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With Open-Source Software, You Don't Have to Start From Scratch These programs are a gift and can be adapted to fit your needs at a low cost.

By Asha Saxena Edited by Dan Bova

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

As an entrepreneur, you always have questions to answer: "How do I efficiently manage my people?" "How can I keep track of my projects?" "Where do I start with my website?"

It can all feel pretty overwhelming, but luckily, there's a fantastic resource you can use to solve an abundance of entrepreneurial problems: open-source technology.

It all began in the '90s when there was a big push to create operating systems to make using new computer technology more efficient. Companies saw the value in these operating systems and acquired creators such as Linux to write the code.

Related: How to Know When to Bring Software Development In House

Then, when the code was written, databases were created to store the information that was relevant to the company. Finally, the era of applications that execute functions within an operating system began, which brings us to open-source software.

Open-source software allows you to customize applications to suit your business's needs. Companies can take a developer's open-source environment and build on top of existing platforms to create a customized solution at a relatively low cost.

Gauging open-source software. With 86.3 percent of companies in non-technical segments adopting open-source software, it's pretty clear that it can be leveraged to benefit your business. However, as with any new technology, you should always understand the pros and cons of utilizing it before making any decisions.

A big advantage of open-source software is that it reduces supplier risk. One VentureBeat post put it really well: "Selecting innovation involves risks." But with open-source software, your customers know that your product and community will endure.

What's more, open-source software saves you money because many are entirely free. WordPress, for example, lets you build your company website with little web-design knowledge. Even big brands such as The New Yorker, Sony Music, Xerox and Best Buy use the platform.

Not only is open-source software free, but it's also readily available. This may seem like a good thing, but remember the code is available to everyone, your competitors included. Economically, however, it's still a better choice, and it's just as effective as the licensed software that costs an arm and a leg.

Related: IBM to Open Up Jeopardy Winner Watson's 'Brain' for Everyone

Lastly, like anything in business, you need the right people. If you're going to leverage open-source software, you need team members who really know how to use it and understand your business's needs. If you don't have the right people to customize and build on open-source tech, you'll simply be moving in circles.

Which path will you choose? After you've looked at the pros and cons, you have to decide how you're going to leverage this great resource -- and don't be afraid to get creative.

Elasticsearch, for example, used open-source software to build something entirely new: a cheap, light search technology that provides companies with actionable, real-time insights from almost any data source -- structured or unstructured. Before you can start revolutionizing the business landscape, however, you have to decide which path you'll walk down when using open-source software within your startup:

1. Enabler. Open-source tech can be used to help you execute what you already do and assist your preset processes to become more efficient as a whole. Think of it like using an HR or customer-relationship management system to better manage the company structure you already have in place.

2. Business model. You can also use open-source tech as a foundation for building your own apps or creating a new product. This allows you to make money off of existing tech by using open source as a key ingredient with which to build a software model. A word of caution, though: Using open source as a business model only works if you keep building and adapting the tech.

Whether you use open source as an enabler or a business model, it's a gift. Use open source to differentiate your business or simply to get your business up and running quickly from a relatively advanced stage.

The available options are organized, low-cost and sophisticated -- you don't have to start from scratch, so why would you? Entrepreneurs have enough to do already.

Related: 5 Tips From One Nontechnical Founder to Others

Asha Saxena

President and CEO of Aculyst Inc

Asha Saxena is Columbia University Professor and founder of Aculyst Inc. a healthcare big data solutions and advanced analytics services firm


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