6 Tactics for a Successful Open-Source Launch

Kira Colburn
Oct 12 · 6 min read

Launching any new product, feature or project takes time and careful planning in order to achieve the greatest impact and reach the largest audience possible. At Work-Bench, we’ve helped a number of our early stage, open-source startups think through and execute their launch process, between public demos at our 10,000+ person NY Enterprise Tech Meetup group and developer Happy Hour events.

Thanks to this experience and inspiration from some of the top open-source products out there, we’ve come up with a repeatable playbook on how to make a splash during an open-source product launch.

Top 6 Communications & Marketing Tactics

Create a landing page for the product and link to it on your company website: Don’t depend on the GitHub repository as the only face of your product — create a landing page that outlines the problem the product solves, specific features, a bit about your company, etc. Link back to the GitHub repository to make it easier for your future users to find.

Write a blog post: This post should be your stake in the ground for the product’s launch, and outline the problem it solves, specific features, your credibility as its creators, etc. This might be a bit repetitive of the landing page, and that’s ok. Include contact information, a link to the landing page, and a link to the GitHub repository.

Post the blog post across all of your social media channels: Even if you don’t have a big following, promoting your product on social media (LinkedIn and Twitter primarily) will help generate additional buzz and inbound.

Create a demo video or host a live webinar (recommend to do one or the other, not both):

  • Demo: Record and post a demo to YouTube so users can get a visual understanding of how the product functions. Link the YouTube page in the blog post and on the landing page.

Infiltrate existing developer communities: Take advantage of existing online communities and platforms to reach your target audience. Post to Stack Overflow, Reddit, Hacker News, Discord, Quora, any relevant Slack communities you’re in, etc. Join relevant forums for people who fall into your product’s target audience and become an active participant by answering questions and, when appropriate, suggest your product as a solution.

  • Pro tip: Before launch day, email all of your friendlies across angel investors, former colleagues, influential industry people, etc. with a heads up on the launch and ask for their support in spreading the word! Share a staged version of the announcement blog post and a pre-canned social media post as a helpful starting point for them to expand your reach.

Create a checklist for launch day: Have a checklist so you and your team know who is posting what, where they’re posting it, and then also have them block time on their calendars to engage in the discussion on comment threads.

Some additional things to think about:

  • Are you speaking at any conferences or events near the time of launch? Infuse messaging about the launch into your talk.

Case Study: Authzed’s Open-Source Launch

Our portfolio company Authzed took a page out of our playbook when they open sourced their production-ready implementation of Google’s Zanzibar paper (called SpiceDB), which powers their applications permissions service.

On launch day, they were on Hacker News’ homepage for 10+ hours and got 500+ stars on GitHub. Check out the launch materials that got them there:

GitHub Stars: How It Went vs. How It’s Going
Launch Day (9/30/21) vs. Following Week Post-Launch (10/4/21)

Additional Research Into Successful Open-Source Launches

Dbt Labs

The community of companies and data practitioners using dbt is a core part of what drove the company’s success. There are ~5,500 companies using dbt and 1,000 dbt cloud customers who pay for centralized access through the web-based interface.

New York-based mattress company Casper was one of the first well-known startups to use dbt back in 2016. In CEO & Founder of dtb Labs Tristan Handy’s own words:

“Casper was the first well-known startup to bet on dbt, way back in 2016. Their team included Scott Breitenother, Duncan Fraser, Danny Brown, and Michelle Ballen. They dealt with the early shortcomings of dbt, believed in its potential, and started to tell other New York startups about what we were building. When Danny went to Starry, he took dbt with him. When Michelle went to Billie, she took dbt with her. When Scott started Brooklyn Data, he made dbt a core part of their tooling, now rolled out to dozens of companies. All of them gave us feedback, talked about the product at Meetups, and participated in the dbt Slack community.” (Source)

Dbt Labs now serves SeatGeek, WayUp, Betterment, JetBlue. The secret to successfully launching the dbt community came down to the following:

  • Close one or two early, well-respected local companies.

OpenTracing by Lightstep

Lightstep donated their OpenTracing project to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation’s (CNCF) in 2016, which has since grown to be the de facto open standard for distributed tracing.

Given there were different standards for distributed tracing, Lightstep decided to join forces with leading firms in order to drive further adoption of the product across the wider developer community. The leadership team at OpenTrace joined OpenCencus (a competitive open source tracing project originating from Google) to consolidate their efforts and create OpenTelemetry as a single standard for service instrumentation.

The strategy was a success for OpenTelemetry as it’s now the largest and most active project within the CNCF, after Kubernetes.

“This was a real change, and it had a substantial impact on both perception and participation. Participation spiked — total contributions quickly surpassed both preceding projects. We didn’t go from fourteen to fifteen, we went from two to one.” (Source)

If you’re interested in diving into more open-source successes, check out these resources:

If you’re an early-stage enterprise founder building an open-source product or thinking about open sourcing your product, reach out! Thanks to Priyanka Somrah for all her help on this post!

Work-Bench

Work-Bench is an enterprise technology VC fund in NYC.

Work-Bench

Work-Bench is an enterprise technology VC fund in NYC. We support early go-to-market enterprise startups with community, workspace, and corporate engagement. Sign up to get our digest of top content & industry news weekly: work-bench.com/enterprise-weekly

Kira Colburn

Written by

Head of Content at Work-Bench, leading the firm’s content vision, strategy, and production!

Work-Bench

Work-Bench is an enterprise technology VC fund in NYC. We support early go-to-market enterprise startups with community, workspace, and corporate engagement. Sign up to get our digest of top content & industry news weekly: work-bench.com/enterprise-weekly