How I Created The GitHub For Creating Online Communities [And Hit 1,000 Users]
I’m Nitish, founder of bip.so! Before becoming a maker, I was an engineer by degree and worked as a management consultant. After a while, I felt consulting was too ‘on the sidelines’ for me and wanted to get my hands dirty building things.
Jumped into the startup world and worked on a few MVPs. Across the products I built, one pattern I found was how our team’s network was critical in accelerating our progress. At the same time, we saw the trend of #buildinpublic taking off on Twitter. Coupling these two, we started building bip.so, the place where makers can build their products while sharing stories, progress notes, and working docs with their network.
Today, we have many web3 communities and startups as our core customers due to our deep integration with Discord but we see immense value and are moving towards becoming the wiki tool for all Discord and Slack-based communities.
We are used by over 1,000 communities today cumulatively having over 100,000 users and are about to launch our paid plans by the end of the year. Currently, it is free for use for all our early users.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I was always envious of developers in a way because of what they have thanks to GitHub. A place where they can just go to find cool projects, follow them, and start contributing, and in the process build skills and a public profile for themselves. No other profession has such a platform at a global scale. We were wondering what such a platform would look like for other knowledge workers.
Around the same time, we started seeing the benefits of publishing our work to the world to enable our extended network to help us, as we were building a few other products we were testing out.
That was the root of bip.so. We wanted to build a platform where a maker can share their work with the world (selectively of course). Since the majority of knowledge work is done on collaborative documents (think Meeting Notes, PRDs, drafts of blog articles, process documents, policies, etc), the central feature of the platform was a document editor.
We added a dumbed-down git-like workflow over documents to enable anybody to contribute. Think Google Docs, but using git so that the different edits stay in different branches of the document until a moderator approves them and the main version doesn't get overwhelmed with all these suggestions on the right.
The final layer on top of this was the social layer. We had to make it easy to discover, consume, and create documents on bip and this is where we continuously innovate to make the product better.
While the longer-term vision remains the same, the initial niche we target has evolved and we are seeing success as a wiki tool for discord and slack communities now and that is where we are focussing today.
While MVPs are important, we are living in a world of abundance today and no one has time to crappy looking and buggy software.
Take us through designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
Being engineers, we wanted to build the product ground up with the first principles in mind. The focus of the first version was to make the product very useful. One of the key challenges was in designing the git workflow.
It was needed to enable large-scale collaboration, but should not add to the cognitive load of users. Users are so used to just typing something in a google doc and it being saved and git scared non-developers. So we needed to avoid scary terms and design a very natural-seeming flow for documents being branched out and merged back in. Designing that workflow was challenging and fun.
Another key design challenge was how we can make creating and consuming documents less effort. Our reels feature where users can highlight certain snippets and quote them in a post, which ends up in a feed for all members is a much-loved feature today.
Along with it, our feature to capture conversations from Slack and Discord (on user action) and seamlessly drop them in a bip document is something that users appreciate. Many of these seemingly small ideas were put together to make the experience of using bip lovable!
Describe the process of launching the business.
I don’t have a great answer here since we never really had a ‘launch’ per se. It was mostly a soft launch, talking to users 1-1, and getting signups. It took about 9-12 months before we started seeing some user love.
For a long time, our monthly burn was about $4,000 for a team of 5. We kept it that way to iterate on the product long enough to find product market fit. In a way, that was our launch strategy, keep the costs low and keep shipping and learning every week until we find user love.
Our team is completely remote and this is us during an off-site in July 2022!
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
At first, we started with the founding team’s contact book and network. We set up a few hundred mail IDs to receive notifications from our documents on bip. In addition, we reached out personally to folks who we thought would be interested, started posting about us on Twitter, and reached out via DMs on Twitter to those in our target audience to get the first few users.
If someone didn’t like our product, they would still refer us to someone who they thought would be a better fit. This was helpful in understanding our users and helped us pivot and fine-tune our positioning along the way.
For every community who tried us out, we created a support group in Discord or Whatsapp with 1 QA person, 1 engineer, me or my co-founder, and 2-3 key stakeholders for each community. That has worked out for us In terms of capturing feedback, closing support issues faster, and winning user love. Through this direct connection with users, we have been able to get good referrals from them which helps us convert more!
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Since we are completely free today, we are not profitable. However, our team is lean, burn is low, and having a second-time entrepreneur as a co-founder is allowing us to bootstrap and we are confident of bootstrapping our way to profitability.
100% of our users have come through cold outreach and organic referrals and we do not do any paid marketing, so our acquisition costs are also low!
Our short-term goal (6-12 months) is to hit $0.5M ARR to enable the team and product to be self-sustaining. That will allow us to keep innovating on the product!
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I think we didn’t scope the MVP properly and ended up spending too much time in the validation and discovery phase. If we were to do it again, we would figure out faster ways to validate the initial hypothesis and define the MVP scope better and that would have saved us at least 6-9 months!
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
- Customer.io for email marketing and automation
- Segment to capture user data and route it to all other tools
- Amplitude for user analytics
- Google Analytics for aggregate user data
- Redash for pulling data from DB for analytics
- Discord for team collaboration
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Shoe Dog, Delivering Happiness, Jobs, and similar books which go deep into how turbulent the life of an entrepreneur is. They have inspired me and kept me going through tough times.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
One huge learning for us (that we are still trying to learn and become better at) is how to validate ideas. Many times, our bias to action as entrepreneurs makes us want to quickly hack together a product or feature idea and take it to users for feedback. But there could be faster ways to learn from user feedback even before building. Run an ad to a landing page, take a Figma mockup to users, etc.
Narrow down on a niche, define the customer profile and religiously go behind them. Building for everyone is building for no one.
While MVPs are important, we are living in a world of abundance today, and no one has time to crappy looking and buggy software (unless there is absolutely no alternative and the early adopters are fine living with a crappy MVP for some time). The below image is a good example of how MVPs should be scoped.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are always looking for people who believe in our vision to join us and will always have space for motivated and driven individuals irrespective of their role (developer, growth hacker, salesperson, product marketer, generalist, etc.).
Where can we go to learn more?
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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