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Cover image for OCS 2020 Breakout: Zack Urlocker
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OCS 2020 Breakout: Zack Urlocker

jj profile image Joseph (JJ) Jacks ・3 min read

Zack Urlocker is a software executive who has scaled four companies to billion dollar exits generating more than $15b in returns. He was most recently Chief Operating Officer of Duo Security. Previously he was Chief Operating Officer at Zendesk and VP of Products at MySQL. He is a lecturer at University of Michigan and an occasional investor, advisor and board member to open source software companies including DataStax, CockroachDB, Gitlab, Mattermost, Pentaho, Puppet Labs and others. He has written and lectured frequently on the subject of open source and disruptive innovation. He is also an occasional marathon runner, century cyclist, bass player and writer.

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JJ chats with Zach Urlocker, creator of the MySQL subscription model and veteran COSS business builder for nearly 20 years!

Introduction and contact information — 00:43

Can you start with a brief intro about yourself? You have an incredible career in the open-source ecosystem. How did you come into open source as a business leader, and what are some of the highlights? - 0:15

What are the biggest differences, structurally, behaviorally, that you’ve noticed in looking at commercial open-source companies vs to fully proprietary technology companies? - 1:24

I’m fascinated by your comments on “the lines blurring.” How do you unpack that? Are you talking about every software/digital technology company heavily using open-source, or are you talking more about a business model? - 4:14

(JJ elaborates on Zach’s GitLab GitLab example). It’s interesting what you’re saying about the cloud distribution model being the really critical factor and what businesses really care about. At what point do you think businesses really do care about open source being an important part of the value proposition? Or do they at all? Is it just frictionless technology consumption and cloud delivering technology with convenience? - 7:03

(JJ elaborates on Zach’s comments around changing consumption. JJ and Zach discuss an example with Uber, and how expanding Internet access has drastically expanded the market for services.) Is this something you see as well, in terms of the consumption paradigm changing, and unlocking a new opportunity for hypergrowth with commercial open source in the cloud? - 11:38

There’s a lot of people who conflate freemium with open source. I like how you explained that with some DB examples. How have you thought through the intersections of freemium and open source as it relates to consumption paradigms? - 18:25

I’d like to go back to MySQL and the early subscription model that you created there, back in 2002, way before cloud computing. What did that look like in thinking through how to make money and building successful business models? - 22:46

It seems that the subscription model has evolved significantly from 2002 to now. What was included in the first implementation of the MySQL subscription business model, that looks different today? Perhaps you can segment it in 2-3 waves. - 31:04

(JJ elaborates on Zach’s comments about business models evolving as company grows and customer personas evolve). You mentioned management tooling that is presumably proprietary in the MySQL subscription offering. How did you reconcile the friction between the open-source project/community having certain needs and requests which might be similar to what you’re charging for in the subscription model? What should be free and open-source and what should be paid? - 37:58

(JJ responds and elaborates on Zach’s comments about clear communications around features and expectation setting). Why do you think we haven’t seen more commercial open-source successes/disruption in the application layer? - 47:33

Do you think the UX polish we see in SaaS is a consequence of most SaaS applications being built by highly empathetic business people who really understand workflows and have the technical acumen to build software engineering teams? Is it that? Or is it something else that causes SaaS applications to have the quality of user experience that you described? - 55:01

You’ve written Open Source Rock Opera. Is open source disrupting the world of music now? Tell us about that. (See: https://www.rock-opera.com/) - 57:35


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