Posted December 2, 2020

Great communities make great companies, and community-building is now part of a broader shift in B2B businesses towards bottom-up growth. As part of that shift, companies are relying on communities as a key method for growing and engaging their user base, and moving from focusing on traditional marketing and direct sales to community growth and post-sales. Post-sale because a community member often already uses the product, so maturing them with the business is more about cultivating the user experience and turning them into community advocates than trying to convert them from a lead to a paying customer.  

Yet, despite how central community is to having a successful business, the tooling to support founders in creating communities is abysmal. Worse than abysmal, really—it’s effectively non-existent. Take, for example, open source companies. It’s routine at board meetings to report open source metrics, GitHub stars, users in the Slack group, meetup attendance, downloads, members of the mailing list, etc., but these are vanity metrics for the most part. GitHub stars vary widely by sector—e.g. a front-end framework will have 10x the number of stars of core infrastructure, making benchmarking exercises misleading. Downloads are similarly meaningless due to automated downloads that obfuscate true usage. The growth in community members on mailing lists and chat channels is clearly a positive thing, but it doesn’t provide you with a good idea of the utility of those users to the actual business.

To companies targeting developers, community building is as important as traditional marketing is to traditional markets. Without them, there is no company. For these developer-centric companies, developer relations are often the first non-100% engineering hires, and the founders and early engineers are doing some “DevRel” themselves from day one by giving talks, creating content, and hosting events. However, community cultivation, opportunity scoring, qualification, and user maturity and conversion tracking are all done ad hoc in spreadsheets, Airtable, or crammed into existing marketing CRMs that were not built for the task—or just not done at all. We hear repeatedly how much demand there is for a purpose-built community management product.

Enter Orbit. Orbit helps companies grow and cultivate communities and tie them into the business, by centralizing community members’ identity and activities from GitHub, Twitter, and Discourse into one view with clear engagement metrics. The framework is broadly adopted by the devrel community, the product is already used by dozens of developer-focused companies such as Apollo, CircleCI, and RASA, and the feedback has been astounding.   

I’m very excited to announce our investment in Orbit. The founders, Patrick Woods and Josh Dzielak, have a long history helping companies build communities. Along the way, they developed the Orbit Model, which they’ve written a lot about and has become a popular approach to community cultivation. We believe Patrick and Josh have the perfect backgrounds to understand this transition. Josh has led developer relations organizations and Patrick has led customer success, two of the critical functions needed to move a company to a community-centric model.

One of the key understandings that drives the Orbit vision is that a community is not a funnel and building a community is not about conversions, but making connections; cultivating dialog and engagement; being open and giving back; and creating value versus trying to capture it. The model has proven to be very effective, and now Orbit has built a product around it. We strongly believe Orbit is a must-have product for those building developer-focused companies. And if that’s you, we recommend you give it a try.