Learn about the pivotal role transparency and trust play in building an engaged community. As well as how their early focus on one single platform helped to kickstart their initial community growth, how they've scaled their platforms since, and the ways they're driving contribution through reward and recognition.
Patrick Woods: All right. Thanks so much. I am Patrick. I'm Co-Founder and CEO of Orbit, joined in this session by John Lafleur from Airbyte, where he's the COO. John, you want to introduce yourself and say hello to the audience here?
John Lafleur: Thanks, Patrick, for having me. Yes, I'm a serial entrepreneur, and Airbyte is my fourth startup. And with Michel, my co-founder, we started Airbyte in July 2020. And we are an open source data movement platform.
Patrick Woods: Cool. So Airbyte soft launched, I think, around September 2020. You recently raised 150 million Series-B at a $1.5 billion valuation. So congrats on the unicorn club. It seems like, from what I can tell, your hyper growth really has community at its core.
Patrick Woods: And so I'd love to hear from you, could you talk a little bit about the role of community in that growth, and how you think about community at Airbyte?
John Lafleur: Yeah, definitely. So in terms of growth, we have now 20,000 companies utilizing data using Airbyte. And community, we always built Airbyte in the open.
John Lafleur: So, we started with only one Slack, with a team, and it was open to the community. And we always were very transparent on the vision, the strategy, and that's how we gained trust through that transparency and velocity.
John Lafleur: And we could see the community based on our usage, but also on contributing. And the value of the community with Airbyte is not only a distribution channel, which is a case for most open source companies, it's through the communities that we build the moats of Airbyte, meaning the long tail of connectors.
John Lafleur: In just 18 months, we went from zero connectors to 170 connectors, which is a number of the incumbent, today, of connectors. It took them eight years, and it took us only 18 months. And that's thanks to the community who built 80 of them.
John Lafleur: And now even our team is no longer building connectors at all anymore. We are just focusing on the reliability and the quality of connectors. The community has taken over.
John Lafleur: And that's what community is for us. There's the open source users, and we've invested in that. We've built the first open source, dedicated technical support team for that, and we have also all the developer communities, the contributors, that make Airbyte what it is today.
Patrick Woods: Wow. That's really impressive growth. Can you talk a little bit, just for context for those in the audience, when you say connector, can you talk about what a connector is, and why that's important?
John Lafleur: Yeah. So when I say data movement, what we do is you have got your data siloed in all the tools you're using, from Salesforce, HubSpot, or your database Postgres, anything like this.
John Lafleur: And you want to centralize that data into your data warehouse. Sometimes people use databases and data lakes for that. And so that's what we call ELT, extract, load, and transform. Transform being on the warehouse. People use DBT for instance, for that. And so we take care of that movement, from your tools to your data warehouse.
John Lafleur: And something we will do, in the short term future, is to do it a reverse deal. So once you've consolidated the data on your warehouse, you can move the data back to your Salesforce, HubSpot, so that your sales team has access to the consolidated data, not the original siloed data. And so that's what we call data movement.
John Lafleur: And a connector is you can have a source connector, a Salesforce source connector, or a Snowflake destination connector. And that's what we build. We build all those connectors.
Patrick Woods: Cool. And it sounds like the community has really rallied behind the connector library. Can you talk a little bit about how did you get contribution early on? Talk about the sort of process, but also, what's in it for the contributor? What do you do for them on the other side of that successful contribution?
John Lafleur: I think to build a community, you need to have a grand vision around which the community can rally. And our grand vision was to commoditize data integration once and for all. It's a very old problem what we're doing. It's just that as it has never been solved. And we know we can solve it, but with the community. And so that was our vision that we... And the way we were messaging it.
John Lafleur: And so at the very beginning, you start to have early adopters and they see you are completely transparent. You can interact with CEOs, like the executives and founders. And we were having weekly calls with them. And so they could really build that relationship. And once you have that core... And people start to gain trust in what you're doing with the velocity. Every week, we were announcing a new connector, every week.
John Lafleur: And at that point in January 2021, four months after we start, we did echo news. And that's when, like we got many, many eyeballs and things just ramped up from there organically.
John Lafleur: And for us, it's always been about being transparent, showing that we are going to do that together, and giving also the tools to the community, for them to build connectors in an easier way and maintain them in an easier way.
John Lafleur: So we've built a connector development kit, like a SDK, but for connectors. And originally, it takes you two days to build a connector. With our CDK, it takes you two hours and we want to do better than this. Our moonshot is 15, 30 minutes and without much code in the end. So we're still working on this.
John Lafleur: And doing this, it makes building connectors easier for the community for their own custom needs. So they build the custom connectors that they sometimes don't contribute to the open source. And also it has on the maintenance because everything is standardized. That's the point. You need standardization for connectors, otherwise, it doesn't work.
John Lafleur: So, that's what we've been doing.
Patrick Woods: Yeah. I love the story there, around contributor enablement, and making sure that your team is reducing the friction, reducing the barriers, making onboarding really smooth, so it's easy to contribute.
John Lafleur: Yes, definitely. That's one of our core focus even today, like for Q2 22, that's our core focus going from CDK v1, to CDK v2, because we see that it makes a huge difference.
Patrick Woods: Yeah. So going back in time, a little bit to the early days of the Slack community, can you talk a little bit about the early tactics and strategies you use to drive engagement there? I think you mentioned the core team from Airbyte is hanging out there. People get to interact with the founders, the execs. That's cool. What are the other reasons... How did you kickstart the community in the early days?
John Lafleur: Just now, so until January this year, so 15 months after, or 16 months after we started, that's when we started to have a separate Slack community for our team. Until then it was always the same.
John Lafleur: And it's just because we went from 30 people to a lot more people in January. And at that point we needed the team to discover channels, which we couldn't do with private channels, when it was only one community.
John Lafleur: And we ran onto other problems with scale. I can mention afterwards. But at the very beginning, it's really the proximity transparency, I would say. And velocity is in the grand vision. I think that's the full one. You need the grand vision because otherwise people won't get excited. You need transparency for the trust and proximity as well. And velocity is to build that trust again.
John Lafleur: And then we were putting our Slack. We were only focusing on Slack at that point. One platform that makes it easier.
John Lafleur: And so also Slack, you could see it on website on the first page, if you were trying to even leave the website at that point, you have a popup, "Oh, you should join on Slack if you want to keep up to date."
John Lafleur: So we were focusing on only one platform. Now we are, we have Discourse as well. And we have separate use from Discourse and Slack, but yeah, we were focusing only on that.
John Lafleur: And that's what we were measuring. What we were measuring was not Slack signups. It was also weekly active Slack members.
John Lafleur: And we would have weekly updates, announcements for that. We have like monthly community calls. We have weekly office hours at the same hour every week, with us. So at the beginning it was with the co-founders and then we changed. And starting in April 2021, we started to have what we call the user success team.
John Lafleur: It's, as a matter of fact, it's more like an open source technical support. So as our community was global, we needed to have three people. One in MEA, and one in US, and one in APAC.
John Lafleur: And so we got these three people and we were measuring typically the time to answer and the time to resolution. And we started to do that.
John Lafleur: And one thing, so that was part of, I'd say, 2021. And at the end of 2021, we started to measure, really, reply by threads from community members to community members.
John Lafleur: So when you start seeing communities, when you start to see this two-end relationship and interaction, not end to one. Or one-to-one. So that's what we've been really focusing on the past few months now.
Patrick Woods: So when I dig into those four areas you mentioned around successful community launch, proximity, transparency, velocity, vision, when you say transparency, that's something... That's a word that I think everybody agrees is good, in most cases. Can you talk specifically about what you mean when you talk about transparency in the community context?
John Lafleur: So, you would have our handbook, our strategy, vision employee handbook is public. You can find it. Second, we would share anything like, even like the C deck, Series-A deck, and Series-B deck, were shared. We even did, the pitch we gave to investors, we did it in open to the community.
John Lafleur: And as a matter of fact, Michel and I were a lot more stressed, to do that in front of the community than in front of investors.
John Lafleur: But this is a kind of visibility where you don't want to hide things. You want to... Competitors will know everything you are, but with open source, it's kind of a winner take all. There's a network effect with the contributors. The more contributors you have, the more attractive you are to new contributors.
John Lafleur: So you want just to get the momentum and the buy-in. And companies, they can know everything about you. It's already too late at that point. That's a point. That's why we decided to do it this way.
John Lafleur: And so, yeah, I would say... So we have in, I'd say, within the same within the company, so transparency is within the community and within the company differently, but says very, very little things that we don't share about the project, definitely.
Patrick Woods: Yeah. Transitioning a bit to talk about tools. Slack sounds like it's been a big part of your community stack. Is that still the main point of contact today, or have you introduced other touchpoints as well beyond Slack and GitHub?
John Lafleur: So we started with Slack only and we run into the limit of Slack.
John Lafleur: People are used to using Slack for live chats and they won't look at former questions, even if the question you have has already been answered before.
John Lafleur: And we use premium Slack. So you have access to whole history. And, at that point, even if they had the abilities, they wouldn't do it. And for our user success team, so as a technical support, like for open source, well, it was not a good leverage of the time. It was costing more and more because the community was growing and growing.
John Lafleur: So at that point, we started to think about Discourse and with Discourse, the point is people will always search and self-resolve before they post a new topic. And that was our point.
John Lafleur: And so we started to, we had four channels that we moved from Slack to discourse. There was a troubleshooting one. So support. There was everything about connected development because there were redundant questions. And they were contributing to Airbyte and another one.
John Lafleur: And all of that, we moved to Discourse because we felt people will ask the same questions. Plus, on Discourse, it's not in a war garden. SEO-wise, it's way better because you can search for it on Google.
John Lafleur: So we moved all these channels to Discourse. And on Slack, we decided to make it more community-oriented.
John Lafleur: At the time we already had the biggest Slack community around data integration. And data integration is always a part of a bigger project, or data engineering project, that includes orchestration, that includes warehouse, transformation, visualization, and we're just like one layer on top of that.
John Lafleur: And so we decided that we would create advice type of channels, where people could ask for advice on orchestration and the community members can help.
John Lafleur: And so we moved, we changed Slack to be end-to-one, where it is a lot about community support, to some things that is more about community advice. And all the support part we've moved to Discourse.
John Lafleur: And the way we've been tracking the success of this, so we've done that like five, six weeks ago, is actually using Orbit. So we've got Slack and Discourse on Orbit. And we tracked the number of messages.
John Lafleur: One of the goals was how many visitors, but also how many post topics or messages were being posted. And the goal was to reduce that and to start an increase on those advice channels and the end-to-end, like having a member reply to another member increase. So, that's the kind of metrics we've been tracking.
Patrick Woods: Yeah. That's really something we think a lot about at Orbit, too. Our Discord is our primary channel, but suffers from the same limitations of Slack, in terms of searchability, SEO, things like that. So what are the early results looking like, in terms of the migration?
John Lafleur: I'm exactly working on this, this week, doing with modem, and yeah, it's being very positive.
John Lafleur: We still have some issues where we have a Slack channel named Advice, Data on Data Ingestion, and people will use that as a support channel because we're doing data ingestion.
John Lafleur: So we still have to figure out a bit of detail on this, but I would say, yeah. So what we wanted to see is the number of messages going down the, the ratio of number of visits on number of topics going up, and it has, this has done 10x, so, yeah, we're pretty happy about this.
Patrick Woods: Yeah, those sound like great early results. So, thinking about the communities growing, contributions going up, can you talk a little bit about the programs you have in place to sustain community contribution going forward? Is it Hacktoberfest? The Maintainer Program? Talk a little bit about those programs that support those aspects of the community?
John Lafleur: So, definitely, in last year in October, we decided to do Hacktoberfest, and to give some reward on any new connectors being built.
John Lafleur: And in one month, we got 42 new connectors. And that was like a lot more work than we anticipated, because you need to review all those connector contributions.
John Lafleur: So we hadn't anticipated that. At that point, we decided we need to think about it because this is a weapon, a community can really, really act on some kind of incentives, but we need to make sure this is a priority for the company.
John Lafleur: And that's how, at that point, we understood that we can build connectors at scale, thanks to the community, but they need to be really high quality before they can be really usable for everybody. So, we decided to focus on maintenance at scale, through the community.
John Lafleur: And we've started to introduce a Maintainer Program where you get some bounty every time, for all the connector features or bug fixes, that are a priority for the community, based on the usage of the community.
John Lafleur: So, we started doing this and also we've introduced a contributor page where you have points levels. Every PR you, do every issue, every interaction you have, gives you points and levels. And you have some kind of leaderboard, and if you're level 10, then you get some swag. If you get to level 20, you get some swag.
John Lafleur: So, we started doing this on GitHub, and we are trying to extend that to GitHub, to Slack, and Discourse interactions as well, so that it reflects all your contributions.
John Lafleur: And we actually are thinking about using Orbit as an identity resolution across those platforms to do that.
Patrick Woods: Cool.
John Lafleur: So this is what we're doing right now, and yeah, it's always a lot of iterations, fine tuning, and that's why we just actually hired developer community lead, to lead those efforts.
Patrick Woods: Yeah. I love the robust pipeline you have, from entering the community, being equipped with ways to contribute and find help. And then the ongoing programming around the support for the contributors and rewarding and recognizing them.
Patrick Woods: Definitely let us know if you build that on top of orbit. I think the API should support that type of activity. It's really cool.
John Lafleur: Yeah, we are working on it, so I'll let you know.
Patrick Woods: That's awesome. Okay. So, one question I have is a struggle for many open source products and projects it's balancing community and business. And so I'd love to hear from you on how you're thinking about balancing monetization with everything we're talking about today?
John Lafleur: Yeah. That's a great question. Oftentimes, people would say, "You need to try to convert these open source users to cloud." And what we've seen is that for us, companies will know, almost from the get go, is they need open source or cloud.
John Lafleur: And there's a significant portion that needs cloud. That's why we've been working on Airbyte Cloud because people don't want to host and operate Airbyte open source, at scale. It's not easy. You've got so many data connectors, it's not easy.
John Lafleur: And so, the way we're thinking is that, when we grow awareness, we grow awareness around Airbyte, and then there'll be some open source deployment, and there'll be some cloud signups. That's how we see it.
John Lafleur: And for sure, Airbyte open source users drive also awareness for cloud in the sense that, if you're users, you also tell your friends you're using that. You are being active on Reddit. You're being active on all those platforms, where people are hanging around. So, for us, open source is a win, for when it's for cloud, in any case.
John Lafleur: And if you are a user, you contribute. Contribute makes the product better. So, we are very happy to have more and more open source deployments.
John Lafleur: We have very little people that have been moving from cloud to that open source and from open source to cloud. We still see a very low percentage of that, which was surprising to us. But in the end, it makes sense in the end, because you know whether or not you can use cloud. And if you can use cloud, most of the times, they'll just prefer to do it in the end. We see some companies testing out open source, but not using on prod. And then moving to cloud, just like to test.
John Lafleur: But that's for bigger companies, but for SMBs, either one or the other.
Patrick Woods: So, some companies, when they think about the value of community for their business, it's almost like lead generation, where some percentage of the community is convert to paid, but it sounds like you actually have two parallel paths.
John Lafleur: Yeah.
Patrick Woods: Is that right? So, I'm curious, how would you, when you think about the sort of the business value of the community, it's probably around awareness and the connector library more so than revenue, is that right?
John Lafleur: Exactly. Yeah, exactly. And that's actually tremendous value. That makes the difference between Airbyte and Fivetran. Fivetran will stay stuck at max, I don't know, 200 connectors. They've been ages at it. And they've like plateaued now. And thanks to the open source users, in the end, of the contribution will get like to thousands in the end, and that will drive usage, but a lot of revenues.
Patrick Woods: Yeah. That sounds very strategic.
Patrick Woods: So, John, I really appreciate this deep dive today. I think I've learned a lot about the overall approach to architecting a community program, from first touch to onboarding through lifetime maintenance, and the value of proximity and transparency in early communities.
Patrick Woods: So, I know I've learned a lot. I know that the community has as well. So, thank you so much for joining us today at Nexus and great luck with building out the community in the business.
John Lafleur: Thank you, Patrick. It was a pleasure.