Pioneers in Open Source–Eren Niazi, Part II: the Untold Story
It was 2014, and everything seemed fine with Eren Niazi and the company he founded, Open Source Storage or OSS, although at the time, both the industry and the market were changing. Not only were open-source technologies used in every form and fashion to enable what has become the cloud, its users also were connecting in droves to take advantages of the many services it offered. We matured into an always connected society.
As markets evolved and consumer needs evolved, OSS needed to do something to continue to be relevant. Eren and his team came up with a solution to enable more involvement within the Open Source community by building a never-done-before social platform that closed the gap between file sharing and social networking. It also added a gamification component to help encourage participation on top of quality.
Note: gamification is the process of taking something that already exists, be it a website, enterprise application or online community, and integrating it with game mechanics to motivate participation, engagement and loyalty.
A patent was filed to capture this unique new platform: US15073028. Its status is now considered Abandoned (you’ll learn why shortly). From the patent description:
Embodiments of the inventive concept provide a system and method for gamifying community driven open source software development projects, thereby spurring innovation and quality open source and freely available products. Embodiments of the inventive concept not only incentivizes the most desired tasks, such as coding, but also the less desirable actions like code review, documentation, quality assurance, testing, security analysis, and the like. In this manner, all steps along the software development path can be incentivized. Even scheduling and meeting deadlines for enhancements, bug fixes, and security auditing can benefit from an award system. Embodiments include a development gamification system including a user interface logic section to provide a development gamification interface to incentivize a community of users to develop open source software projects.
Figure 1. A General Illustrated Overview of US15073028
But in order to build this promising new platform, OSS needed outside investment to fund it. Eren approached numerous investors, all of which decided to participate. With this new funding, Open Source Storage decided to move its operations to a new location in Campbell, California.
Figure 2. Open Source Storage Headquarters (2014–2016)
It wasn’t easy, but after about two years of research and development, OSS started to sell the product (circa 2016)—at least the cloud component of it. Eren describes it as a stressful time for all those involved and that the stress hit him the hardest.
In such situations, two years of development likely will take its toll not only on the those directly involved with building a product, but it also will drive investors to start asking more questions and become restless. The nature of the game, while simple, is not a stress free-one. Investors put in money, hoping they’ll yield a much larger return once the given product is complete and the company starts selling it. Most investors expect to hear progress reports and will grill the company’s leaders to ensure that their investment was a good one. Realistically, two years to develop a product isn’t very long, especially considering the complexity of this solution. And, this one was extremely complex as it tied various moving components together. For investors who are new to the game of investment, this type of situation may lead to a bit of anxiety and, rarely, litigation.
In this case, a few investors did grow restless, which reportedly added to the already high level of stress for Eren and OSS. One particular episode led one investor eventually to pursue Eren with legal action in the hopes of reclaiming some of what he and a few others considered to be a lost investment.
At the end of September 2016, Eren claims he broke down mentally, due to the stress of work and now his personal life. He says he hadn’t slept for nearly a week, and that it was so severe, it warranted a 5150. Eren reports that he was admitted to the hospital to be tested for drugs and was immediately placed on a 72-hour involuntary hold to ensure that he wasn’t a danger to himself or the occupants of his home. He was released 24 hours later, on September 29, 2016. Although, during this brief period, his home was burglarized. Eren says that when he was released, one of his larger investors, Patrick Willis, picked him up and drove him back home (yes, the very same NFL San Francisco 49er, Patrick Willis).
Note: a 5150 refers to the California law code for the temporary, involuntary psychiatric commitment of individuals who present a danger to themselves or others due to signs of mental illness.
Eren told me that on the evening of September 29, 2016 (remember, Eren says that earlier in the day, the house was burglarized, and that he hadn’t slept for days), the folks that were living with him at the time believed they heard some noises (as if maybe someone was breaking in again). After the burglary from earlier in that day, everyone’s anxiety likely was heightened. In possession of a loaded firearm, Eren says he went to investigate the noises, and that he was attempting to protect the people in the house. After being startled, Eren says discharged the firearm on a football helmet that at one point was worn at the Super Bowl by Patrick Willis.