Mark Cuban Doesn't Understand Open Source

by Ostatic Staff - Feb. 11, 2009

Mark Cuban, entrepreneur, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, and all-around rich guy, put an interesting offer on the table this week. Post your business idea on his blog and if he likes it, he'll toss some cash your way to fund it.

Cuban expects people to comment on the business plans people come up with, and acknowledges that some plans might even get stolen. "That is the idea," he says. "Call this an open source funding environment."

How about calling it a ridiculous idea that misses the point of open source entirely?

Cuban's rules for participation are very specific and some are, frankly, rather self-serving. On the other hand, it's his money and his time so if you don't like it, don't play. Cuban is very clear he expects total transparency with any funding he provides and reserves the right to drop in and out of the picture at will. "I will make no promises that I will be available to offer help. If I want to, I will. If not, I wont." he states.

Further, if Cuban invests in your project, he might funnel you additional cash, or maybe he won't. Essentially, there's no guarantees on anything about Cuban's experiment except that participating projects are subject to his whims.

How is this an "open source environment?" The open source community functions on a give-and-take mentality where everyone participates and reaps the benefits equally. Although it doesn't always work out that way, it's a premise that beats in the heart of open source.

Under Cuban's plan, people put their ideas on the table in exchange for a chance at a cash infusion that comes with strings but no real backing or support. Cuban's plan is not an open source environment -- at best, it's selfish; at worst, it's a dictatorship.

Cuban gets it right when he mentions that the businesses that get funding will be "mostly driven by sweat equity" and that "if you execute better than others, you could possibly make money at it." Welcome to the world of open source projects.

What really cuts is when he says, "I also expect that other people will steal [your] idea and use it elsewhere. That is the idea. Call this an open source funding environment."

That's not an open source environment, Mark, that's bad manners. The open source community doesn't "steal" from each other. They take a concept or code-base, enhance it, then give it back to the community at large. They invest in projects for reasons other than money, they help each other without expectations, and most don't walk away when there's no longer anything in it for them.

Apparently, you'll invest in business ideas that "must be profitable in 90 days", may or may not contribute in any meaningful way, and expect "equity" and a "return on your money."

It's noble that you want to "inspire people to create businesses that could quickly become self funding." Call it philanthropy, call it "doing your part to spur the economy." Just don't call it an open source environment.