Community-led growth (CLG) has emerged as a popular mechanism for driving business, as companies strive to foster an ecosystem of fervent users that draws in new customers organically, serves as a support network for millions and bangs a company's drum completely off its own volition.
Businesses such as Stripe, Slack, Canva, Notion and Figma have grown substantially off the back of their respective communities, which in turn has led to a slew of new technologies dedicated to helping such businesses harness their fanbase, unearth their biggest advocates and keep that CLG flywheel spinning. Investors have taken note, too: In the past year alone we've seen companies such as Commsor raise a $50 million Series B; Common Room secure $52 million; Threado draw in a $3.1 million seed round; and, more recently, Talkbase raise $2 million to power user-led growth for any company.
Now, another new company has entered the community-led growth fray with a slightly different approach to the existing players, one focused on developer communities and with open source at its core.
Founded out of Berlin in 2021, Crowd.dev brings together data from myriad developer communities including GitHub, Discord, Slack, Twitter, DEV and Hacker News, and serves up analytics and workflow automations on top of this aggregated data.
For example, a developer tool company might want to understand its users better and build relationships both with them and their employers to hone their product and find a better product-market fit. This might involve gathering and viewing all direct and indirect feedback in a single interface, or using one of Crowd.dev's premium tools such as Eagle Eye, which leans on natural language processing (NLP) to identify community discussions ripe for engagement.
Eagle Eye app. Image Credits: Crowd.dev
To help take things to the next level, Crowd.dev has just raised €2.2 million ($2.2 million) in a pre-seed round of funding led by Seedcamp and Lightbird, with participation from Possible Ventures, Angel Invest and a handful of angel backers. On top of that, the German startup has open sourced its core platform, a move that goes some way toward differentiating itself in an increasingly crowded space.
But first, it's worth considering why developer-focused firms might need a dedicated platform to steer their community-led growth efforts, given that the incumbents can already be used for any community of users -- including developers.
Crowd.dev CEO and co-founder Jonathan Reimer argues that the word "community" has a broad gamut of connotations, and could mean anything from social media influencers to online learning groups. Ultimately, a "one-size-fits-all" approach doesn't work -- a company laser-focused on attracting developers will probably need different tools than a company seeking to attract creators or crypto fans.
"There has been hype around community, but also disappointment regarding new tools made to make community-building easier," Reimer explained to TechCrunch. "I have tried [existing] tools at previous jobs and was never satisfied as they didn't match my use case. Similar to CRMs (customer relationship management software), we believe there will be a verticalization in the community software space. We’re the first going in the developer space."
This "verticalization" is important in terms of building a platform that people actually want to use. In the case of Crowd.dev, which is aiming to create a product that suggests actions that a user can take based on developer community data, specializing in this way allows it to better tailor its product and "build more reliable model," as Reimer puts it, for example in terms of detecting feedback or evaluating sentiment.
"Achieving this for all kinds of communities at the same time would be incredibly hard," Reimer said. "Developer communities have astonishing similarities, and especially for open source communities, we have access to a ton of historical training data."
Crowd.dev analytics. Image Credits: Crowd.dev
The open source factor
Open source communities have long played a fundamental role in driving adoption of software, which is partly why a growing number of companies choose to make their products available under an open source license. If developers are able to tinker with software themselves with minimal friction, contribute some code and even add new features, they are more inclined to use the software in their places of work -- and thus, they are more inclined to convince their employers that it's worth paying for premium features on top of the open source product. And this is the main driving force behind Crowd.dev's focus on open source development communities, and its reasons for open sourcing its own platform.
"We believe that an essential tool for developer-focused, open source companies -- as community management is -- should be open source itself," Reimer said.
Transitioning to an open source platform may hold other benefits, too. For example, enterprises seeking greater transparency and control over their data can host Crowd.dev on their own infrastructure, and then pay Crowd.dev to unlock access to unlimited users and integrations. Or companies can elect to pay for the hosted incarnation of Crowd.dev, which includes a basic free tier in addition to more advanced enterprise plans.
In its short lifespan so far, Crowd.dev claims a fairly impressive roster of customers, such as The Linux Foundation and Microsoft, a company that has increasingly embraced open source over the past eight years after a somewhat frosty attitude toward community-driven software in years previous.
Reimer said that Microsoft uses Crowd.dev to operate Flatcar Linux, a Linux distribution for container workloads it now operates after acquiring developer Kinvolk back in in 2021.
"They use Crowd.dev mainly to analyze community members' engagement, spot relevant stargazers on GitHub, and create reports," Reimer said.
In truth, Microsoft and its big tech ilk won't be typical users, due to the fact that most of Crowd.dev's target customers will be smaller companies seeking growth. But still, it's an indication of the mindshare that Crowd.dev has managed to secure so far, with "several hundred organizations" joining the company's beta product since March this year.
"Eighty percent of our users are companies between seed and Series B that see community as one of their critical growth channels," Reimer said.
With a fresh €2.2 million in the bank, the company said that it plans to add more applications and data integrations to the mix, before making it generally available to the public.