Original article appeared at:
Building a better business model with Digital Creations founder Paul Everitt
Tuesday April 03, 04:34 AM EST
- 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
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
"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
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
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
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
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."