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(L to R): Tidelift co-founders Donald Fischer, Luis Villa, Jeremy Katz, and Havoc Pennington. (Tidelift Photo)

Tidelift wants to give open-source developers a way to earn some money for contributing to important open-source projects and while helping the companies that are using those projects in key parts of their business, and it just raised $15 million to build those connections.

General Catalyst, Foundry Group, and former Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik co-led the Series A founding round into the Boston-based startup, the first time the 17-person company has taken financing, said Donald Fischer, co-founder and CEO of Tidelift. The other co-founders — Havoc Pennington, Jeremy Katz, and Luis Villa — share a wealth of open-source experience across companies like Red Hat and organizations like The Wikimedia Foundation and the Mozilla Foundation.

The concept of open-source software changed a great deal about the process of software development. Rather than rewrite the wheel time and time again for new applications — or license pricey commercial software — companies could use free software developed in a relatively transparent process to get their businesses off the ground. The growth of open-source software alongside cloud computing gave lots of companies an inexpensive way to get their products or services off the ground, and even Microsoft and Oracle are huge supporters these days.

But open-source software has changed quite a bit as the stakes have gotten higher. Early projects were basically software potluck dinners attended by idealistic developers in their free time, but that’s no longer the case: Puppet co-founder and former CEO Luke Kaines told me a few months ago that almost all the code that went into early versions of Puppet was written by paid developers. Busy developers with day jobs and full lives don’t necessarily have spare time to spend working on software for free.

Still, demand for open-source software is still quite strong, and that’s where Tidelift comes in. The company wants to sign up independent developers working on core open-source projects as “lifters,” or ongoing maintainers of a given project, who will get paid for their contributions to open-source projects being tracked by Tidelift.

It will also sell a subscription service to software-development teams using open-source projects that gives them the confidence that a paid developer will be working on bug fixes and security issues related to their key projects. Software breaks, and if security vulnerabilities or weird bugs are discovered in an under-maintained open-source project at the heart of your business’ product strategy, that’s a problem.

“We want to make sure that the software is well maintained for years to come, and basically create a direct economic incentive for someone to do that work,” Fischer said.

Tidelift will split about half the revenue from its subscription contracts with developers signed up for its program, dividing that revenue up among developers based on demand for their projects. As it recruits developers for specific projects, it will use data from the project it maintains to start updating subscribers on the status of projects they’re using.

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