Open Source Your Best Stuff & Watch These 3 Things Happen

Published December 15, 2022
  • 43+% of the internet runs on WordPress
  • Gitlab is the first fully-remote company to go public
  • In 2022 Oyster achieved a 1 billion dollar valuation and a 98% employee retention rate

What do these three have in common? 

They all take an open-source approach. 

What is open-source? 

Open source began as a technical term. It means the original source code is made freely available and may be redistributed and modified. Essentially, a company or community takes its best stuff and shares it, for free. The technology can be extended and can even make up the basis for another product entirely. 

While WordPress and Gitlab are both open-source technologies, tech isn’t the only type of product that benefits from being open-source. 

People Ops as a Product

The people operations function of every business is building a product for its people. The product is the experience, and the best product attracts, converts, and retains the best people. 

Oyster and Gitlab have both taken an open-source approach to their people products, and the results are worth noticing.

Conventional wisdom embraces secrecy when it comes to internal processes. Most companies view the way they operate as a proprietary trade secret. These are the places where toxic dysfunction might leak out via a Glassdoor review, but most outsiders only see a shiny brand logo. The rest is a mystery.

There’s a new breed of company today. A kind of company that builds in public. One that is doubling down on the open-source concept with their internal operations. If you want to see how a highly successful startup or even a startup gone public does things from the inside out, look at  GitLab’s handbook or Oyster’s build-in-public series

During my time at XWP, I created a public-facing article outlining our hiring process that consistently outperformed any other post on the blog. We also created posts outlining our onboarding process, and a how-to guide for throwing a remote holiday party. We were proud of the products we were building to serve our people and the only thing that could make it sweeter was to know that somewhere in the world, there was another remote agency that could copy the resources we shared, adapt them, and implement them for their team. 

I believe 3 things happen when a company takes a bold stand and makes their work open source.

Your best stuff gets better. 

When you expose your thinking to the marketplace, you have a chance to get feedback. Do people resonate with this approach? Is inbound applicant traffic climbing? Is this content being picked up and shared? Are we eliminating surprises for candidates and employees in our processes and policies?  Product feedback from the market you serve gives you the opportunity to sharpen what you’re already proud of. 

“Open source requires a willingness to be vulnerable, to share your work in what is often by nature an unfinished state. The process of doing so, though, and thinking through how others can benefit from and contribute back to your work, makes your work better from the start. It also opens you to opportunities for input and contribution that you’d never have otherwise.” 

  • Jonathan Wold, CSO, Strive Industries

Your community gets better. 

A rising tide lifts all boats. 

The COVID-19 Pandemic has been a watershed moment for the way businesses operate. Before this time, fully-remote organizations were outliers. Today there’s a much broader community of both new businesses and old ones trying to figure out how they are going to operate. Sharing a playbook of best practices reinforces those norms for the rest of the community. This is a way to be the change you want to see in the way your industry or community operates.

"Open-sourcing the systems and processes that underpin how Oyster works for all to see and use was one of the best decisions we ever made. It has given us a really unique connection with our community. It feels great to see other companies using and sharing them with others.

The more companies we can help adapt to distributed work, the more talented people around the world get hired remotely, and our community is helping us do that at a scale we couldn't achieve alone. By open-sourcing our processes, we open-sourced our mission."

  • Rhys Black, Director, Workplace Design @ Oyster

You become a leader

As John Maxwell famously wrote, “Leadership is Influence.” It takes courage to step into the void. Many companies are looking for help with topics that have limited history to learn from. Let’s be honest, how long has remote work been mainstream? We’re talking about a very small sample size. By stepping into the leadership void and offering solutions rather than just more questions (even if they’re incomplete, or need to be improved) you become a leader of the conversation. Clients you want to work with, employees you want to retain, and candidates you want to hire will see this and respect you for it. 

"A core tenet of excellent people operations is 'assume positive intent.’ We can each learn something from someone else. By embracing an open source mindset with people operations, leaders cast a wider net for innovative sparks. The transparency attracts other innovators who are compelled to make proposals to improve your operations; or, at the very least, provide new perspectives. 

The first principle of Dr. Robert Cialdini's Influence is reciprocation. When you open source your operations to the world, you not only create a positive wave of influence, but invite reciprocation on a global scale.” 

  • Darren Murph, Head of Remote @ Gitlab

Better to give than Receive

The concept of keeping internal operations a guarded secret might keep your competitors from being able to copy you, but I believe you have more to lose than gain by taking this approach. Sharing your best ideas as a business strategy will set you apart from your competitors. 

“Actually, successful people do this all the time. Typically, the more successful they are, the more willing they are to share their secrets with others.”

  • Bob Burg, The Go Giver: A Little Story About a Powerful Business Idea

My work to share the inner workings of XWP’s talent journey reduced friction for candidates leading up to and in the midst of the process. They knew what to expect, they knew what was coming next, and offer letter acceptance rates ticked up to 96% in 2022. The community embraced and applauded the company for its transparency.

Did another company steal what my team built there? No. It cannot be stolen now because it’s been shared as a gift. The legacy of the work will continue long after I’ve moved on.

If you’re a business leader that wants to be a part of a build-in-public campaign, wants to reap the benefits of sharing, wants to step into a leadership position in your community, or wants to build a legacy of open-source sharing, I’d love to help.

Photography by Sophia Jené