Building Zero Data Apps & Entrepreneurship with Rosano

A group discussion about earning a living building software without holding other people’s data. Open-source licensing, payment models, and more.

@Rosano, featured in one of our January events, joins us to dive deeper into Zero Data Apps:

My idea is to explore how unlike most ‘technical’ decisions, Zero Data implies a re-thinking of incentives and how organizations are structured, it’s pretty political. How can we get business people (more-so than developers) to start talking and thinking about it?


Add your own questions in the comments, we’ll gather some ahead of time that we’ll be sure to cover.

  • Should I use Open Collective or Github Sponsors or Patreon or another service?
  • Does an open-source license matter? What license should I choose?
  • What are the trade-offs of using platforms vs self-hosting?
  • How much do developers need to think about business and marketing?
  • What kind of features do Zero Data apps enable?
  • How can we fund public or common goods?
  • How important is having an audience?
  • What does it mean to be successful? and what are meaningful metrics to measure this?
  • How much does technical architecture relate to sustainability?


Presented on Thursday, July 8, 2021 4:00 PM

time section
00:00 Intro
01:50 Business models and challenges
04:35 Steve: Does this make $300,000 a year?
06:09 Mark: Is this profitable like SaaS?
08:29 What are we selling?
10:08 Basti: SaaS sells access to data
10:49 Boris: What features does SaaS enable?
12:25 Noel: What happens to data when apps stop working
13:30 Lorenzo: Educating people about technical possibilities
15:06 Boris: Movement building
15:53 Boris: What does open-source mean?
16:53 How does open-source change the dynamic?
19:11 Rosano: What I want for people using my apps
20:45 David: Beyond donations
22:27 David: Doing feathers.js full-time
24:31 Basti: Hosting the app versus the data
27:17 Boris: People paying for convenience of not hosting
28:39 Basti/Gyuri: The value of apps
29:21 Sustaining projects less transactionally
32:54 Lorenzo: Research on digital commons and peer production
35:08 Boris: The impact of on open-source culture
36:02 David: Challenges in distributing collective funds
37:53 David: Culture changes post Microsoft, Google, Facebook
39:55 Basti: How Kosmos pays contributors with crypto
44:05 Boris: The non-western world in open-source
45:52 Boris: Bringing non-engineers into the fold
47:16 David: Too much governance
50:21 Boris: Directing dividends to makers automatically
53:29 Rosano: Community-building
55:13 Rosano: Looking for collaborators
56:48 Gyuri: Leverage interoperability to create community
57:57 Boris: Building movements together
61:18 Interoperability challenges
62:56 Lorenzo/Boris/Basti: Matrix recruiting their lead contributors
67:10 Basti/Boris: Dangers of centralized influence in ecosystems
73:16 Rosano: Calls to action

quadratic funding?

Yeah, fun to see this come to non-blockchain. I see it as a pledge drive. It’s a good thing, still requires lots of marketing on behalf of projects.

Bringing this over from Twitter for discussion.

I don’t think using YouTube or Twitter as distribution platforms are bad.

I typically want to own my content – hence Vimeo vs YT, or Ghost blog vs Medium. But “marketing” is meeting people where they are.

ps Tumblr is owned by Automattic, makers of Wordpress, although still centralized. Doesn’t cost anything to map a domain name, so pretty easy to put content there and still have it “owned” on your domain so you can move later.

Personally, I draw the line at Facebook.

I think “charging up front” you just mean a free tier? What’s “bad” about charging up front in your view?

I don’t know what you mean by superficial content. That’s in the eye of the beholder isn’t it?

i wouldn’t say any of it is necessarily bad, they’re all tools to afford certain objectives.

i use tumblr… i would contrast it with with mastodon for example where i assume you can also export your likes and social graph—it’s not limited to just your posts.

what’s the difference?

i was thinking of clickbait driven publications like buzzfeed, or that weird genre of ‘you won’t believe this’ videos on facebook—it’s designed to get you into a spiral.

moving some email threads from @boris here (with permission, feel free to correct paraphrasing).

more ‘business people’ in zero data.

Boris: Developers are business people. those that aren’t work for someone else.
Rosano: I mean people who are not programmers, people who think of businessy things like sales, marketing… How to make Zero Data more commercially viable
Boris: Developers need to think about that, unless they want to work for someone else.
Boris: It has been rare for me to encounter entrepreneurs: ‘early adopters’ have feedback only after something is offered to them; most activity on the internet is lurking, commenting, sharing; 1% are actively involved in building.
Boris: not sure ‘business people’ is a useful label in this context. entrepreneur/builder means something other than that.
Rosano: Agreed. Maybe people from ‘indie hacker’ or ‘maker’ communities, as they produce things? But I think ‘zero data’ might be radical in those contexts [as they’re seem to be oriented towards owning data or proprietary systems].
Boris: Why do you think it’s radical? Do you think any of them build on open source software? Or give back like Buttondown does? What are their motives, other than earning a living? Do zero data apps add features that attract users? Does it make it easier to build certain things?

making zero data more ‘commercially viable’

Boris: open data / zero data / open-source licensing are not business models. Commercially viable means figuring out what you’re selling (open-source has a popular model of free to self-host vs pay to have someone else do it)
Rosano: Not business models, but they need one.
Boris: That’s only one path. Perhaps think about “how do we fund and sustain public or common goods?”. I’m interested in Open Collective because “make a company” is a hard first step for many.
Boris: SaaS is not a business model either, just a way of delivering software.
Boris: James Long talks distributed / offline first components that enable certain features in from Actual Budget.

i posted the same question on merveilles:

and got some suggestions:

plus it’s basically what 100 rabbits has been doing for a while:

my goal with asking was to find more examples. i kind of feel like it’s hard to make a living that way unless you have a large following. is it possible to do ‘apps as a small business’ starting from nothing?

You need to spend a lot of time marketing / getting distribution channels / getting the word out.

I’d say lots of examples from IndieHackers / ProductHunt of individuals doing this. And of course Mac and iOS app stores, which are seemingly much harder.

Recurring revenue compounds, whereas one time payments you always need new buyers — or new things to sell to existing buyers. At small recurring there has been some studies that on an annual basis, this works out to about the same.

And of course, a product or products that people want. Encourage referrals.

The pirate metrics framework is useful for defining how people interact with your apps

What will make them return, what will make them refer, and what will make them buy.

there are tons of examples of that, but i meant ‘apps as a small business without owning the data’, not so many of the latter.

maybe muse

I don’t think the architecture matters?

That is, I don’t think selling an app connects into whether there’s a server with centralized data or not?

What are you seeing as “harder” with not centralizing the data?

Also: Muse helps with sync (like Actual Budget), but still needs to have data exported. It’s on disk of your iPad / iOS device of course but not like user browse-able.

devine outlines the curve of 100r supporters with this amazing chart:

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Are there examples of apps as public goods being funded via taxes?

Not really directly as you mean, but…

The UK government digital services have lots of open source code Government Digital Service · GitHub

My own Province of BC in Canada has some digital principles GitHub - bcgov/digital-principles: A set of principles to guide the Province of BC's continued Digital Government evolution

I talked to someone in charge of digital in Athens, Greece who was open sourcing things including apps used there.

Much of the US government if produced by federal employees is in the public domain:


I’m sad I missed the live discussion today. Any chance it was recorded? :slight_smile:

@aaadotpm it’s up now, see the original post