Another financial year has passed since I posted Show me the money in July 2013, and I thought it might be good to post about our financial situation over the last 12 months.
The original goal, as that post explains, was to make Growstuff be self-supporting through paid memberships. Growstuff, the website, paid for its own immediate costs throughout the year, which is good. However, Growstuff-the-company had a bunch of other expenses, including paying me (Alex) so that I could live. In aid of this, Growstuff-the-company has been getting into some other projects throughout the year, as well as running and improving Growstuff-the-website. See below for details!
Here’s the breakdown of Growstuff Pty Ltd’s income for the financial year 2013-2014:
Growstuff website-related income
Growstuff subscriptions: $1294
Permaculture Victoria grant (harvest benchmarking): $1500
Awesome Foundation grant: $1000
Non profit, sustainability, and social enterprise work
3000 Acres: $15720
Non-profit/etc tech contract work: $1365
Other tech contract work: $7520
Total revenue: $31,339
To explain the biggest item on the list: 3000 Acres is a website for people in Melbourne, Australia, to find vacant land to grow food. I met their founders in late 2013, and talked to them about Growstuff’s open source work. They liked what we were doing, and so asked me to help them build their site using similar tools and processes. 3000 Acres is built, in part, on Growstuff’s code, and shares many features with Growstuff under the hood. In return, some of its features are making their way back into Growstuff. The funding for my work on 3000 Acres came out of a grant provided by the VicHealth Seed Challenge.
I also worked on a couple of other non-profit projects including the wiki of appropriate/sustainable technology, Appropedia. Finally, I was one of five trainers at the Fitzroy Institute of Getting Shit Done, helping aspiring social entrepreneurs to understand technology and especially why open licenses are important for social enterprise and sustainability.
In addition to this non-profit/social enterprise/open source work, I did a small amount of commercial contract work that was not open source (at a higher contract rate — non-profits and open source projects get substantial discounts when I work for them.)
Expenses of running the Growstuff website and dev community
Computer software/services – production (Growstuff website hosting, DNS, etc): $484
Computer software/services – support (hosting for dev community, backups, etc): $856
Online payment processing fees: $64
Marketing and promotion (Sustainable Living Festival, in particular): $190
Just a note that the design work was some branding/logo work I contracted in 2013 but which stalled for various reasons — we’re just starting to use the designs that were done back then!
General business expenses
Accountancy and bookkeeping: $1,972
Business registration etc: $739
Bank fees: $25
Business premises (coworking space/virtual office): $2,035
Business premises (home office rent reimbursement): $936
Telephone and Internet: $1,506
Printing and stationery: $246
Misc office supplies and equipment: $385
For most of the financial year, I had a coworking membership in Melbourne costing $220/month. When I moved to Ballarat, I switched to a virtual office that’s $55/month, and primarily work from my home office — my rent for which is reimbursed by Growstuff, the business, based on a percentage of floorspace.
Other computer equipment and supplies: $987
The international travel was for a trip to the US during which I attended three different conferences relevant to Growstuff; I received a travel grant from one of the conferences which paid for my trans-Pacific airfare, but had to cover airfares within the US, accommodation, meals, etc.
Local travel was mostly train fares between Melbourne and Ballarat for meetings with clients (eg. 3000 Acres) and other events, plus a few taxi fares for various reasons.
Salary (gross): $12,000
Just a note that for most of the financial year I was also being paid by the government under the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme, so my gross personal income for the year was closer to a grand total of $22,000. Woohoo!
Repaid to self: $1,000
I put $1500 of my own money into the business early on; I paid back $1000 and still have $500 outstanding.
Grand total of expenses: $28,415
Reflections on running Growstuff for a year
The cost of running Growstuff, the website and community, for a year was $3,094. During the same year, it raised direct revenue of $3,794. So, in short, Growstuff subscriptions and the grants I received to work on it covered all our immediate expenses with a little left over ($700 to be precise), but didn’t pay anyone for their time.
When working on Growstuff, all our features are assigned points according to how much work is involved, eg. 1 point for a minor change, or 4 points for a significant new feature.
Over the financial year 2013-2014 the Growstuff developer community completed 80 points’ worth of work on new website features, as you can see in our task tracking system.
Using the Growstuff website’s $700 profit as a base, that’s about $8.75 of income per story point. If we were to pay developers for their time, a pair of coders working on a 4-point story — which typically takes at least a few hours of pair programming — would get around $17.50 each for it, and that doesn’t count paying testers, crop wranglers, and other community members involved in the process. Obviously this is not a reasonable rate; it’s not even minimum wage.
At present, my own work on Growstuff, and the infrastructure I use to do it (office space, computer equipment, Internet access, etc), are subsidised by my contract work on other projects, mostly in the sustainability/social enterprise/non-profit sector. Other people — our volunteer community — likewise offer their time without payment, and this time is in effect subsidised by their own jobs or income streams.
Unfortunately, expecting free labour of open source contributors discriminates against those who aren’t privileged enough to have a steady income stream and plenty of free time (without second shift work at home) to do it. This isn’t what we want for Growstuff: we want as broad a community as possible to participate.
Volunteering on Growstuff is not entirely uncompensated: we offer training and mentoring for developers who are new to coding, to Rails, or to open source — especially those from groups underrepresented in the field — and many of our volunteers have gone on to paid employment (or found new jobs) after working on Growstuff, often with a reference from us. However, I want the new financial year, 2014-2015, to be the year we start to pay people real money for working on Growstuff. As suggested in Ashe Dryden’s excellent post about the ethics of unpaid open source labour (also linked above), we’ll be looking into contract work opportunities and paid internships/traineeships. Stay tuned for more details very soon!