On "Open" Distros, Open Source, and Building a Company


At Elastic, our focus is on building great products, forming communities around them, and making our users successful.

In 2009, I sat down and wrote the first few lines of Elasticsearch and open sourced it. I quit my job and spent two years investing in building the product and fostering the amazing community that has been built around it. In 2012 we formed a company, Elastic, around it. We have invested in our community of users and embraced the ecosystem of open source products developed around it. We added so many features to Apache Lucene I lost count, making it the strong foundation we all build on top. We have added Kibana, created by Rashid, Logstash created by Jordan, and PacketBeat created by Monica and Tudor, to name a few. We built the products out, fostered the communities around them, and focused on providing the most amount of value to our users. Today, we have hundreds of Elastic developers that work every single day on this vast undertaking. We have hundreds of thousands of community members contributing to our shared success every day. And I am proud of the company we built to foster it.

We have built a level of trust with our user base that I am proud and humbled by. It starts with being open, and continues with being true to our community and user base in what we do. We also focused on making sure nothing distracts us from that fact.

For years, ever since we started, we have dealt with FUD. If you build something successful, it is bound to happen. The FUD mostly comes from large(r) companies that fear what such a movement can cause. It is only natural. "Don't use the product, it is a toy." "It only has a handful of developers, what happens if they get hit by a bus?" "They don't know what "the enterprise" wants." "They are not true X or Y or Z (insert your word of the day)." We have never let it affect us, or let it occupy our mind. It is done in order to distract us and our community from our main purpose, build great products and communities, that users love. We fail our users if we let it, and we will never fail you.

Our products were forked, redistributed and rebundled so many times I lost count. It is a sign of success and the reach our products have. From various vendors, to large Chinese entities, to now, Amazon. There was always a "reason", at times masked with fake altruism or benevolence. None of these have lasted. They were built to serve their own needs, drive confusion, and splinter the community. Our commitment and focus on building great products and communities, that users love, formed our way, and it resonated with you, our users. We built a level of trust with you, an expected rate of innovation, and amazing collaboration, that simply IS, and you saw it.

We believe in open source, and the power it brings. We also communicated from the start that some features will be commercial, and why. Our honesty, I believe, is a big reason for our shared success. We built our open source code in a way that allows for it to be pluggable and cleanly implemented. We haven't changed our way since we started, building trust with our users for years that we stand by our word, and by them.

Our commercial code has been an "inspiration" for others, it has been bluntly copied by various companies, and even found its way back to certain distributions or forks, like the freshly minted Amazon one, sadly, painfully, with critical bugs. We kept on being focused on building great products and communities, that users love. We did not let it distract us, and this focus has paid back tenfold.

Our brand has been used and abused, hijacked, and misrepresented many times. Companies have falsely claimed that they work in collaboration with our company, topically Amazon. We did not let it distract us, we kept on building great products and communities, that users love. Dilution of focus is the enemy of a company, and we never let it affect us. It is you that matter, our users, not the noise around it.

When we joined forces with companies, we opened up the code. When we started to see our users use us for APM, we were all excited about it. We joined forces with a pure SaaS company in the APM space called OpBeat, which was a big commercial investment on our end, and open sourced most of it, and made all of it free. It was such a simple decision, since we focus on building great products and communities, that users love, and you, our users, deserve it.

When others closed down, we opened up. We kept our open source code the same, under the same license, and doubled down on being open as a company. We relicensed our existing commercial code under a more permissive license, and opened up the code. Trying to foster the same level of collaboration and transparency we have in our open source code across everything we do. This was done in direct reaction to the many discussions we had with our users, and I am so happy to see it has resonated so much with you. Our level of investment in open source since then has only increased, as has our commitment to more free features and experiences, clearly marked and clearly distributed.

When companies came to us, seeing our success, and asked for special working relationship in order to collaborate on code, demanding preferential treatment that would place them above our users, we told them no. This happened numerous times over the years, and only recently again, this time with Amazon. Some have aligned and became wonderful partners to us and the community. Others, sadly, didn't follow through. We have a commitment that we will treat a single developer contributing to our products the same as others. There is no preference, and we will reject any ask to have one. Our answer has always been a constant: send a pull request, like everybody else does. The quality will speak for itself.

I write all of this for several reasons. The first, is that we all sometimes need to self reflect on what and why we did that made us successful, to make sure we stay true to our course. With you, our users, our community, our company. Second, to others out there, that face so many reasons to be distracted, keep your focus, and stay true, it is the only thing that matters. And last, to express our shared commitment to continue to build great products and communities, that users love. It is our true north.

It is always Day 0 at Elastic (like the developers we serve, we use zero based numbering). Nothing has changed from the first line of code I wrote to the 10 years of journey we had with all of you, our users, and to the many years to come. I :elasticheart: y'all.