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Upstream recap: Lessons from offering paid support for OSS projects

Caitlin Bixby
by Caitlin Bixby
on July 20, 2023

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On June 7th, for the third year in a row, we hosted Upstream, a virtual, one-day celebration of open source, the developers who use it, and the maintainers who make it. It was our biggest Upstream yet, with hundreds of attendees joining us in discussions about the current state of open source and how to make it better for everyone. 

In his Upstream talk entitled “Lessons from offering paid support for OSS projects”, open source software maintainer, Val Karpov, discusses the reasons for offering paid support in Mongoose, a popular database framework on npm (Over two million downloads per week!), and what offering support for the last year has been like in practice.

What does paid support look like?

For Mongoose, there’s the Mongoose Pro subscription which among other features, offers support to its subscribers as its main selling point. The support offered is a shared Slack channel where subscribers can ask maintainers questions and priority support on GitHub issues, bringing the subscriber’s request to the front of the support queue.

When they first launched in 2022, the Mongoose support team took on about six clients—Val noted it’s been a slow and steady growth. Typical support so far has included answering quick questions (“Are we doing this right?”), bug fixes (“This isn’t working.”), and requests for new features.

Lessons learned

  1. Go for smaller business clients to start. The buyers are more likely to be invested to buy-in as it’s more likely the CEO/CTO will be using the tool directly and will feel the benefit of this pro subscription.
  2. It ended up being less support than originally thought. Val said he and his teammates expected a fire hose of sorts and instead received a manageable, steady stream of requests with quiet periods in between.
  3. If you’re an open source software maintainer who’s worried about being flooded with support requests, Val’s advice would be to not worry about that. “Mongoose already gets dozens of GitHub issues per day from people who don’t pay,” Val said. “Paid support requests, so far, have been a tiny drop in the bucket. Mostly unnoticeable relative to the usual load of GitHub issues. Additionally, paid support subscribers are often more patient and understanding.”
  4. Some clients just want to say thanks! Oftentimes they’re looking to say thanks and to make sure the project is well maintained. 


To learn more about Mongoose, the benefits of using Slack for support, and more you can watch the rest of Val’s Upstream talk here

Upstream 2023 watch now