Community Driven Growth at Supabase

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Learn how Supabase embraces the distributed nature of community to drive its growth.

Speakers
Anthony Wilson
CTO & Co-founder

Ant speaks about the importance of thinking through your presence on each of the platforms and channels that you're on and the best language and content to use. As well as how their SupaSquad champions program, swag, and financial rewards encourage contribution.

Finally, Ant covers how Supabase uses Orbit to get insights across platforms to inform and refine its overall community strategy.

Hi, my name's Ant and I'm a CTO and co-founder at Supabase and I'm here to talk about community driven growth at Supabase. What is Supabase? Supabase is the open source Firebase alternative, we give you a database which is relational and SQL based, we give you authentication and authorization layer, so you can log your users in with just an email and password and Google OAuth, really a long list of OAuth providers, magic links all directly from the client using supabase-js. We also have file storage, so you can store your images and videos, which you can request direct from the client as well. We recently released functions, which is our cloud functions, offering similar to AWS Lambda, or if you've used fire based functions, you can just write a function in TypeScript and deploy it out globally, literally within seconds, and it's really easy to do. We have, if you go to the Supabase dashboard, a really easy to use Airtable like interface, so you can interact with your Postgres database that way, or you can click through and we have a SQL editor as well. If you know how to write SQL or you want to learn, then it's a lot more powerful. You can write really complex queries or design your schema using SQL directly.

I'm here to talk about community driven growth at Supabase. We've only been around for two years now, we started in January 2020, right at the start of the pandemic, just me and Paul. We've grown basically from zero in 2020, to now over 30,000 GitHub stars, we have over 90,000 registered developers on the platform, we have a huge social media following, which is a big part of our community driven growth, which we can talk about. We've had over 110,000 databases deployed on the platform within the last two years. The important thing about this is that it's all community driven growth, we haven't paid for anything, basically, we haven't done any paid marketing or paid influencers or anything like that. It's all just about community. Obviously Open-source helps a lot with that, which I'll dig into as well. I really just want to talk about the things we've learned over the last two years and some of the tools we use, which obviously includes all this.

In the Supabase universe, the community universe, there's kind of three main groups. There's the social groups, which is Twitter, Discord, GitHub to an extent, and Reddit. Then there's the Open-source, repo based communities, which either lives in our GitHub organization, we have almost now 40 repos, I think, because we have like the JavaScript clients, the Python clients, the Flutter SDK, and each of those has their own associated community, which might have their own Twitter account or their own Discord server, or it is really like a lot of different communities plugged together. It's kind of our strategy, overall, is to think of ourselves as a community of communities, and community really seeps into everything we do at Supabase, actually, which I'll cover a bit more. But in terms of where community meets product, it's quite clear because it's open sourced, because the code all lives on GitHub, because it's community driven development.

It's clear that product and community has a huge overlap already. Then we have our external repos, which are also, we consider part of the Supabase community, even though we don't control them directly. This is other Open-source projects that we use, which include things like Kong, the API Gateway, Postgres, which is a tool which introspects your database schema, and also generates out the APIs. That's a tool on a community that already existed, we're lucky enough to have the maintainer of Postgres now works at Supabase, but actually we just pay him to work on Postgres full time. One of the ways we have integrated those communities and contribute back in that way. Then the wider Postgres community, Postgres, which is an Open-source project that's been around for, I think over 30 years now, and has a huge associated community, A lot of which is mailing list based, but obviously a big presence on Twitter.

That all comes under the areas we think about when we think about community at Supabase. Then the last thing in this universe is the three main initiatives that we run internally. The first one is the SupaSquad, now the SupaSquad is a collection of people who contribute their time to the Supabase community, and so they'll either be contributing to repos or driving the developments of a particular client library and they might be moderating our Discord. They might be contributing to our Twitter accounts, help generate memes. All of these people are in a collection called the SupaSquad and the SupaSquad has its own private channel on our Discord, and we often get starter famous people to come in and give off the record talks to this group and obviously limited edition swag as well, all of that stuff.

We then have the Open Collective. Open Collective is a platform where you can basically pay people who do this type of work. Not everybody is financially incentivized, but for the people who need that financial support in order to continue to contribute, then we want to make sure that we at least have a channel for that. It's really putting our money where our mouth is in terms of contributing back to the community and to do with the source community, especially, to make sure that people can continue to do what they love and they don't have to suffer financially, necessarily. That's a second group.

The third group is our SupaAngels. This is where finance and funding meets community at Supabase, as well, because all of the Angel investors that we've taken on are basically just community members, they're people who use Supabase, they're people who've contributed to Supabase, and we brought them on early and gave them the opportunity to invest so that they become advocates for the company, and when they have an opportunity, they can help us boost our message. Really, community does seep into a lot of different areas, and that's just another example. That's kind of the whole universe. I'll dig in a little bit on the social side, because it's been a huge driver of growth for us, particularly Twitter and Discord.

The things we've learned, particularly with all of these channels is, you need to develop, obviously your voice for each individual channel. Obviously the company has a mission, and we have a marketing lens from which we developed, so that people can look at a company in a certain way. When you're dealing with these individual channels, you need to communicate your message, obviously differently, to those different communities. There's some overlap, there's some people who follow us on Twitter and engage with us on Twitter, who are also in the Discord. But I think you'd be surprised at how they're actually just quite different audiences overall.

Obviously there's tons and tons of developers who don't have a Twitter account or don't have a Discord account, but they might hang out on Reddit, and so we have our own subreddit which we manage. Since the start we've really thought hard about the language we use on each of these platforms. A lot of it comes with intuition, if you have someone on the team who is a long term Twitter user, they intuitively get how to write for that audience. The key is being explicit and getting them to write it down on paper for the rest of the team, because it's the only way you're going to spread that knowledge between the other team members who are also contributing. As you grow as a company, you can't just rely on one person to be the voice on Twitter, or one person to be the voice on Discord, it needs to become part of the culture.

Being explicit and writing down what you think is the language that works, also the type of content you pump out, be very thoughtful about that, is one thing we've learned, because some things you see other companies doing and it helps them be successful, but if you can't establish a direct connection between that activity and your company metrics. For example, we care a lot about weekly active databases as one of our primary metrics, and everything we do in the company, we try and establish that connection between how does this make that number go up? It's easy, as you grow as a company, to get drawn into, oh, well, these people have a lot of success with posting memes, for example, but you can then just go out and spend a bunch of resource on improving your meme game, but you don't understand whether or not that affects the numbers you care about, so it might not be that suitable for you and your user base, and the way people interact with your product, so be very conscious about where you choose to spend resource.

Actually Orbits helps a lot with this because, the great thing about Orbits is, well, there's lots of great things. One of the main things, that you don't get with the native platforms, and a lot of other tools, is an action based breakdown. I can see how many Twitter followers I'm gaining every month, and maybe how successful each individual tweet is. The thing that Orbit gives us is a breakdown of, okay, these are the people who have responded to these type of tweets, or here's someone who's retweeted this, and here's the frequency, and all of these actions are different and some of them might be important for you, and some of them might not be important for you.

The way we think about it is, we're trying to basically train the Twitter algorithm to see us as a database focused tech company, and promote us in that way. Maybe having people reply to our tweets with language that's associated to those topics, is something that's valuable to us. We get to monitor that, we have to see who exactly is coming in and replying to tweets or retweeting certain things, and that then informs our strategy of the content we produce next and allows us to be really laser focused on where we put our effort, because there's only so many hours in the day and only so much resource in a team, so you can't do everything, so it helps us be focused.

The other amazing thing that Orbit gives us is, I mentioned that we started in 2020, there was just two of us, we're now, I think 46 people. What it gave us in the early days was we didn't have to hire a community manager for a long time, and actually we still don't have a person where that's their primary role, because Orbit is basically the community manager for the company. As early stage founders, you obviously have to wear all the hats, and one of them is community manager. It allows us to put that hat on Orbit instead, they wear the hat, and then we get all of the insights and the time we spend making decisions, and thinking about what actions we're going to take is then shorter, which is exactly what you need when you're just a couple of people trying to build something big, basically.

It's really been invaluable. We've been early adopters of Orbits and early, as soon as they released the Discord integration, we were right in there, hooked it up immediately, pulling all the users in, pulling all the activities in, and it's tools that you would otherwise have to acquire individually. There's a lot of Twitter analytics tools out there, but it's like, how many do you need to go and assess and pay for, and then that lives separate to your Discord analytics, Slack, even that is a lot of work. It's just having all that live in one place. One thing we really like is the Orbit levels as well, because I think it's just the really awesome concept that you can see, okay, maybe we have 50,000 people, like I said, following the Twitter, but how many of them are actually engaged on a regular basis, and having that metric is way more important because anyone can go out and pay a click farm to go and generate a hundred thousand Twitter followers. But again, it doesn't really count for anything unless you have people who care about the product, interact with it in the right way, and then are able to amplify that message to the next group of community members.

I think we all understand that, it's the interactions between community members actually, which are important. It's not just Supabase the company, and we are just communicating with a bunch of individuals, it's facilitating this communication between members of the community. Like I said, between functions of our business, and between the different social platforms, GitHub, how do the people working on the Python client library, what's the overlap between that and our Twitter, and how do we acquire Python passionate developers on the Twitter and convert them to members of Supabase pie community. That's the type of thing we think about a lot, working on Supabase.

Orbit definitely gives us superpowers, helps us break down the community by action, which influences what we do and saves us a lot of time, basically, a lot of time, which is great. One thing that I want to call out as well is when this is all running smoothly, really special things start to happen. An example of this one special thing, is there's a user in the Supabase community, Zernonia, amazing developer who has been following us for a long time, building on Supabase, and we always make sure that we promote anything he builds, because it's always awesome. One thing he built was made with supabase.com, which is a platform which showcases other projects, Open-source projects that are built on Supabase.

That thing built by the community, is a community enabler and pulls all of these other Open-source repos together into one place. If you go to madewithsupabase.com, you can see this grid of all the Open-source Supabase projects. Some of them are crazy, some of them are like Open-source TikTok competitor built with Supabase, and it's a complete functioning TikTok app, which you can just clone and start offering a consumer service. I think that is just crazy that we're starting to reach this point in Open-source where it's not just the underlying frameworks that are Open-sourced, but the end user consumer applications are also now Open-source, and so is the entire stack and I personally found that very, very exciting, the direction that Open-source is moving in at the moment.

You can go and browse all these projects on Zernonia's site. Then the other thing, the magic thing he did, was every time we do a launch event, we always follow it up with a hackathon and we asked Zernonia if he would build, actually he asked us and I think he probably built it before he even asked us, if he could build the submission form for the hackathon entries, so that then anyone who submits... And you have to, all of our hackathons are Open-source, so your code has to be available on GitHub, all of those projects that then just end up on madewithsupabase.com, which is obviously great for us as judges of the hackathon to go in and see. It means that it just continues to fuel that community of builders and people who are excited about the tools that we are bringing together.

I mentioned earlier that we view these external Open-source tools still within the Supabase community universe, because with anything we build, we always first look, is there an existing product, Open-source product, in this space? Can we adopt it? Can we contribute to it? Before we invent the wheel and build it from scratch. That's, again, part of our product strategy, which it's just with the community strategy as well.

The last thing I wanted to say is that, the Supabase community isn't just about writing code, the way we think about building Supabase is, we want to build a huge and important company, we want to do it in the right way, and we want to enjoy the process. I think anyone who's involved in startups, hopefully learns that you enjoy startups when you enjoy the process. Obviously, hopefully at some point down the line, we've built this huge and amazing company and community, but if you don't enjoy the steps in between, then you're going to have a bad time. Again, with the community, it's not just about pumping our code and saying, oh, here's the code that's been written this week. It's about having fun, having events, having a very strong meme game is important to us and getting the community involved in producing that and just having fun, working with all these incredible people, is a vital importance.

I think, if one of the takeaways you take from today is that, just think about the experience people have when they join the community, and they're way more likely to hang around if it's fun, if they just have a good time contributing. Obviously they're also being productive and stimulating good discussion is a good thing. The real last thing I wanted to say was we're always hiring, if you are in the Supabase community, a great way to get involved is to apply to join the SupaSquad, there's a link on our website. Actually a lot of people who go into the SupaSquad end up becoming part of the Supabase team because they just prove themselves to be so awesome, and that basically, they don't give us a choice, we have to hire them in the end.

It's kind of a clear path to joining the team, and I can say that everyone who works at Supabase is just really smart, really nice, really fun, and truly global. We have people in Peru, and in New Zealand, and in Singapore, and in the U.S. and just everywhere, so it doesn't matter where you're based, just come in, apply, and we'll have a good chat. That's it, we're Supabase, we like to build things on a weekend and scale it to millions. If you enjoyed this talk, or if you want to ask anything of me or the team, you can contact me on ant@supabase.io or on Twitter antwilson. I hope you enjoy the rest of the conference.

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Nexus 2022

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The Secret Sauce to Growing Open Source Community
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Lessons Learned from Growing On Deck Internationally
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The Power of Asking a Great Question
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Scaling a Thriving Community
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A Community-First Approach to Driving Competitive Advantage
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Data-Led Community Programs and Strategy
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Using Orbit to Communicate the Success of Great Events
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Using the Orbit Model to Demonstrate Community Value
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Building a Beta Group or Champions Program in Orbit
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