How to use Open Source to grow your business

Yesterday we launched our project and it became GitHub’s trending repo №4 in 23 hours.

Acquiring new customers is one of the most challenging objectives for a small outsourcing business. Different companies deal with this issue in an number of ways. Some maintain relationships with the existing customers and don’t care much about expanding. Some assault Upwork with countless proposals in a hope of finding a nice client. Some open up a sales department and have their employees make dozens of cold calls and send hundreds of emails day after day; however, converting leads into customers is a numbers game, we all know.

There is another way. It’s risky, complicated, but truly captivating and inspiring.

Prehistory

Throughout my career path I’ve been working in small companies and have seen how they develop and handle the sales process. There were both — success and failures. And there was enough time for me to analyze which techniques work well and which are not.

One of the companies I worked at had a fairly long period of stagnation — we had many employees, who were not engaged in any external project. We were spending hours on Upwork sending proposals, but it was inefficient and not really rewarding. At that time, we decided to design a ThemeForest admin template. The development was going hard… we had created an uncountable number of versions. None of them went through the ThemeForest quality test (and even wrapbootstrap).

But we didn’t give up and chose a different path. We made the project completely non-commercial and uploaded the source code to GitHub. Now it’s been over a year since we’ve done it. The project has over 7,000 stars. It’s been followed by a sequence of other successful open-source products, and more importantly by a rapid growth of the company — the stagnation was left well behind. There was no need in searching for new clients anymore: our inbox was filled with wonderful proposals.

In the end of the last year I had left that company and a month ago I started my own business. I’m going to implement the promotion techniques of using and promoting open-source products, which I’ve learned along the way. And also I’m going to share them with you.

The GitHub Algorithm

So, first of all, you need to decide what kind of a product you are going to build. There are three obvious, but really important factors, that can bring your product to success. Your product has a chance to succeed if it has at least one of them.

  • Utility. People love products, which solve problems and make their life easier.
  • Trend. Every now and then not very useful product gets hype just because of the “hot” theme or trendy technology.
  • Design. Some products seem to be exactly the same as hundreds of others , but become popular because of its beautiful interface

You have a great product, now you need to get some attention. How?

First, you need to create an eye-catching Readme.

Readme file is the first thing people see when they open your repository. Some will never run it, but if the Readme is cool enough, they still may click on the much-wanted star and make your product a tad more popular. Readme has to be useful and look nice. Add juicy graphics to describe the product and don’t forget instructions on how to setup and use it. Well-thought-out description increases chances of success; look how we do it.

Now you have an awesome product and a fantastic Readme. That’s when the most important part comes in.

GitHub’s trending page is viewed by thousands of people every day. If your product gets there, it has a real potential to become popular. To get there, your product needs to have at least (number is different each day) 130 stars, the more the better. The goal is to climb high on the list and to stay there for as long as possible.

Here are some tips to help you to get on the list:

  • Think about the resources you are going to use for promoting. Reddit, Hackernews etc. are useful tools, but keep in mind that each resource has it’s own, usually informal, posting rules.
  • Ask friends. The more friends will click on the star, the shorter your path to the trending list.
  • Choose the day. Keep in mind, GitHub has fewer views during weekends. While the best launch days are: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. The resources you use to promote your product will also affect the choice.
  • Choose time X. You have 24 hours — your friends live in one time-zone, while Reddit (or any other platform) users are located in a totally different time-zone. You need to take it in consideration.
  • Feedback loop. Take every chance to answer questions and actively communicate with audience. The higher quality communication will be established with the audience, the more rewarding will be the result.

What’s next?

With a popular open-source repo, you can achieve a lot. Don’t stop! Try ProductHunt to reduce the distance between the product and the customers. Grow the community around your product and word-of-mouth will surely work out. Use the product for your portfolio — you didn’t have to sign an NDA this time!

Our latest project became GitHub’s trending repo №4 in 23 hours. That’s the best evidence that the techniques we describe work in a real world.