How pretalx works: Organization and funding

July 5, 2019
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Source

In this post, we'd like to tell you how the pretalx project is organized, how it is funded, and what you can do to help.

Project structure

pretalx is an open-source project licensed under the rather permissive OSI approved Apache 2.0 license. This means, first off, that you can do a lot of things with the pretalx source code, including changing it and running a changed version.

pretalx has been open source from the first commit, and we take this seriously: Some pro-forma open source projects come without documentation, or issues, or any possibility for a community to form and to interact. In contrast, our documentation and our issue tracker are meant to be helpful to everybody.

As you can see in the project README, there are pretalx instances out there for a wild variety of events – to tell the truth, we have no idea how many events are currently using pretalx. In addition, the pretalx core maintainer, Tobias (hi, it's me!), provides a hosted instance here at pretalx.com for use by events that can't or won't self-host. pretalx.com is a regular pretalx instance with only one bit of non-public code (to help with customer management and invoicing).

As pretalx is currently maintained by one person, we're more than happy to help new contributors to get started with the project! We have a range of issues marked as Good First Issue, and have written up documentation on how to get started.

Income and Expenses

pretalx development is currently not generally funded in any way. In the past year, development of specific features was funded twice by organizations reliant on those features. pretalx.com doesn't run at a loss if you discount working hours. Its revenue is currently used for server costs, additional hosting services, and to guarantee that pretalx.com will be able to continue running for at least two years if for some reason we lose all sources of income.

We decided to make a transparent report of our finances at this point. This is an experiment, so we don't know if reports like this are going to be posted in the future (e.g. if we pay contractors in the future we wouldn't want to publish their rate without their agreement), but these are the pretalx.com finances for the first half of 2019:

Income

Our income in the past six months has been primarily due to events using pretalx.com, but we're happy to say that two events also sponsored the development of pretalx features!

Amount Total
Standard Event 1 x EUR 850 850.00
Community Event 5 x EUR 450 2250.00
Sponsored development 1400.00
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EUR 4500.00

We'd like to thank both JuliaCon and the Open Streetmap Foundation for sponsoring development on pretalx in the last months. This money went to the inclusion of double-blind (anonymous) talk reviews, review teams and questions that can be bound to tracks, publishable questions, and the ability to limit text length by words instead of by characters.

Expenses

Since pretalx.com has comparatively little in terms of income, any donations we make, we make at the individual level instead of the corporate one (so we pay for an individual PSF membership, but we couldn't afford the 2k for a DSF membership).

Cost over 6 months
Servers 193.20
Domains 17.97
Accounting software 42.50
Phone calls, letters ~40.00
Print (eg. business cards) ~10.00
Payment fees 50.00
PSF membership 42.00
Dependency donations¹ 225.00
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Total EUR 620.67

¹ We'll write a separate post on why we decided to donate 5% of our total income and where this money goes.

We'll exclude the paid development time from here on out, because those were one-off payments we can't rely on for the future, and have already been assigned to their purpose. This leaves us with a surplus of EUR 413.22 per month (of which roughly 40% will go the way of all income taxes).

That's pretty good! It doesn't consider that we haven't counted maintenance hours though – we spend roughly 2 days per month on server maintenance (testing backups, looking at monitoring, performing upgrades, just general administrative things), and very roughly at least another three days on responding to questions, wishes, feature requests, user configuration issues, etc.

If we used the surplus to finance the five working days per month, it would come out to roughly EUR 83 per day – which is better than nothing, but a long way off the industry standards. So to get to the point where we can finance actual work on pretalx itself, we have to talk about …

Funding

Ideally, we'd like to pay at least part-time for feature development. To this extent, we offer these means of financial support:

  • Sponsored development: We have way more cool features in our backlog than we can currently implement. Taking up the sponsorship for a feature would help a lot – not just us, but everybody using pretalx. (Contact us if you're interested.)
  • Hosting on pretalx.com: If self-hosting is too much trouble for your event, using our hosted services is a stable alternative with a proven infrastructure and support.
  • Support: If you decided to go with a self-hosted instance of pretalx, we have a standard support contract that gives you a fixed amount of support hours in case you run into any trouble. Shoot us an email if this sounds interesting.
  • Donations: pretalx has a lot of contributors, but the bulk of feature development and maintenance is done by Tobias. As an alternative to the funding methods above, you can also donate to support his work on open source projects including pretalx directly.

To put a significant amount of time (half-time or more) into the development of pretalx, we'll need an income of EUR 20k per year, or EUR 1670.00 per month. Please help us to make pretalx development and hosting sustainable. If you have opinions, please let us know on Twitter or via mail!