We are a small startup team building a new database tool called
Dolt, which is Git for
is the story of how we chose to use Discord
for our open source project. You can join our server
The Fermi Paradox of open source software: Where is everybody?
Developing open-source software can be lonely work, even when you're
not forced to work remotely by a
when there aren't several simultaneous disaster movie subplots
fighting for primacy in your home state of California.
But you try to ignore all that, because you believe in the work your
startup is trying to do. You have a vision, you drive toward it, you
work your fingers to the bone trying to make it a reality. You know
it's going to change the world well before you run out of VC funding
to pay your salaries. And then you ask for feedback from your
Even when you have metrics showing you that people are in fact
downloading your product and using it every day, when you don't hear
from them, sometimes it really feels like there's nobody out there. It
makes you want to scream: where is everybody? Where are my customers?
The fight to make contact
At DoltHub, we have a small but growing clique
of very astute and devastatingly handsome customers. We know from
metrics that they are browsing data repositories and creating their
own. They are reading blog articles like this one. They are using the
product in exciting ways daily. They even sometimes file issues on
project. But beyond
this occasional bit of feedback, we didn't hear from them much. It
didn't seem right. So we set out to make contact.
The first thing we tried was a product called
Intercom. It's a little chat
widget that sits in the corner of your website, and lets customers
contact you to start chatting. This is how they bill themselves:
It was relatively easy to get up and running and merged unobtrusively
into the design of the website. Maybe too unobtrusively: customers
either didn't notice the chat option, or they didn't want to use
it. Either way, they weren't reaching out.
Time to try something else.
An example of how to be better
A little while ago, our CEO was talking to the CEO of a competitor,
TerminusDB, a company with a similar mission
of making it easy to share data. The topic of community engagement
came up, and the Terminus folks expressed surprise that we don't even
have a chat server for customers to contact us. Terminus has a great
community page, which has a lot
of ways for customers to get in touch with the team and with each
other. Most notably, they prominently display a link to a Discord chat
server where customers can talk with engineers.
Embarrassingly, only a couple of us at DoltHub had ever used
Discord. In our defense, many of us are crippled by advanced age and
parenthood, and don't keep up to date on the latest trends in online
chat clients for the gamer set.
It's a further sign of our lack of with-it-ness that, upon learning
how successful Terminus has been at engaging their user base through
Discord, our first impulse was to double down on our boomer
sensitivities and explore if we should use Slack instead.
Slack: it's where business happens™
In our further defense, we have heard from many potential enterprise
customers that their engineers who would be hypothetically talking to
ours on a chat client already have Slack open all day long, because
that's what their company uses. We always strive to meet customers
where they live. So we decided to try it out.
This is the first thing you see when you visit
Let's take a minute to appreciate how truly square this marketing
pitch is. It's almost a work of art. I don't know about you, but
nothing gets my juices flowing faster than thinking about
#quarterly-planning. What do you mean I only get to do it four times
a year?! Just like Lisa Dawson, nothing excites me more than the
prospect of seeing updated metrics. I want the latest numbers, and
boom, here's Camilo Henrique and he's got them for me, piping hot out
of the oven. In a frenzy of business-metrics lust, I clicked "Contact
Sales" so hard I sprained my mousing wrist.
But, customers. Where they live. So we set up a free trial of slack
and all hopped on it. This is an actual transcript of what happened.
As Tim mentioned, at the time we had been using Google chat for our
internal team chat experience, because it comes bundled for free with
G Suite. It was... fine. Nobody hated it, it worked well enough, and
it was free, so whatever, right? But the idea of actually paying
someone a subscription to use a product of similar caliber rubbed us
the wrong way.
Discord is fun for some reason
Underwhelmed with what Slack had to offer to someone not being paid by
their employer to use it, we decided to give Discord a shot. Our
enterprise customers might not already be running it for their day
jobs, but Discord is free to join and use, and supports both browser
and desktop clients, so the barrier to entry is low. They also have a
reputation of supporting open source
I downloaded the client and spun up our
server, then sent out the invite
to the team. And then almost instantly, for reasons that we don't
quite understand, everybody was having a good time.
For whatever reason, Discord felt playful and fun where Slack felt
stodgy and formal. Everybody was enjoying themselves and joking around
from the word go. And as far as features, it's got everything we want:
it's got video and voice chat that's easy to discover and use, and
lots of knobs and dials you can play with to customize how your server
and channels work, including robust role and permissions management
and admin tools. And it ships with dark theme by default!
By the end of the day, the whole team was so enamored of the product
that we had all agreed, more or less by acclamation, to ditch Google
chat and head over there. We haven't opened Google chat since.
We built it, and they came
With our Discord server newly
set up, we sent out an invitation to join it on our email newsletter,
then sat back and waited. And then, something extraordinary happened:
our customers showed up in our public channel! And they started
talking with us about how they are using our product and what they
want us to build next!
The feeling of actually talking to the people you're building software
for, in real time, is really indescribably satisfying. I for one find
it incredibly motivating: it puts a face on the product that we've
worked so hard to birth. It gives us reassurance that what we're
building is scratching someone's itch. And it offers the possibility
of real-time course correction if we are planning to build something
nobody cares about.
But mostly, it just feels good. It makes me wonder how we did without
Come join us!
We're currently in the process of updating
DoltHub with links to our Discord server. But
there's no reason to wait! Hop on and talk with
us. We're here all day. We look
forward to seeing you there!