I have read this concern many times on the boards. Here is the companies description from their 10-K.
Our origins are rooted in open source, which facilitates rapid adoption of our software and enables efficient distribution of our technology. Developers can download our software directly from our website for use in development and production environments. These downloads include both free and paid products. Open source also fosters our vibrant community of developers who help improve our products and build on top of them. As of April 30, 2019, our community included over 120,000 Meetup members across 215 Meetup groups in 48 countries. Meetup members are individuals who opt into an Elasticsearch Meetup group on meetup.com, an independent third-party website.
Our business model is based on a combination of open source and proprietary software. Many features of our software can be used free of charge. Some are only available through paid subscriptions, which include access to specific proprietary features and also include support. Unlike some open source companies, we do not build a separate enterprise version of an original open source project. Instead, we develop and test one robust codebase, over which we maintain control. We believe that maintaining full control over the source code enables us to develop better products for our users and customers. Our sales and marketing efforts start with developers who have already adopted our software and then evolve to departmental decision-makers and senior executives who have broad purchasing power in their organizations. All of these actions help us build a powerful commercial business model on top of open source.
Our customers often significantly expand their usage of our products over time. Expansion includes increasing the number of developers using our products, increasing the utilization of our products for a particular use case, and applying our products to new use cases. We focus some of our direct sales efforts on encouraging these types of expansion within our customer base.
Our Business Model
Our business model refers to how we make our software available, including our open source distribution and go-to-market strategy, and how we charge our customers. We believe our business model creates significant value for our users, our customers, and our company.
Our business model is based on a combination of open source and proprietary software. We market and distribute the Elastic Stack and our solutions using an open source distribution strategy. Developers are able to download our software directly from our website. Many features of our software can be used free of charge. Some are only available through paid subscriptions, which include access to specific proprietary features and also include support. These paid features can be unlocked with a simple license update, without the need to re-deploy the software. The rate at which our customers purchase additional subscriptions and expand the value of existing subscriptions depends on a number of factors, including customers’ level of satisfaction with our products, the nature and size of the deployments, the desire to address additional use cases, and the perceived need for additional proprietary features. The source code of all Elastic Stack features, whether they are open source or proprietary, is visible to the public in the form of “open code.”
Our open source model facilitates rapid and efficient developer adoption, particularly by empowering individual developers to download and use our software without payment, registration, or the friction of a formal sales interaction. Our use of open source licensing fosters a vibrant developer community around our products and solutions, which drives adoption of our products and increased interaction among users. Further, this approach enables community review of our code and products, which allows us to improve the reliability and security of our software. We believe that the number of times our products have been downloaded and the size of our developer community are indicative of the benefits of our open source strategy and the growth in adoption of our products. However, we typically do not have visibility into whether our products are being actively used unless the user opts to interact with us. As a result, we cannot accurately determine how much of our downloaded software is being actively used.
We have designed our strategy to avoid some of the risks associated with an open source model. One such risk relates to control over the direction and roadmap of our products. We maintain full control over the source code of our products and solutions. While community members may suggest changes to our products, only Elastic employees are able to commit changes to the codebase. Further, unlike some open source companies, we do not build a separate enterprise edition of an original open source project. Instead, we develop, maintain, and test a single robust codebase that is shared by our entire developer community.
Some open source companies sell only support for software that they make available at no cost. We believe this can create misaligned incentives in that the support vendor benefits from low software quality. Accordingly, we focus on designing high-quality software products that include proprietary features and are easy to use and reliable. We include support only as part of our subscriptions.
We believe in building products that provide value and appeal to the people who use them, including developers, architects, DevOps personnel, IT professionals, and security analysts. At the same time, a software company should be able to engage and build relationships with departmental or organizational leaders who make large technology purchasing decisions. At Elastic, we do both.
I make no claim as to understanding the software. However some lessons I have learned from this board are:
Follow the $$. If the revenues are increasing significantly, the company is doing something right.
If the customer base is expanding, they have something people want.
Trust in the company, until they have given you reason not too. If the company says this model is a good one, who am I to argue. Heck the founders built the company from nothing to a company valued just under 6 billion dollars. They obviously know understand the business they are in and what they are doing to a degree.