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Chatwoot / Communications / India

How we Developed an open source customer communication platform - Story of Chatwoot

Hello ! Who are you and what are you working on?

We are Chatwoot and we are building an open source customer communication platform as an alternative to Intercom, Zendesk etc. We help enterprises to manage their customer data with out exposing it to third parties.

chatwoot founders and development team

What motivated you to get started with? How did you come up with the idea?

We started Chatwoot in 2016. A couple of our team members were working in Freshworks before. We identified providing customer support over instant messaging channels like Messenger or Twitter as a problem worth solving. But turned out it was not big enough and people were not interested to paying for our solution. We shut down the project in 2017.

Despite the setback we continued to watch the customer support SaaS with great interest. In 2019 based on a random discussion, we decided to open source the original code base with some minor additions to it and from there on Chatwoot really took off.

Can you tell us the story of your business from idea to where you are now?

The original product was started in 2016 and was later shut down in 2017. We ended up open sourcing the solution in 2019, ended up being viral on hacker news . From there on Chatwoot has been growing constantly. Our git repo have over 7k stars and 100 contributors from all ver the world. The software has been translated to over 25 regional languages by our community.

We have over 1000 websites using our live chat solutions. We have business building solutions on top of Chatwoot, leveraging it as a communication stack. We are continually investing into Chatwoot to make it usable for everyone.

What has been your biggest failure or struggle?

Picking ourself up from the failure of our initial launch 2016 was quite something. Its pretty disheartening to pour all your love into a product and it might not pick as much tractions as you anticipate. But we are pretty happy that were were able to move beyond that and reach where we are at now

How many hours a day do you work on average & can you describe/outline your typical day?

We try best not to over work ourselves. Its a typical 40 hour work week, with a flexible schedule based on individual preferences. We try to keep as much of our communication asynchronous, except for an optional 15 minute daily sync up calls.

A typical day is a mix of 3-4 hours of focused engineering / product work. And the remaining time is usually spent over customer communications, community engagement and miscellaneous chores.

And what has been your biggest achievement or success?

Building a product that people love is pretty hard. We received multiple feedbacks from the community, about how Chatwoot helped them during the pandemic. Our open-source solution helped them to switch from the traditional channels to Whatsapp, Facebook, live chat etc pretty easily. This in turn helped in saving jobs and businesses.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Apart from the codebase being open, we also make a lot of our business decisions very openly. We also let the community take active part in this discussions and decisions.

This in turn have built a certain amount of trust in the Chatwoot brand. We haven't done any outbound marketing efforts for Chatwoot so far. Its mostly the word of mouth from our community thats been bringing in us our customer.

Also the open source aspect gives a lot of flexibility for our customers which can't be matched by the traditional SaaS vendors

What do you think about using Content Marketing or Blogging as a source of lead generation? Did you use it for Chatwoot's Marketing? What was the result??

We are big fans of quality content and strong believers in content marketing as an organic way to grow your business. But it usually take some time and investment before your content strategy starts to pay off. We have been investing in content. from the start of chatwoot. But its still early days for us with the growth from content.

Describe the process of launching the business.

There wasn't exactly a formal launch process for us. Opening the codebase on Github just happened randomly over a discussion . But we have leveraged platforms like Hackernews, Betalist, ProductHunt etc at various stages to let the community know about Chatwoot.

Did you use Betalist or PH or other Startup Launching Platform for Launching ? How was that experience ?

The Hackernews post was instrumental in triggering our growth. We have had fair amount of success with our launches of Betalist, Producthunt etc.

What’s your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

We primarily focus on our enterprise licenses and support plans to grow our revenue. We also provide a cloud hosted solution for people who don't want to deal with the hassles of self hosting.

But our community edition will always remain free and open-source.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced and obstacles you’ve overcome? What are your goals for the future?

Staying motivated during the period between the inception of Chatwoot to the stage where it took off was pretty hard. But since the team know each other for a long time, we tend to be a good support system for each other.

Our goal for future is to turn Chatwoot into the gitlab of customer communication space.

Let’s talk about your marketing strategy -- how do you market Chatwoot and grow the service?

The open-source aspect has been the key driver for our growth so far. The community loves the freedom they enjoy with Chatwoot. The word of mouth drives the growth even further.

We also invest into content marketing through our blog posts and videos.

Do you have a model to get product feedback? What’s your favorite way to get product feedback? Did product feedback help you get the results you hoped for ?

Yes, we get feedback through Livechat, emails, Github issues and our discord channel. Github issues has been our favourite channel for product feedback, since they are more actionable.

The community feedback has definitely played a significant role in shaping Chatwoot into what it is today. We are also thankful to our open source contributors who ended contributing to some of the critical pieces of Chatwoot.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Being engineers, we imagined building a business was all about building a really good product and the user would just come by. But spending more time in this process have made us learn that building a successful business requires much more than engineering and product.

The various verticals like marketing, sales, design, product etc has to work as one cohesive unit for one to build a successful business.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Github, Heroku, AWS, Netlify, Google Cloud, Notion, Discord

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

The startup content produced by YCombinator has been instrumental in our education.

Also being a part of the rails community, we are ardent followers of the content produced by Basecamp. They have been instrumental in shaping up our work and culture.

What’s your advice for fellow aspiring entrepreneur who are just starting out?

Building a successful company is often a pretty long journey. If you look at Airbnb as an example, they started 2008 and it took them until now to go public.

So gear up for a 5-10 year journey if you are starting out. Pick the people who you want to be alongside wisely and plan your work judiciously so that your don't run out of steam.

About The Author : Binu Mathew

Binu Mathew is the CEO of itmarkerz technologies. It has been catering to the custom software needs of SMEs in India and abroad since March 2011. Binu started his programming and freelance carrier at the age of 17. over around 13 years of experience in startups, startup visas around the globe, and Blogging. You can reach him on Twitter or LinkedIn