Lessons learned from the Jigoshop – WooCommerce fiasco

Here’s the story:

Once upon a time, Mike Jolley and Jay Koster worked at Jigowatt and among other things were core developers on an open source e-commerce plugin for WordPress called Jigoshop. The plugin was well coded and was gaining momentum in the WordPress community. WooThemes was struggling to build their own e-commerce plugin, so they sent job offers to Mike and Jay. Mike and Jay accepted. WooThemes then offered to buy the Jigoshop copyright so they could take over the project. Jigowatt didn’t think the offer was fair and rejected it, so WooThemes decided to simply fork the Jigoshop codebase and brand it as their own.

So how do people feel about how things went down? The reactions are mixed. There’s lots of excitement around the fact that WooThemes is rolling out their e-commerce plugin and that they have a couple of talented developers on the team. However, quite a few aren’t happy about how WooThemes approached it. Many feel WooThemes poaching employees from Jigowatt was not right. And that forking the code was another slap in the face.

First, I’ll reiterate what many have said. The Jigoshop code is licensed under GPL and it is meant to be forked. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with WooThemes forking this code. Anyone can. It’s one of the most important parts of the GPL. WooThemes offered to buy the Jigoshop copyright and take over the project as a courtesy. They did not legally have to do that.

I fully agree that Jigowatt has received a stiff kick in the crotch courtesy of WooThemes. But this is business. Sometimes you get kicked in the crotch. You can’t blame WooThemes for making Mike and Jay an offer. You can’t blame Mike and Jay for taking advantage of an opportunity. You can’t blame Jigowatt for rejecting the copyright buyout offer.

So why does it feel like WooThemes screwed Jigowatt? Because Jigowatt made a mistake.

If you are a company with an open source project gaining momentum, your core developers absolutely must have a vested interest in your company. And not 1%. It has to be a good chunk of the pie. Enough that the developers feel your company is also their company. Then if another company comes along to hire them, the developer is much more likely to tell them, “Buy the company or take a hike.”

I think the whole situation would have been different if Mike and Jay owned a piece of the pie and had a vested interest in Jigowatt. In such a case, they most likely would not have entertained employment at WooThemes unless it was part of a buyout deal. WooThemes didn’t care about the Jigoshop community (they already have their own bustling community) or the Jigoshop brand (they already have a very strong brand). All they cared about was talent. They had been struggling to build an e-commerce plugin for WordPress and these two guys had already built a good one. As a bonus, it was open source, so WooThemes could bring them onboard and they could continue developing a fork of their code. It couldn’t get any sweeter for WooThemes really.

I do feel it’s a shame that we had to learn this lesson at Jigowatt’s expense. I wish them all the best going forward with Jigoshop and growing their community. I am midway through a project using Jigoshop and will not be switching, but in the future I will most likely be choosing WooCommerce.

I don’t often quote Steve Ballmer, but he had this right: “Developers, Developers, Developers, Developers, …”

Check out the comments of the WooThemes announcement, the article at WPCandy, and Yoast’s blog post for lots of reactions.