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Powering community-led growth with $4 million in seed funding

December 2, 2020
Patrick Woods
Co-Founder & CEO
Powering community-led growth with $4 million in seed funding
Welcome to The Observatory, the community newsletter from Orbit.

Each week we go down rabbit holes so you don't have to. We share tactics, trends and valuable resources we've observed in the world of community building.

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The world has changed quite a bit since we started Orbit in August 2019. In that time, we’ve raised a pre-seed round and now a seed, built and released an early-access product now used by 140+ organizations, improved the Orbit Model with the help of our community, and had a lot of fun along the way. Of course, we’ve also had our share of early-stage struggles, amplified by COVID-related challenges, which makes us even more grateful for the support and adoption we’ve seen.

Building on insights and inspiration from those early adopters like Postman, CircleCI, Apollo GraphQL and dozens of others, we’ve come to understand the size and shape of the opportunity before us: to reimagine the role of community in building successful companies.

To support that vision, we’ve raised $4 million led by Andreessen Horowitz. Martin Casado and his team approached us with clarity and conviction about the market and our approach, and we view them as strategic partners in building the company and defining this category. You can read more about Martin’s excitement for Orbit in this blog post and this Twitter thread. The round also includes new angels Chris Aniszczyk, Jason Warner, Magnus Hillestad, and a16z’s Cultural Leadership Fund, plus continued support from existing investors Heavybit and Harrison Metal.

Communities drive adoption

Since the onset of COVID-19, we’ve seen years of digital transformation happen in only a few months. Developers have never been more important to the future of business and society, and that shift has led to a surge in new tools and open source tech to fill out their toolboxes for coding, testing, and deploying products. It’s also led to an emphasis on community like never before.

In a world of bottom-up and product-led growth, we see a new playbook for building, growing, and monetizing an audience. The reality is that software isn’t sold – it’s adopted. It means buyers research and discover solutions on their own, often referred by friends or peers. It means they want to try the tools themselves, see who else is using them and know what they’re saying. It means they want to read content and guides created by real people (not the marketing team) and get advice from others on how to avoid pitfalls.

And of all the methods of driving adoption, what investment provides companies with the most bang for their buck?

It’s community.

It’s real people who are connecting with and supporting one another, who are active on social and in forums, who are writing content and templates and guides, and who have contributed code. These people (and the assets they create) educate other users on how to navigate the landscape, overcome objections, onboard the product, customize it, and more.

Screenshot from the Orbit application

In other words: Community is the new pre-sales. Community members, especially the advocates, are the salespeople, and adoption is just community members selling to each other. It’s why companies now need strategies and tools for cultivating vibrant communities, but also for measuring those efforts across fragmented, ever-changing sets of channels.

The future of community is distributed

More and more, community is not really a place, but an act, and the power is in the hands of members to pick and choose where they interact. Right now, that usually includes social channels like Twitter, forums like Discourse, chat platforms like Discord or Slack, and first-party tools like mailing lists, in-app messaging, and learning management systems.

Of course, we fully expect that roster to change over time. What won’t change is the continued fragmentation that results in an inordinate amount of complexity and inefficiency for people and teams responsible for building communities, who understand both the need for real human touch and intuition, but also the need to report on effectiveness and ROI.

We believe that bringing fragmented data together from this constellation of platforms can provide companies meaningful insights toward building vibrant communities, stronger relationships, and ultimately better software.

Communities are inherently illegible. This is our way of saying communities will always look chaotic and messy – and that’s okay. In the same way, from the outside, a healthy forest looks wild and untamed. If you replaced all the different trees with a single species, the resulting monoculture would be easy to understand and manage, but it would also be left exposed to disease and blight. In diversity lies resiliency.

Orbit is the platform for delivering stellar experiences everywhere your community happens

In speaking with hundreds of companies with communities of all sizes, we’ve learned that community builders actually spend only a small portion of their time actually working with their community. Rather, their days are spent bouncing between several tools and websites, copying data between various website tabs, and hoping they’re not letting anyone fall through the cracks.

We’ve been hard at work building a platform to help companies and communities thrive in this distributed reality. Orbit helps better understand, manage and grow communities by unifying activity from all channels into a single view with more context, intelligence, and automation than ever before.

Screenshot from the Orbit application

Orbit automates most of the manual and repeated tasks of community building – like data collection, contact management, and reporting – so teams save hours per week and have time to focus on high-value work, like building relationships, creating programs, and delivering a great experience.

Orbit even recommends next steps for engaging and growing communities, like celebrating an active contributor on Twitter or sending a personal note to a new member.

For the first time, it’s a real way for companies to see a full picture of their communities and make smarter decisions about individual members, while also understanding the impact of their investments. It offers leaders the confidence that their teams are spending time on tasks that actually drive value. And for the first time, execs can see how their community is growing and changing across every platform.

Screenshot from the Orbit application

Here’s what you can expect from us

Our new funding will allow us to continue in our mission at a greater scale, bring on new team members, and share the Orbit Model with folks around the world.

We currently only have three of us working on Orbit full time, so our next hires will have an outsized impact. Right now, we’re hiring engineers, as well as a product designer and a developer or community advocate, with plans to expand the team even further in 2021.

Learn more and apply here.

In terms of our roadmap, we just released our Discourse integration last week and are on track to have other integrations in beta by January. Our goal is to enable companies to offer stellar community experiences everywhere, so you can expect to see many more integrations in the coming months in order for us to create more new opportunities for interaction and also open up new use cases for communities of all types and sizes.

Thanks to everyone who has gotten us to this point

We’re a small team, so we’ve relied on customers, partners, and investors to get us this far. Early adopters like Jeremy Meiss, David G. Simmons, Nicolas Grenié, Peggy Rayzis, Kurt Kemple, Laura Santamaria, Erlend Sogge Heggen, Erin Frey, Stefan Judis, and Mary Thengvall have provided tons of ideas and feedback (and bug reports).

Joe, Dana, Tom, and James at Heavybit have worked closely with us over the past year to iterate on product, test assumptions, and set us up for success with the seed raise. Michael Dearing has provided strategic advice at several inflection points, always helping to reframe a discussion and ask questions in new ways. And finally, angels like James Tamplin, Mischa Vaughn, Sam Ramji, and Kyle Wild have offered all sorts of guidance and advice along the way.

We have a clear vision for the strategic role of community-led growth in companies today and in the future. Thank you for coming along on the ride so far, your support means the galaxy to us 💫

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