Open Source Business Models for Circular Economy Video Series (3)

VIDEO 3 –Examples, Platforms, New Products & the Future of Ownership

From a Video Series about ‘Open Source Business Models for Circular Economy’ – produced for the Open Source Circular Economy Days (OSCEdays). See our original post on Open Source Circular Economy Days for the complete set of resources: tool downloads, explanations, videos, script, links.


Idea Number One: Platforms or Ecosystems.

Successful Open Source products often work as platforms. They enable other actors to do something. An ecosystem with different interdependent actors emerges around the core product. And all contributions make the platform stronger and more useful for everyone.

There has been written a lot about platforms. Some people tend to think that in the future everything that can become a platform will become a platform. As platforms are a fantastic way to collaborate. And openness can be the perfect enabler for healthy platforms.

I will give you two examples for open source platforms. One is software the other is hardware. And I’ll refer to this examples in the later videos again and again.

I’ll talk about WordPress and Arduino. If you know them already you can skip the first third of this video. If not stay with me.


The first example I’d like to talk about is WordPress. WordPress is an open source software to create blogs and websites. You can just download the software install it and you have a basic website running within minutes.logos-post-3

WordPress is incredibly successful. 24% of all websites today are built with WordPress. 24%! If you have followed the links with the resources for this video you have just been at one.

How could WordPress become so big? Because it is Open Source! There is an incredible rich ecoystem of commercial actors around WordPress constantly growing the system decentralized. If you decide to hire a web designer to set up a professional website for you there is a good chance this person will set up a WordPress page for you.

The Web designer will download the software install it and because it is Open Source will be able to make all sorts of customizations for you. And maybe this person will also share this customizations with the WordPress Open Source community. To get feedback fame new partners new customers or whatever.

There are thousands of Open Source “Themes” and “Plugins” for WordPress everyone can just download install and run.

They are contributed by independent companies. And with every contribution WordPress becomes stronger and more useful – allows thousands of professional web designers to do their jobs better! The core product “Wordpress” gets better all the time.

The name of the company behind WordPress is Automattic. And they make money in a lot of different ways benefiting from the ecosystem: They sell web hosting support premium accounts they run ads and do a bunch of other things you can find out about by clicking on the link provided in the resources for this video.

OK. That was a software example.

Example: ARDUINO

I’d like to give you another example. A hardware example. From electronic hardware.arduino-post-3Arduino Uno, img by R.hampl, CC-BY-SA

This is an Arduino. A product of an Italian company. And maybe the biggest Open Source Hardware Platform in the world today. It is a microcontroller.

If you are not familiar with electronics let me briefly explain, to you, what this thing is.


You have here, on one side, Inputs, where you can plug in all kinds of things, like for example, a sensor for temperature.

And on the other side, you have all kinds of outputs, where you can plug in actors, for example a motor with a fan.

The middle part has a programmable chip. You can program it, and say things like: If the temperature sensor on the right says, it is 30 degrees please turn on the motor with the fan on the left side. This is what an air conditioner does. So you have built an air conditioner. And you can add a rule like: if the heat goes up to 60 degrees or higher, please turn off the motor, so the air conditioner does not set itself on fire.

A microcontroller like this is part of every “semi-intelligent” machine in your home – there is one in your washing machine, in your micro wave and so on and so on.

The difference is, that the Arduino is Open Source.

The hardware is Open Source. And the software needed, also.

And the most important thing is, that the whole culture, established around the Arduino breathes Openness!

If you go to the Arduino website, and visit the Arduino forum there, you’ll find over 1 Million entries, where people shared solutions, and ideas, on how to use the Arduino.

People, everywhere in the world, build all kinds of crazy projects, using Arduinos: From making plants doing phone calls, to satellites, to cars, to drones, to air conditioners, to wearables … the list is endless, really.

Hobbyists and Professionals use the Arduino.

I encourage you, to do an internet, image, search. Type in “Arduino Projects”. And you’ll get an impression, what is possible and happening.

And many, of those people, share, what they are building, and how they do it.

This means: If you want to build an irrigation system with an Arduino, you go online and find hundreds of projects, that already did it. And you can learn from them, and maybe even download existing source code. You will be much quicker. And you’ll be able, to do a lot more. Because you can benefit, from this – Open Source – ecosystem, and its culture.

There are a lot of Hobbyists and Maker projects, using Arduino. But also professionals. My guess is, that the majority of all this new “internet of things” start ups today, build their first prototypes, with Arduino. Benefiting, and, often also contributing, to the ecosystem.

And every contribution, makes the core product – the Arduino – ever more useful, for everyone.

But this is just the first part, of the story – software and use cases.

The second part is, that a lot of other hardware companies, get involved with the ecosystem, by providing hardware, to combine with the Arduino. The openness of Arduino makes this, easy for them.

An example for this are “shields”. A shield is something, you can stick on top of the Arduino, to give it new powers. For example: A regular Arduino comes without WiFi. But you can buy a shield, from another company, put it on top of the Arduino, and add WiFi.

All these ideas and products, added to the system! Arduino, could not do this alone. But every contribution makes the system stronger. Arduino an ever more useful tool.

And Arduino is selling Arduinos.

So here, we have a product, that really exists and works – commercially – BECAUSE it is Open Source. The whole different it makes, the whole product it is, it is, BECAUSE it’s Open Source.


And this leads directly into the next core idea, I want to share.

And this is: That many products, need to be reinvented, to work as Open Source products.

A lot of the products, we are using today, will business wise, not make sense as Open Source products! It won’t make sense, to just publish the plans, change the license and go on with business as usual. As my great colleague, Sam Muirhead [], always says.

Products have to be made, to work as Open Source products. You’ll need to connect them differently, to a different kind of ecosystem! For some areas, this will mean, they have to be entire different products. So they are products, that benefit from openness.

But luckily, for the Circular Economy, it is the same! We have to reinvent, the products, along with the ecosystems around them, to make them circular. So why not do the Open Source part and the Circular Economy part, in one rush?!

And maybe, and this is the belief of the “Open Source Circular Economy Days”, we NEED to make them “Open Source”, in order, to make them circular.


I want to give you another example. Or concept.

Last autumn I slowly started to develop my own hardware company. It is called Mifactori. We develop Open Source circular furniture and other objects. For some activities, we are inspired, by a project called Open Structures.

What we do, is, we use a 3cm Grid, in all our designs. This grid is derived from a toy. grid-3-post-3

Whenever we drill holes, into something, it follows the measures, of the 3cm Grid. The same grid, is in all parts, we produce, for every object, we make. And this means, they all fit together. Always. For an, infinite number, of constellations. This means, you can win back, the parts, of one design, and reuse it for another. Everything is modular, and reusable, for an endless number of different things.

We call the 3cm grid the Berlin Grid.1 Because a 3 looks like a B.


Here you can see some early prototypes and products. examples-3

Mifactori Designs1

You see, it is really early prototypes.

But the key thing is: We open the grid. And all the parts we make.

We invite, and enable, others, to copy, our solutions and ideas. And to use, the same grid, in their designs. They can benefit from us. And if they publish, what they do, we can benefit from them.

And here comes the interesting thing: The more people, use the grid, the more manufactured parts, become available. And this results into: A network effect in the parts!

We experience, this here, in our little laboratory already. Every time, we make a new part, the number of things, we can do, with all the others, grows!

You probably know this from Lego. Every time you add new bricks, to your collection, more and more complex things become possible, with the bricks you already had.

When several people and companies here in Berlin, or anywhere, use the same grid – everyone wins! Including our customers. Because the products, they have in their homes, grow in possibilities, all the time. With every contribution. New ways to use, hack, improve or resell the parts, are born.

All our products become richer. Enabled through a whole, decentralized, open ecosystem of independent innovators.


You might say now: Hey, but one day, the market is full! Then you will compete with each other.

And I say: Yes. Maybe. Probably. Hopefully. Truth is: I wish, we come this point!

Because it would mean, the ecosystem has become big, strong and useful for all kinds of commercial actors. And if the ecosystem has grown that much, Mifactori has probably grown, a lot with it.

And I think, that with the network effect, in the parts, this market might have, much more possibilities, than we expect. It might be much bigger. And on a side note: I like to think, that this kind of, openness enabled network effects, is the key road towards a circular economy.

And to make a last remark on this: With the growth of the ecosystem, we at Mifactori will probably have learned a lot, about smart and elegant uses of the Berlin Grid. Our experience will give us, a good head start. Our brand will be placed. And if not. What is the point of us being in the market?!

– If you produce pants with pockets you are not alone. There are thousands of other companies producing pants with pockets. You compete with them, but not on the fact, that your pants have pockets. But on other levels, like quality, communication, reach and so on. And, I, am willing, to engage, in this kind of competition with other companies, using the Berlin Grid. Especially with, the circular dynamics, we are in, then, together.



Most fears people have when they think about opening up, are irrational! Not thought through.

These fears, or objections, are strangely hammered into our brains: “You can’t make money if you don’t have a patent.” That’s, what people tend to think.

But look around, in your house, at all the products. Most of them aren’t patented. The chair, the shirts, the dishes, the carrots, the buckets, the bread and so on. Most of the companies, that made these, are profitable.

The problem with this fears, and unreflected objections is, that they prevent us, from having really interesting thoughts and ideas. And from creating really interesting new products and businesses.

It takes courage. And vision. To take action, despite of the fact, that you will hear this fears and objections, around every corner.

This video series is for the courageous and visionary.

Ok. To sum it up. Mifactori and the use of the, 3cm Berlin Grid is another example for a product, made to be Open Source!


But, as I just, made a more “political” bit. I’d like to add another thought here.

And this is: That Open Source will allow us, to have a Circular Economy, where we still have the option, to OWN our stuff!

In the Circular Economy videos and articles, provided mostly by big companies, you often hear the idea, that for the circular economy, we need to change our relationship to ownership.

“Access over ownership” is the used therm.

You will not own your washing machine anymore, or your furniture, or your phone, or your clothes! No.

They will be still in your house. But they will be owned by a company. So the company doesn’t sell you, the washing machine. It sells you a defined number of washes. It does not sell you the phone, it just sells you calls. It does not sell you the hearing aid, it just sells you, sounds.

I think “access over ownership” can be smart and make sense. But, if, it were the only option, we have for a circular economy, I think it would be very problematic.

But of course, I understand, that the model makes sense for big companies. Because this is the only way, they can talk about a Circular Economy, without having to talk about Open Source.

If they own the washing machine in your house. They can make sure, it ends up, in their factory. Where they repair, refurbish and recycle it. Behind closed walls! No need, to enable the outside world to repair, refurbish or recycle. No need for Open Source.

But first of all, “access over ownership” does not work for everything.

And if it were, the only option, for the products, where it could work . . .


You could take this, and transform it, very quickly, into a story, about a dark, dystopian future. I will not do this, now, here in this videos. Maybe some place else. [LINK TO DISCUSSION IN COMMUNICATION CATEGORY]

I just wanted to say, that it is, very problematic, if the only option.

And that, Open Source, would allow, to have a washing machine, that is circular, but you can still own! Because when it is transparent how to repair, reuse, refurbish or recycle it – everyone can do it. Pick the service company, you like, for the job.

Ownership is something good. Because, it entails individual freedom.

In a world, less free, it would probably be, a lot easier, to create a circular economy. Top down, by force. But I think, the goal we have, is to have a circular economy, and a free society – both, at the same time.

And Open Source can allow this. – It is, about decentralized collaboration.

Ok. With this, I end video number 3.

It was mostly about open platforms. I introduced to you WordPress, Arduino and also the Berlin Grid. Now we have all core ideas together, I wanted you to understand, before we dive into the tool:

The “Platform Design Flowchart.”

That tool is supposed, to help you, to reinvent, or rediscover your project, product, service or company, as a potential open source business!

The next video, Number 4, starts with an introduction to the tool.



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