April 3, 2001

Building a better business model with Digital Creations founder Paul Everitt

Author: JT Smith

- By Julie Bresnick -

Open Source people -

Paul Everitt, co-founder of Digital Creations, is not
a big man (his weight classes for high school wrestling was 102 and 109 pounds)
but
his years in the U.S. Navy show in his gait. He walks with the stature of a
man
with big muscles or wearing a recent victory; his shoulders back his
spine
straight. He walks with the gait of a leader.He mans the helm of a company attempting to "cross the chasm"
between the
innovator market, which is already sold on the idea of Open Source, and
the
mainstream. It is a term he adopted from a sales and marketing book Crossing the Chasm that he just finished reading. At the time of our conversation, he's about to reference the book in his talk at the Linux
Conference in Denver, Colo. It is a leap that poses the biggest
challenge for Open Source today. With Digital Creations he plans to
transport Zope, the Web application server that the company Open-Sourced in
the fall of 1998, to the mainstream.

He has been on the road for 19 of the last 33 days
preaching about not just the benefits of Open Source but how to
incorporate it into a business model that works, how to take it beyond the realm of
religion and into a better way to do business and build wealth.

Everitt is thoughtful after mentioning his wife and 2-year-old
daughter -- "the whole family thing does bring up an interesting point" --
but can't resist transitioning into the business implications. "Regarding
the
whole question about whether companies should be allowed to have
intellectual property, many kind of loud people in the Open Source
community, not the thoughtful people, just seem to be against any
concept of
ownership and what that winds up eventually meaning is that programmers
aren't allowed to participate in wealth creation. And that makes it
pretty
hard to have a family."

But there are plenty of programmers out there making a lot of money.

"They're making money, but there is a difference between money and
wealth.
Having an ownership position, through employee stock options, of a long
term
viable company with real tangible assets is wealth. Getting paid a
good
yearly salary is just money. It's not that it can't be done, my beef is
that
many times the community just doesn't care, it's 'just give it to us
for
free and then it's your problem to figure out how to make it
profitable.'"

There's no doubt that Everitt cares, and not just about wealth
creation.
Having succumbed to programming fever at the keyboard of his own ATARI
400
in eighth grade, he jokes today that if all else fails he can probably
fund
his family's future with the price fetched by the sale of his prized
T-shirt
from the first ever Python conference. Python is a program dear to him both
personally and professionally. In the fall of 2000 Python author Guido van Rossum moved himself
and
his team into a Digital Creations office in Northern Virginia. Python
is
the language used to develop Zope and now that PythonLabs is part of
Digital
Creations, the team's days are dedicated to developing the Python core and
infrastructure improvements that also benefit Zope.

Though working with the folk at PythonLabs is one of the most
fulfilling
aspects of his job and though he thinks it's important that Zope is
developed openly, Everitt is constantly reassessing Open Source's
appropriate
role in the business arena.

"I've already seen Open Source go from our leading kind of brand tag
to
being a secondary one for us. Open Source for us really is a means to
an end
and not the end itself. It could happen that for the mainstream market
Open
Source recedes even further and just becomes an operations issue --
what's
the best way to organize a development force and a community."

If he's willing to downgrade the role of Open Source then why is it
so
important in the first place?

"There are a number of benefits [to Open Source] that I don't think
are
being portrayed well enough to the mainstream. One of the biggest ones
is
for businesses, for customers to have control over what happens to
them.
The entire model of the technology adoption lifestyle has been to
establish
a proprietary lock in, through pretty well specified techniques, get
the
mainstream market to use your stuff and then to make sure that they
don't
have any option but to use your stuff.

Great from the vendor's
perspective,"
he laughs, "but not that great from the customer's perspective. And
we're
not doing a good enough job educating the market on why they should
care
about that and how Open Source is different. It's done in a kind of
tangential way of bashing mainstream vendors rather than promoting a
valid
agenda."

The end to which Open Source could be a primary means is "a
successful
global way for information technology to operate. A better buying
proposition for customers, a better selling proposition for vendors and
an
acceleration in innovation."

Sounds great, so how does he plan on making that happen?

"To me, about the biggest thing that is a bridge to the mainstream
is
what IBM is doing, a very visible ad campaign and staking a lot on
Linux.
In particular, trying to build out what is called the whole project,
beyond
the software, the services, and the field sales force and all that
stuff."

It is hard to divert him from the business side of things. Not
because
he is not forthcoming, but because that's where his mind is these days
and
it's working overtime. Besides the sacred Saturday mornings that he
goes
swimming with his daughter, he'd like to have a free moment to mow the
lawn
but every time he does mow the grass, he finds himself thinking about
Mozilla. He has no idea why and his speaking schedule doesn't afford
him
enough time on the grass to find out.

He says that despite the internships spent working on databases and
the
computer jobs that complemented his college years, he never thought
programming would be his career. He says he's actually not much of a
programmer, but he thinks like one and when I watch him give a
presentation
to a group gathered by the LAX LUG, there's no doubt he can communicate
effectively with a room full of career geeks.

But unlike the traditional geek MO, "I really love getting up in
front
of audiences and trying to provoke some of their thinking about
business
models and about where we are really trying to go, and so the evangelism
is
very fun and rewarding and all part of really trying to make a
difference."

His focus is not as finite as that of the great programmers, rather
it is
broader in scale, grandiose. He doesn't want to be brilliant, he says,
he
wants to be effective. But considering that his motivation is to change the
world, by "coming up with something that is unique and meaningful and
strikes a chord in a large group of people," I think what he really
means to
say is that he wants to be brilliantly effective.

About Paul Everitt

Born: Panama City, Fla.

University: University of Florida.

Favorite book: Anything on Theodore Roosevelt.

Shining moment: "I started www.navy.mil way back in '93 or '92. It
was the
first publicly available Web server in the Department of Defense.
Trying to
get that done inside the military was an interesting exercise."

Favorite high-tech toy: "I hate all of them. I hate everything that has
to do
with computers. It's a love/hate relationship. I break everything I
touch.
If you want to total your computer so you can get a new one just loan
it to
me for an hour. It's astonishing."

NewsForge editors read and respond to comments posted on our discussion page.

Category:

  • Open Source
Click Here!