donate now!

Geary crowdfunding: A perspective from Bytemark

Earlier today Bytemark’s Managing Director Matthew Bloch posted an incredibly encouraging blog post on why his company supports Geary and wants it to succeed.  Some key points that are well worth considering:

Facebook and Twitter continue to use their muscle to wind internet messaging back to the 1980s. That was a time when sending a message between big commercial networks was a privilege and not a right. So you had multiple addresses, or people you had to pay to talk to, or people you just couldn’t talk to because those big networks wanted to lock people in. We’re getting back to that state again now.

All of this bad news means hosting companies lose business. Users see a better experience with one of the big guys, moving towards them and their proprietary platforms. Among many other things, we all need to see a better free email client, and the prospect of anyone starting afresh seemed pretty remote.

Yorba simply want to put beautiful, functional, software out there, for free, with no strings attached, and with no plans to lock away the best features for paying customers.

Here’s a video of Matthew Bloch and scene-stealer Blue personally making their case for everyone to support Geary:

We’re reaching the last week of the Geary crowdfunding campaign.  Have you given yet?  If not, please consider donating.  We’re running an all-or-nothing campaign, meaning we must reach our goal of $100,000 to receive the money.  Please give today!

Geary crowdfunding: GPG privacy, calendar integration, and more

As promised on our Geary crowdfunding campaign page, we want to know what features our users are looking for in an email client. And in listening to you, we have some good news to announce.

To refresh your memory, these are the features we’re promising to build in Geary 0.4 if we reach our goal:

  • As-fast-as-you-can-type searching
  • Always-on notification of new email
  • Support for all major IMAP servers
  • Save and auto-save drafts

I’m pleased to announce that in addition to the above, we promise to add these features as well:

  • Transparent GPG integration (digital signing and encryption/decryption of messages)
  • Calendar integration (see update below for details)
  • Import address book from Google Contacts

This is quite a line-up of features, but again, we’re only promising all of these if we make our target of $100,000.  You can help make that a reality.

What if we don’t make it?

While there’s still 19 days left in the campaign, it’s still worth discussing what happens if we don’t make the target.  Since this is an all-or-nothing campaign, Yorba will receive nothing if we don’t reach or exceed our goal of $100,000.  What then?

Well, we still have a little gas in the tank and can keep working on Geary.  We won’t have enough time to develop all of the above features, however, so it would be a pretty limited subset of them.  In fact, it may only be a couple, plus some bug fixes.  That may be about it.

After that — who knows?  There’s a lot of possible futures and it’s not worth speculating which one will develop.  In any future, it’s hard to see continued aggressive development of Geary without further funding.

So why contemplate that possibility when you can help create a much better future?  Please consider donating today and tell everyone you know who supports open-source and wants to see it flourish!

UPDATE: We’ve received some comments asking what we mean by calendar integration.  Our plan is that Geary will allow you to add invites you receive via email to your favorite calendar application.  We are not planning to add a calendar itself to Geary.

Geary crowdfunding: how did we come up with that number?

geary-yorbaThe Geary crowdfunding campaign has been a wild three days so far!  We’ve even been featured in a TechCrunch article, “Crowdfunding, Micro-patronage, And The Free Desktop”.  Scott Merrill had some tough questions for me about how the money we raised would be used.  Others have also commented elsewhere about our target of US$100,000.  Are we asking for too much?  Why do we need that kind of money?

Plainly put, software development is expensive.  You can do it in your spare time, but it’s exactly that — your spare time, the odd moments in your life when you choose to put other obligations aside and devote yourself to the intricacies of code.  The success stories are out there.  Many are the stuff of computing lore, but you never hear of the multitude of abandoned weekend projects.  Coding in fits and bursts is a strategy of mixed results.

Yorba has three full-time engineers working on Geary.  We’re not going to use the raised money for sparkling new development systems or personalized catering.  Yorba’s major equipment and infrastructure purchases have already been made with past income.  The crowdfunding contributions we take in go toward people hacking on Geary code.

“An email client isn’t worth $100K,” one commenter complained.  I doubt there’s a widely-used desktop application out there developed for less than US$100,000 — it’s just that the price tag might be hidden from its users.  The person coding in their spare time is working for free, but that doesn’t mean their spare time is worthless.  Perhaps your favorite app was developed thanks to corporate sponsorship and is distributed freely.  But with that subsidy comes a price tag in terms of priorites, direction, maintenance, and, as the Google Reader announcement last week reminds us, potential abandonment.  “Great software is worth paying for.”

Yorba has no corporate sponsorship.  That strategy has worked for some open-source projects, and I’m not knocking it out-of-hand.  But direct contributions from our users means we can place their priorities — your priorities — first.

Other software crowdfunding campaigns have asked for less than US$100,000, so why is Yorba asking for so much?  Games are a good example of “cheap” crowdfunding.  They raise money by selling pre-release copies as part of their perks or incentives (“For $50, you’ll get a signed copy of the game”) and then selling full-price copies when the game is completed.  Other software campaigns develop online subscription services and offer perks of free subscriptions — again, a model of pre-selling the software in order to raise money to develop it.

This is all fine, but that’s not the position we’re in.  Geary is free software: you will forever be able to download and build Geary on your own.  Heck, you can download and run it today.  We’re not pre-selling software nor are we building an email service.  In fact, we want Geary to work with all kinds of email systems, not lock you into ours.  We want to take what we’ve started and make it better — no, we want to make it great.

Finally, remember that we’re not asking you for US$100,000.  Rather, we’re asking for everyone to contribute a little toward that amount.  What’s a program like Geary worth to you?  Most people leave their email open all day long.  They’re constantly working with it: reading a conversation, marking an email as a “to-do” for later, replying to one request, then sending off a note to someone else.  We want Geary to make all those tasks a snap, so easy you’re not even thinking about Geary, but rather the email in front of you.

What’s that worth to you?  $10, $25, $100?  That’s the question we’re posing with our crowdfunding campaign.  Please considering contributing today.