A conflict between Open Source and Business

Good morning gentlemen

I am very happy with the input from everyone on this topic. Probably one of the nicest non-product topics I ever had here in the forum.

I almost get to regret not posting such a theme earlier, but I refrain. The conditions now are very specific and the calamity of the moment helps to have a more unfiltered discussion :slight_smile:

There are some overall comments I want to make and also some individual replies.

1 - The users

First and foremost, if it was not clear in the initial post, I am talking here about the spin-off commercial projects that use our software and how they hurt us.

I am, in no way, blaming users. I sense that some people here are feeling “guilty” about being MODEP users and are sort of apologizing. The MODEP team even posted a letter here in the forum - Blokas Letter to MOD Community - in which @Pranciskus writes:

Nobody is blaming users. I am making a direct critic of the people who run those projects. If it was not clear in the original post, I hope it is now.

2 - The constellation around the hardware

Second, is that the difficulty I am trying to express is related to the business side of things, especially the relationships with other business partners and also investors.

While software distribution can be scaled almost in a limitless way at no cost, hardware does not. Distributing hardware means moving material, which costs money.

While software startups can work mostly on their own, hardware startups MUST create an entire constelation of partners, that extends from the raw material suppliers and the whole supply chain to the brick & mortar shop at the very end of the distribution. Everyone in the constelation is moving material.

Everyone in this “material moving chain” is taking a risk, after all, material costs money.

The difficulty I expressed with my post is related to the creation of this constelation of “material movers” when there are cheaper “copies” of your product obtainable elsewhere. Retailers and distributors are absolutely scared of that, as it undermines their efforts and threatens their sales.

As I mentioned before, I know the products are not the same. But for the ones who do not know, these products are a “cheap knockoff”.

In order to get all this material moving, money has to be thrown into it and that´s where investors come in.

Similar to the dealers, investors get very afraid of these cheap knockoffs for two reasons:

  • it gives foundation to their natural fear of open source, as the knockoff just exists because it is open source
  • it diminishes the interest in the business, as the knockoff removed the “unique” from our “selling propositions”, and if there is one thing investors want, is a unique selling proposition.

Who, in his sane mind, will put money in a project that makes 500€ products that can be “copied” and sold for less than half of the price???

I know that the sentence above is very imprecise and shallow, but that is how non-musicians and non-techies see it.

To make it even worse, because we are community-based, news inside the community travels fast to the point that these knockoffs are available before we can even put our feet on the real market. Both Zynthian and Blokas were already selling devices with our system before we even released our 1.0 software and got the CE and FCC certifications…

Feels like those movies where the prom queen arrives at the prom just to discover that many girls are using the same dress…

3 - The customers

I am glad to read that many here have passed through Blokas before opting to buy a MOD device.

The comment I have about this is that, in the adoption curve of a technological product, you have groups of customers that adopt the product as time passes and the product gets more popular.

What is Technology Adoption_2

The first two groups - innovators and early adopters - are essential for the success of moving into the first big group, the early majority.

It is quite a bummer that we start with competition and segmentation of customers already in this initial phase. Instead of getting full support from these initial adopters, we are actually already sharing a market from day one.

I hope this helps to clarify my point :slight_smile:

As I said in the original post, I am expressing the difficulties we had when trying to make a product as we did. It is not about finding culprits not blaming someone, but more of an exhibition of the bigger picture, so that everyone can reflect on it.


** Opinions expressed here are my own for the sake of discussion and not those of the company **

I agree with this and I still have hope that MOD could take more advantage of the 3rd party presence. I read crossing the chasm and they talk a lot about what it takes to establish yourself as the trusted market leader. You need to be the biggest fish in the pond, not the only fish in the pond. Being the only fish would surely indicate that the pond has dirty water. I think the point is not to worry about what the other fish are doing but to focus on being the best fish and making the most of the situation rather than trying to change it. If the product has value, there are always going to be knockoffs whether the source is open or not. If there are no knockoffs that just suggests there isn’t demand for the product. I guess the ease of which people can make knockoffs and how similar they are could be changed.


You have to learn something from what you have done in life, then it is good. I had learnt a lot from my insolvency, about the markets, their mechanisms, clients etc. and managed to reboot without any capital from the scratch.

I’m not trying to be clever and I know it’s difficult to argue when things have already gone wrong… But looking back, I think you developed the Dwarf to counter two things, among others: to make it easier to get the components you needed, but also to counter that “cheap competition”. Maybe one of your strategic mistakes was to first go into the higher price segment with the DuoX instead of directly developing a lower-priced Dwarf.

I now know my need for pedals and what I would buy immediately. A “HalfDwarf” (should it be called “Gnome” then…?) immediately comes to mind. One signal input, weaker processor, thus even cheaper and more easily available components. This would be in a price segment that would be very close to the imitators (then one would rather buy the original). I myself could urgently use a Gnome today, because I’m currently missing the third signal chain. And there are certainly many people out there who would buy a second one, because one is not enough and may be at the end a Dwarf or even a more expensive one.

Another idea would have been to expand the market by becoming less complicated. Since the Mod software and hardware is more something for specialists, a NoobDwarf, or even a NoobGnome would have been a good thing. So a Dwarf with ready-made presets, prefabricated pedalboards, which you have to tweak a bit and that’s it. An entry-level pedal, so to speak, where the user can lay a cable if he dares and understands more and more how the Mod world works.

But that would also be my personal advice: If you succeed in rebooting, think about such concepts in order to generate recurring revenues with cheaper devices and build up a good name for yourself. You can get the components you need cheaper and easier, deliver faster and raise money to do bigger things with them.


…hard to tell if we’re still on topic here, or if this is veering towards the Other Big Thread… haha!.. they’re very intertwined, aren’t they?! :wink:

it’s been really interesting to read the various points of view in this thread! it’s both a testimony to the broad scope of the MOD vision, and a cautionary tale which raises a lot of questions about how to strategize in the face of such diversity.

@Kim , your comments about smaller/easier devices are clearly a good strategy with respect to income and market share. however, from my usage perspective, that direction obscures the more flexible and wide-ranging “sound design” capabilities of the platform. personally, although i understand the financial pressures, i would be disappointed if MOD started looking a lot more like a guitar pedal company… in terms of what i would be interested in buying, i’d much rather see a larger, more high-powered device. think “full-computer-power-hardware-audio-appliance”, with more I/O (both audio, including digital, and control), more device knobs/slider/touchpads, and a laptop or desktop CPU – something which really replaces a computer in a stage or studio context, but designed for and dedicated to audio.

of course, that sort of thing is a very difficult proposition in terms of complexity and cost of design and manufacturing, as well as finding a viable and sustainable target market; i mention it simply to illustrate the interesting conundrum which MOD has built for itself. both aspects of the platform’s vision are compelling and, in different ways, are key parts of what makes the company attractive to various users and/or stakeholders.

…i’m keenly interested to see how a company reboot handles this rich constellation of possibility!..


Not that the conversation here is bad, but I think it has veered off-topic. Away from something important.

Even if the product is drastically changed to some mono thing, or the UI is completely revamped and simplified or whatever you want, the fundamental problem is that companies and investors are scared to do business with MOD because of the open source software. If we can come up with a solution to that problem, any product issues can be worked out over time while there’s actually a company that exists to work on it. Right now we don’t have one.


It feels that way - a few times I’ve started replying and then thought “maybe this should go in the other topic”.

I feel the same. I would love to be able to run the MOD stack on my Headrush Pedalboard. It already has all the switches I need, expression pedal and touchscreen, with stage-ready output options and never a single problem with noise across use in several locations. The HRPB works as an audio interface and has a “re-amping” feature where you can run your dry tracks through. The things I miss from the MOD are:

  • the range of interesting plugins for modulation effects
  • ability to use synths, sequencers and run in parallel with guitar chains
  • ability to input and mix multiple sources like guitar + mic + MIDI keyboard
  • “band in box” features like sequencers, loopers, and the audio recorder and player (which I never got to experience but advocated a long time for)

I’d love to have a sturdy audio workstation device that I could use in the studio and on stage. It would have all my recordings, patches, presets stored. By connecting a bluetooth keyboard + mouse, and a USB-C monitor I could run my DAW (Mixbus) right on the device. The device would have an easy-to-use package manager for installing different audio tools and programs like Sonic Pi, Faust, Carla, etc.

Secondary to all of that was a sense of security that came from a belief that the device and software was open enough that I could do custom installs or overrides if I was motivated enough. As a developer I enjoyed reading through the repos and poking around in the browser and on the device.

Along the way I’ve wondered if and how MOD would be able to cross the early adopter phase and what that would look like. My feeling was that some of those things I enjoyed most about the platform were also liabilities for its growth. Trying to accommodate a wide range of input devices, trying to support hundreds of third party plugins in various states of polish, trying to debug and support technical problems with complicated devices already shipped globally. I summarized some of my thoughts a while back: A new MOD competitor - #27 by unbracketed

I’m skeptical about how MOD can compete in the pedals / modeller market without some significant work on the user interface and experience. It also seems like competing in hardware is tougher than ever right now. I was worried when I saw the multiple reports of noise problems with the Dwarf and this seems to be an ongoing problem with the design of the system. The MOD team is lucky that there are some talented folks in the community who were willing to step up and offer detailed investigations and solutions. However, its not clear how this would be addressed going forward. My understanding is that at least several users have needed to purchase additional third party power supplies that do not meet / violate the device’s production specs. I’ve read through those threads with interest (I had a lot of noise challenges with my Duo) and tried to keep an open mind that there are many variables at play.

Unless something changes with the hardware design, how will the MOD team be able to cope with the massive time sink of support and bad reviews? It won’t be scalable to have a conversation with each user on the assumption the problem is on the user’s end. Consumers won’t have the same level of curiosity or dedication to understand what the problem might be and the “buy another power supply” won’t fly at this level (and you can’t legally recommend a non-approved unit).


** Opinions expressed here are my own for the sake of discussion and not those of the company **

This has gone a bit off topic for sure

While I agree with @plutek and @unbracketed that it would be super cool to have a bigger more powerful device, that would be something that is tailored to the power users that are already familiar with the platform. A device like that would be so much fun to design and to use, but I don’t believe that would sustain the company.

I agree with @Kim that a smaller, simpler, cheaper device and some work on the platform UX to make things simpler for new users and less technical users would be a much better direction to go in to grow the user base and get the company to a stable state. But now isn’t the time to go back into product development.

As @ssj71 said, there first needs to be a sustainable company before new product conversations can start. The Dwarf is already mature and ready to scale and it’s far from the end of its life. Most users still haven’t touched the surface of what it can do and there are more improvements to come. What can still be done in the absence of new devices is a refresh of the UX. That combined with real production runs of the Dwarf fits the target market well and is a strong business case.

The discussion about open and closed source is pretty healthy. It’s good when people can discuss what’s best for the platform without too much bias. I guess we all have different views on whether some parts being open effects the platform positively or negatively but I think we all agree that what we all want is for the platform for it to succeed


IMO this is probably the best way to achieve the “simpler device” idea that @Kim mentioned. Given that the R&D has already been done on the Dwarf, and it can be produced, making a “simple mode” for it would be a good path to getting a solid, simplified UX out to the market. While the UI code isn’t trivial, I have to imagine it would be significantly less work that a new hardware design. There are then opportunities for “advanced mode” packages for more control, more routing options, graphics options, etc.


thanks for that, @james!

i really don’t know much of anything about business development, but i imagine the product trajectory impacts how the open/closed question is addressed, when discussing with potential financers of a rebooted company. to me, it bodes well that @james is sticking solidly behind the Dwarf – as he says, it’s mature to the point of scaling to the available market, so that lends valuable stability to the discussion, and in turn might clarify what role OS can reasonably play in the business plan.

…but what do i know??!.. :man_shrugging: :wink:


Well hey, I’m just a designer :sweat_smile:


Just going to clarify that all my thoughts here are my personal opinions and they don’t represent the company


Would it be an option to keep more parts closed source and only make them publicly available after a year or so? That should keep the knockoffs in a safe distance and might make investors feel safer.


Then they’d have to revert to a kind of closed development model which makes any kind of opensource and cooperative effort useless (imagine things like devs coming with bugfixes and then you already implemented them, but keeping it from release).

Doesn’t make any sense.

No it’s really just the HMI (interface and displays) and peripheral device firmwares that are easy to keep proprietary. For mod-host and mod-ui it would make development much harder.

MOD could invest in proprietary (and possibly paid) plugins that are then only available within the official MOD distribution channels. Integrating these licensed products with the other systems could of course offer another revenue stream (in which case the “knock-offs” are not even a threat, just an expansion of the platform).


I agree with dreamer’s comments, but I’ll add that we should note the fear is irrational. So just the existence of the derivative products is fully damaging regardless of how distant. The fear is what’s hurting MOD the most, not the actual products. If partners weren’t afraid of knock-offs, they’d invest and we wouldn’t have this conversation and the knock-offs would go on building the community indirectly. :slight_smile: So I don’t think it’s at all a question of “how do we make the derivatives less a threat” but rather the question is “how do we make it so potential partners see that derivative products are an asset.”


There does not seem to be much contribution from external devs. But if it was a problem, we could find a solution.

Situation for mod-host is (unfortunately) comparable.

I agree with your last paragraph.


I know there haven’t been much contributions, but right out blocking these means the opensource value is completely gone.
Then you might as well just stop releasing new versions entirely and keep any future development closed.

Personally I wouldn’t be interested in these products if that where the case.


Which plugin format do you want to use if Mod Device becomes closed source? Or will the open source lv2 plugins become closed source and you can’t use them on Linux anymore?

Will this also take place for the DuoX, so will this also be developed further? Or will this get no updates/renewals?


The point was about publishing of updates to the MOD stack, not the plugins running on that stack.

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Where did I write that contributions would be blocked?

Why so serious? The creators of MariaDB, one of the most widely used relational databases, uses this technique; have a look at the Wikipedia page about business models for open source, if you want to.

Me neither!