We dig into the fascinating world of open source platform development with Nikhil Nandagopal, one of the founders of Appsmith, in this episode of the Hacking Open Source Business podcast, hosted by Avi Press and Matt Yonkovit. Learn how Appsmith's open core approach allows developers to create powerful applications while addressing the needs of managers and CXOs. Dive into their strategy for balancing core features, user feedback, and value-added features, prioritizing data security over managed hosting. Find out how Appsmith's journey has evolved with user understanding and how open source offers better security, auditing, and self-hosting capabilities. Join us as we discuss developer retention, networking insights, and the importance of building a solid open-source community before monetizing. Don't miss this opportunity to learn from the experiences of a successful open source founder!
Some of the things you will uncover in this episode:
1. Appsmith uses an open core approach, focusing on features developers care about vs. features managers and CXOs care about.
2. Developer retention is a core metric for Appsmith, with a focus on building the open-source community before monetizing.
3. Open source offers better security, auditing, and self-hosting capabilities for Appsmith users.
4. Appsmith addresses the challenge of limited engineering bandwidth for internal tools and aims to make them as good as the best SaaS software.
5. The platform's direction evolved with user understanding, and data-critical needs influenced the open-source decision.
6. Appsmith doesn't de-emphasize code; it reuses existing building blocks in low/no-code environments.
7. Appsmith is an open-source low-code framework focused on developers, aiming to make the platform extensible and community-driven.
8. Networking is highly valuable for personal growth, learning, and connecting with like-minded individuals.
9. Appsmith has been closely collaborating with early customers to build their enterprise offering, focusing on self-serve features.
10, Many users embed Appsmith in their existing React projects, leading to a better overall experience.
00:00:00 Get to Know Nikhil Nandagopal, Founder Appsmith: Rapid Fire Questions
00:08:10 Introduction to Appsmith
00:09:55 In a Low or No Code Environment Does Open Source Matter?
00:12:32 Deciding to Open Source or Not
00:14:53 Deciding on Which Features Should be Open Core
00:21:16 Customers Paying for Your Engineering Team to Focus on Features
00:22:51 What Metrics Should Open Source Companies Focus on Until their Product is Ready?
00:26:37 Turning Down Short Term Revenue to Focus on Building the Open Source Community
00:30:50 Measuring Developer Retention
00:33:33 Talking Open Source Telemetry or Call-Home Functionality: Is it Worth Trying?
00:38:01 Choosing the Right Messaging and Positioning for Your Open Source Software
00:42:25 Learning from the Early Days of Your First Commercial Open Source Offering
00:44:39 Time Traveling Founder Advice: Network More Early on!
00:49:07 Final Thoughts:
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Don’t forget to visit the open-source business community at: https://opensourcebusiness.community/
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[00:00:00] Get to Know Nikhil Nandagopal, Founder Appsmith: Rapid Fire Quetions
Matt Yonkovit: Hello everyone. Welcome to another episode of the Hacking Open Source Business podcast. I'm one of the hosts, the host, Matt Yonkovit. Joined once again by co-host AVI Press, and today we are joined by Nikhil Nandagopal from Appsmith. Nikhil. How are you doing
Nikhil Nandagopal: I'm doing very well. Uh, thank you for having me, the show, Matt and Avi, sorry, nice to be here and, uh, to chat with you about open source and.
Matt Yonkovit: Yeah. Okay. Now Nikhil, I promise that I'd be nice, but what we're gonna do is we're gonna do the opposite of what we normally do, which is we're gonna start with a whole bunch of rapid fire questions. And I have a list of a hundred questions that I'm gonna ask you in the next 10 minutes he's doing. Are you ready,
What? No, Avi. You can't, you can't tell him. I'm kidding. No, this is true. You looked very scared, . No, he was not scared. Oh, you weren't, you weren't scared to kill, were you? No. No. Not at, no. Bring him off. Fair enough. So, um, maybe just tell the listeners where you're from. See, that's pretty easy.
Nikhil Nandagopal: Hey, uh, so I'm from, uh, Bangalore, India.
Um, I was born and raised here. I pretty much, uh, grew up over here, did all my education, uh, right here in India. Ah, well,
Matt Yonkovit: so it's late for you. Very late. So we appreciate you coming on. Um, we, we do do appreciate that. But how's the weather at this?
Nikhil Nandagopal: Uh, it's actually pretty good. It's, uh, really cool. I think it's about, uh, 23 degrees, uh, out to Celsius out there and uh, yeah, it's uh, it's really
Matt Yonkovit: lovely weather.
Ah, lovely. It's always nice when you can have a nice, you know, cool evening. Sometimes it just gets unbearably hot some places in the evening and it's hard to sleep, hard to get any sort of work done. Um, but, you know, switching tactics a little bit. You are, uh, currently the cto, is that, is that correct and founder or are you just the founder at ep?
Nikhil Nandagopal: I'm, I'm the founder and, uh, you know, chief product officer here. Chief Product
Matt Yonkovit: Officer. Okay. And so that was not your first job though, so where does a chief product officer and founder start? What was your first job?
Nikhil Nandagopal: Oh, okay. So, uh, my first job, uh, was ac as an engineer actually. So I started my career as a mobile developer.
Um, I built Android applications.
Matt Yonkovit: Oh, so does that mean your preferences for Android over.
Nikhil Nandagopal: That, that's a hotly debated topic at, uh, AF Smith. And, uh, yeah, I think, uh, because I, uh, I have been an Android developer for the majority of my career. I, I do, I do like, prefer Android .
Matt Yonkovit: Okay, fair enough. Fair enough. So going back to those first, what is your first Linux distribution?
Avi Press: Um,
Nikhil Nandagopal: oh, the first, that's really hard.
Uh, I, I think it was Suzy, I think it was open. Suzy, yeah.
Matt Yonkovit: Oh, open Suzy. Okay. Yeah. Yeah. Nice. Mine was slack wear. I've said that before on this show. Like most people are like Slack. What? Um, or if they do know slack wear, they're like, oh my God, we're so sorry. It's so hard. Right? So it's definitely one of those things.
I, I, Avi you were gonna say like, you were gonna make fun of me, weren't you?
Avi Press: Avi was, no, I was gonna, no, I was going to, um, say wow. Like, you know, you, you made it past the installation. That's, uh, very admirable. .
Matt Yonkovit: Yeah. Without f fluffiness too, if that helps. But I date myself. That's, that's, I'm very old that way.
So, uh, Nik, what, what, what sort of like movies do you watch? Do you have a favorite movie that you'd like to share with?
Nikhil Nandagopal: Oh, a favorite movie? Um, I don't know, actually. I don't, I don't really watch, uh, too many movies to be honest. Ah, if I had to, if I had to like pick a favorite, um,
Matt Yonkovit: or you could go books if there's a favorite book that you have, something that you've read recently that might be good.
Nikhil Nandagopal: Oh yeah, absolutely. Um, I think, um, I think one of my favorites is, uh, the hard thing or hard things. I think, uh, that's just, uh, a super, uh, a go-to book for me. Um, . Uh, I, I also like trying to think for movie cuz I think, you know, I should have one. Um, . .
Avi Press: It's ok, don't ask. It's
Matt Yonkovit: ok. Maybe at the, maybe as we go, a movie will pop into your head and during another, you know, when we're talking you'll be like, yes, it's fill in the blank.
You know? Um, you know, which would be great. It's always makes for great entertaining conversations. Yes. Um, and so, you know, because Appsmith is open source, um, you must. A favorite open source tool that you could not live without. So if you had to pick one of the open source tools you use on a regular basis outside of your own that you've built, like what do, what would you say is your favorite tool or the most used tool that you have?
Nikhil Nandagopal: Uh, it, it would probably be Sentry. I think, uh, you know, , it's, uh, it's, uh, the, it's the bread and butter of, uh, you know, the engineering team. Uh, just incredible platform, uh, you know, to make sure that you're able to catch every single bug. Make sure that in the, the product is like bug free. Uh, I'd say like, yeah, just really love century.
Matt Yonkovit: Oh, oh, awesome. Very nice. And so if you were going to, you know, you, you started at Appsmith, you were part of this founding team. Was there a company that you admired or that you looked at as, as an example of we want to be that company in the future? or be like that company?
Nikhil Nandagopal: Oh, for sure. I think, um, GitLab comes to mind.
Um, oh yeah. Okay. We modeled a lot of our core principles and beliefs, um, around GitLab. Everything from like our pricing model, uh, which is open core, uh, to how we thought about, you know, how, you know, What features should be paid versus what should not? Uh, this is how we thought about, uh, just how do we set the, you know, the culture of the company and, uh, what we believe in, how we operate, uh, as a remote team, uh, you know, or remote first team.
Um, and you know, all of that. I think like, yeah, GitLab is definitely a company we really look up to.
Matt Yonkovit: Yeah, they've got that great handbook that they published where it's like all of their company processes that are just public. Um, I know so many people who use that.
Nikhil Nandagopal: Yeah. Very helpful. Absolutely. It's, it's, it's super helpful for, you know, other budding startups that are just, uh, you know, trying to, uh, understand how, you know, how the world of open source works and how do you run a company that's literally building in public and, you know, trying to get it right.
Uh, I think it's f. Yeah.
Matt Yonkovit: Yeah, definitely. So, completely random question because the random generator popped this up. You're at a conference and I know that you speak at conferences, right? You've spoken at conferences. Uh, so if they are going to have you walk up on the stage and they say, what music do you want to walk up to?
What song do you pick?
Nikhil Nandagopal: Okay. Um,
Matt Yonkovit: this one always throws people for a loop. It does, it does. And it's great because we get so many interesting answers. So, you know, ,
Nikhil Nandagopal: uh, I don't know. I, uh, maybe I just wanna like, you know, uh, rock onto my own music, so, uh, maybe it would be, um, you know, something. Like ac d c probably, um,
Matt Yonkovit: okay.
I, I am an AC/DC fan. Oh yeah. . So I, I've actually seen them live like seven times, so, whoa. I think that was before I .
Nikhil Nandagopal: Yeah. I think I'll probably come on stage to rock or bust. You know, I have to go bust. I'm, oh, that's awesome. That's
Matt Yonkovit: awesome. That's awesome. And we'll close out the rapid fire questions with the most controversial of all, which.
What text editor or uh, editor are you using for code nowadays?
Nikhil Nandagopal: Uh, , honestly, so I've not, I've I've, uh, I've moved to product a lot and, uh, funnily enough, uh, um, I, I think it, it's still vs code at times, but I, I'm trying to use a lot of, uh, online IDs. So I've, uh, wow. I've actually been using Core Sandbox a lot, um, because, you know, I just like to avoid the whole setup, uh, you know, the, the whole setup process today.
So, but I just wanna make like quick edits. Uh, I just, yeah, I just use contact modes mostly. Ah, awesome.
Matt Yonkovit: See, look, IK you, you survived . You did, you survived Rapid fire mode. Isn't
Nikhil Nandagopal: that bad? I, I think you definitely took it easy on me. Uh, . Oh.
Avi Press: Oh, that's true. That's, oh, wait a minute.
Matt Yonkovit: Now I gotta, oh, that's like throwing down the gauntlet.
That means I've got a, I've got, I'm challenged for the, we're
Avi Press: gonna ask harder questions throughout the rest of the, the rest of the, if anyone,
Nikhil Nandagopal: except for the movie one, I think. I think I was just thrown with that. Like, .
Matt Yonkovit: Oh, okay. Well, well, so everybody in the future who gets those, those rapid questions where they become harder, you know who to blame.
[00:08:10] Introduction to Appsmith
Matt Yonkovit: Yes, . I'm just gonna say, so, um, so you know, it, it's great for you to join and thanks for kind of going through that rapid fire. It's a good way to just get to know someone before we talk a little bit about what they're doing and you know, what, what's going on in the space. And I know that you are here, um, to talk a little bit about.
Appsmith, which is open source. We are the Hacking Open Source business podcast. So we love to talk about open source and business, uh, the business of Open Source. And so maybe just tell those listeners who might not be familiar with Appsmith or maybe ancillary familiar with Appsmith about Appsmith.
Nikhil Nandagopal: Yeah. Uh, you know, so Appsmith is an open source, uh, platform for, uh, you know, developers to just build all of their internal tools. Um, uh, I myself have been a developer that had to build internal tools and, uh, I never really liked doing it because internal tools always got the least bandwidth. Uh, the least engineering bandwidth lease product B.
pretty much zero design methods, right? And, um, because of that, internal tooling is in a really poor state. Uh, most internal tools, uh, look really terrible. Uh, they're just not reliable. They're, they're underperformance, uh, slow and janky. Um, and, you know, that kind of set, uh, us down on this part that, you know, why can't we make internal tools as good as like the best SaaS software out there?
You know, I, it's sure that custom, but a lot of their code building blocks are the same. So what if we. Create a platform for, you know, engineering teams to actually reuse a lot of the core building blocks, um, and be able to configure them and put them together in a way that, uh, makes sense for their business.
Um, and that's kinda how absolute is bond. Um, and also kind of why it's open source, because it's super engineering focused. It's for developers, um, to just kind of be able to get their internal tool. The tooling needs out the door much.
[00:09:55] In a Low or No Code Environment Does Open Source Matter?
Avi Press: I I, I'd love to dig into this, this exact point that, um, you know, this is kind of, it's for developers and therefore it being open source is, is, is.
You know, a reasonable strategy since you're trying to almost de-emphasize the code. Like, you know, we're, we're trying to, you know, you're trying to make building internal tools easier, focus on code less and just, you know, build the tools. Um, given that you're trying to de-emphasize code, why does it being open source matter,
Nikhil Nandagopal: right?
Yeah, that's a great question. Uh, you know, uh, a couple of things here. I think, you know, we don't really trying to deemphasize code too much when you think about it. Hmm. Um, today, um, we're all used to reusing, uh, you know, different libraries and building blocks. You know, it, it's, it's not a new concept. Uh, today you actually use a lot of NPN packages or Java libraries.
Uh, you know, and, and that's pretty common and. Is really doing is just allowing you to use all of those different building blocks, uh, inside a platform that kind of gives you a very simple interface to actually interact with. These, build different building blocks. Now, why it's important for it to be open source for developers is one, uh, you know, developers, unfortunately, and most organizations don't have a lot of purchasing power.
you know, and because of that, they can't make a lot of, uh, software buying decisions. Right. Uh, but they, but they do have a lot of control over is the type of, um, you know, the type of open source packages and libraries that they can actually incorporate into their tech stack. Right. And, um, because of that, it was really important for us to create a way for developers to get their hands on a platform that they could actually.
For building all of their, you know, their all internal tooling needs without having to go through the entire buying process. That can be quite tricky, especially not large organizations in a, in a lot of organizations. It's also really important to go through security audits and, uh, other complex, uh, you know, processes.
Whereas, uh, by virtue of ITing open source, it's just really easy to audit the software. Um, you, you can skip the entire, uh, vendor procurement loop. and you can get in the hands of developers as quickly as possible. Uh, and also because Appsmith, um, is, uh, touching your core internal data, uh, it actually works on top of your production database, uh, and your core production APIs.
Uh, it's really important for it to be secure and you probably wouldn't trust a cloud provider. You know, with that core critical information, now you'd want to cellose this kind of software behind your own firewalls to ensure that you have the best security. Um, and just by being open source, it makes it a lot easier to self-host.
Uh, you know, this entire platform makes it a lot easier to ensure that it is super secure behind your own firewalls, and you don't, you can just pass, uh, you know, bypass those security audits and things like that. So, so that's kinda why you open.
[00:12:32] Deciding to Open Source or Not
Matt Yonkovit: So question on that open source side. At, at some point you were part of a discussion on founding Appsmith, or creating Appsmith at the beginning.
Okay. And maybe you were at a cafe, maybe you were sitting around a, you know, drinking coffee or tea with someone and, oh, we have this idea. Was there any dissension at that point that this is gonna be open source or not? Or was there any discussion or was it just li like you and everyone else involved in that discussion was like, it's open source, it's done.
Nikhil Nandagopal: Yeah. No, absolutely. I, I think it didn't start off as open source. Uh, when we were thinking about it, we, we thought about should it be open source? Should it be in a closed source? Should it be a self-focused platform? Should it be a cloud hosted platform? Um, you know, the, I think the, the discussion went, uh, you know, I mean, it.
As, Hey, let's try to build something that's gonna be like really useful for developers. And uh, the one thing that never changed with the journey was that it's gonna be engineering focus. It is gonna be for developers and teams. Um, and I think, uh, the open source angle, uh, and the self hosted angle, uh, all of that.
Began to fall into place as we kind of discovered, uh, you know, our users a lot better. We began to understand their use cases. Um, we began to understand the kind of data critical needs that they had. Um, and, and I think those were kind of like some of the tipping points that eventually got us to think that okay, you know, We do kind of need it to be opensourced, uh, to actually get into the hands of developers.
Mm-hmm. Uh, and the other thing that actually sparked us was that we realized that this was such a broad platform. Uh, you know, honestly, when we were planning to build it, uh, we drastically understated the, the scope of. What we were actually building. You know, we thought, uh, we, we thought that, you know, hey, it's gonna be a simple platform.
It's gonna have all these functionalities, but we never,
Matt Yonkovit: never platform, never, we never under overestimate. Right?
Avi Press: Oh gosh.
Nikhil Nandagopal: Yeah. Yeah. And, and I think, uh, you know, that, that just kind of, um, uh, kind of flip the switch in our head that, uh, this is not a platform that you can build alone. Uh, this is a platform that needs, uh, other developers out there helping you add more widgets, add more integrations, um, add more themes, uh, be able to customize it.
Be able to, uh, you know, give you great feedback on, uh, you know, what is a great developer experience for a platform like this, because we were building, uh, the platform for the majority of developers out there. Um, and, you know, all of those things eventually culminated into this decision that, hey, you know, open source a no brainer for this project.
[00:14:53] Deciding on Which Features Should be Open Core
Avi Press: Hmm. So once you decide to go down that route, so you said that, um, Appsmith has taken an open core approach to, you know, the business model around this. . And I think what's interesting with that is that I, you know, I think a lot of the other, um, or, you know, not, not all, but a lot of open core, uh, businesses that we've talked to, a lot of those core features end up largely getting offered inside of, you know, like the cloud service, the, you know, the, the, the managed version.
Because then it's much easier to, you know, federate access to it if. If I'm understanding you correctly, with Appsmith, the managed version is, is sometimes a lot harder of a sell because it's gotta talk to the prod database and so it's much more amenable to being self-hosted. So, , how do you think about open core, you know, federating access to certain kinds of custom features when the whole thing is being self-hosted?
Nikhil Nandagopal: Yeah. Um, so a couple of things here. Um, one is that, uh, inside our open core edition, so I mean one is we have to have like a, a really good separation of features and a good understanding of how are we actually planning to build this entire system, right? And that, that kind of. That actually, I think GitLab like gave us a really good, um, mental model there where we had to figure out what kind of features do developers really care about versus what kind of features do, uh, you know, uh, managers and, uh, you know, C CXO's really care about.
Right? And um, as we kind of went down that path, we realized that, uh, these features were largely like non-overlapping. Uh, most of, uh, and in the cases where they were overlapping, we were able to. Figure out a clear line or demarcation between them. Um, and because of that, uh, the way we built it is that, uh, there's this great core of, uh, you know, features that actually allow you to build any kind of application you'd like.
So, you know, if you're a developer, you have an application in your, you know, in mind you'll really easily be able to build that app with app to life very, very quickly. Right. Um, and on top of this entire core, uh, are these other tertiary features that kind of help organiz. Extract value from the core a lot, lot better.
Right? Um, and, and those features are things like, you know, having a lot more granular access control, uh, so that, you know, you can safely share it with a really large organization, um, uh, base, uh, depending on different access criteria, right? That's super complex and not really something a developer at this point at least should care about.
Or, uh, things like, uh, you know, having custom branding so that the applications look and feel exactly like what every other application here org looks like. So that you have to explain to everyone that, oh, hey, we're using this platform. And you know, this internal tool is safety use and site is really large organization.
Right? So as we kind of discovered that separation, right, we realized. Um, it was very clear the type of features that, uh, are, uh, you know, are actual buyers, um, who are not our users, our users, our developers, and our buyers are typically like, uh, managers and CXOs. Uh, we kind of figure out what features they would really need and, you know, would click for them.
And we kind of built those as a layer around this open core. And, uh, we do actually have a managed hosting platform today, in fact. But we don't, we don't really charge for it because, uh, most users don't really care too much about, uh, the managed hosting, uh, benefit. We, we will plan to charge for it in the future, but, um, we haven't focused too much on it because we've just seen that, um, managers and CXOs really typically care about the data security, so they're more than happy to actually self-host it.
Um, and what they really care about is not. Fact that we are managing it and, um, you know, guaranteeing uptime, uh, what they really care about are these additional features that help them unlock more and more value from the platform. You know, they've realized that, hey, it's really easy to build like one app, two apps, but like, no, how do we get like, you know, 30, 40, 50 apps out there and how can we spread those applications really, really quickly inside our organization so that the org can move faster?
And, and that's, that's what, you know, the, uh, you know, the business edition actually allows you to. Hmm. Got
Avi Press: it, got it.
Matt Yonkovit: Um, and real quick, so when you're talking about those features that are part of the open core and making those decisions, you said that it's really driven based on what the users or the, you know, the, the, the, the buyers could potentially want.
How do you figure that out? Like what have you found as an effective strategy to kind of. Suss out or pull the information out of the user base. Do you have some, you, you do regular questions with them, just conversations, surveys, telemetry, baked into the software, what sort of, you know, things are helping drive those decisions on what should be in the open core and what should.
Nikhil Nandagopal: Yeah. I, I think, uh, one, it really begins with, um, some kind of belief, right? Um, because, uh, if you, if you're just kind of trying to measure things and test the waters, you'll, you'll typically end up with a lot of random data, uh, is my firm belief. And especially in the open source space, uh, you know, telemetry is, it's really hard to get you.
You only get a very small sliver of your actual user be sharing a lot of data with you. Um, and of course that's why we have scarf . That's a good, but, um, uh, but, uh, you know, I think it, it really begins with, uh, some kind of hypothesis and belief and, you know, first this was the belief that, you know, developers don't have a lot of purchasing power managers do.
And uh, what we did was we actually began to work with, um, a couple of, uh, early companies that, uh, you know, adopted us pretty early on. Um, we got them onto our Slack channel. You know, we work very closely with them, and as we kind of, um, uh, you know, saw the platform improve and we saw, uh, the adoption of the platform in these companies improve, we naturally saw them reaching out to us.
Instead of us reaching out to them, they would begin reaching out to us and they would say, you know, Hey, uh, you know, we'd like priority support for these type of things. Or, Hey, you know, we'd like a feature to kind of scale this inside the org. We need more tighter access controls and, uh, things like that.
And the minute the con, we knew that the conversation, um, was coming from more of, uh, a manager or from, uh, you know, someone slightly higher up. Um, we knew that, you know, this is something that we could potentially, uh, you know, create real value from. But whenever we heard directly from developers that, you know, this is impeding my app building experience, I'm just not able to build my first application, or it's slower, uh, you know, uh, I really need this one particular feature to make my app look great.
We typically knew that that came from a place of creation and naturally from adoption. Um, and that that was kind of what we used to separate these two.
[00:21:16] Customers Paying for Your Engineering Team to Focus on Features
Matt Yonkovit: Now, out, out of the curiosity, when you get those feature requests, was there any discussion about potentially, especially early on, before maybe you had a lot of funding?
Doing those is like paid for engineering. I know some companies do non-recurring engineering where it's like, oh, you want that feature? It's $500,000. Right? And then, okay, then some company pays for it or they quote unquote sponsor. Is that something that you've experimented with?
Nikhil Nandagopal: Uh, so I mean, we, we for sure heard it.
I mean, a lot of, uh, a lot of customers actually like pitched to us. Um, but uh, yeah, it wasn't something we were very comfortable doing, uh, for a couple of reasons. Um, first off, uh, I, for a very long time, to be honest, we were only focused on our community edition and we were very clear about that. In fact, I think, you know, we are just in the, in the process of launching our business edition right now, uh, for the very first time.
Um, and, and because of. We didn't want to begin, uh, you know, kind of, uh, , um, diverting our attention to the highest bidder because that would've skewed, uh, the community interest in it. It would've kind of, um, you know, um, given people the idea that we just care about who was paying us the most to kind of solve their problems, right?
Mm-hmm. , it, it won't given us a holistic view of what engineers really want. So, uh, for a really long time we actually. just, um, staved off any kind of enterprise, uh, feature requests and we said, Hey, you know what? We're not gonna be building that year. It's gonna take a while. Um, in fact, only in our third year, uh, did we actually begin, uh, building it out and you know, now we're, we are pretty much passed our third and we, we are, begin to launch it.
Okay. Um, so that's,
Matt Yonkovit: sorry.
[00:22:51] What Metrics Should Open Source Companies Focus on Until their Product is Ready?
Matt Yonkovit: So I, this leads to an interesting question and I, sorry to interrupt, but this is a, so, so you went for three years without a commercial offering? Is that what I'm. Uh, yeah, pretty much. Okay. So at what point, like was there a goal that says like, as soon as we have X number of users, as soon as we have something, then we're going to look at commercialization?
Or was it, you know, oh, it's just time because we need to start like, you know, like thinking revenue. Was it build to a certain level? and then commercialize? Was that the thought?
Nikhil Nandagopal: Yeah, it, it, it, we didn't have a, a user metric or, you know, an option metric around, uh, commercialization. Uh, we instead hired like a platform vision that the platform had to be in a state where, uh, you know, we were happy, uh, with the pace at which, uh, we could actually, uh, you know, expand it.
because, uh, the problem is that if the platform doesn't have a very solid foundation, it can, it can be really hard to begin to extend it in different ways. And we, we kind of knew that in the future we'd want more widgets, we'd want more integrations. Um, you know, we'd, uh, we'd have to, uh, invest a lot more in custom Java code and, uh, the coding experience.
And we want all that to be really easy to. Add and customize to the platform. So we want to get the platform to a level where we knew it would be very easy for us to make those changes as well as, uh, to get to a level where we could see that, uh, a lot of, uh, users could actually extract value from it, um, without too many hiccups in the wave.
You know, because that, that was our core. We wanted to build a really stellar developer product, um, that, you know, people would be very, very happy with. Uh, and only then like actually been thinking about Monet.
Avi Press: Hmm. So was, so when you were going out to, you know, raise, you know, the additional amount of money for Appsmith for, you know, for this team, um, Yeah, I guess, did you have any pushback from investors around kind of delaying the, the, the commercialization of it so far, because Appsmith, you know, it looks very mature in terms of all the things that it can do.
Um, and I think a lot of open source projects would love to have the luxury to, to take that amount of time and build that kind of adoption and community base to go do that. But I, I, I imagine not everyone is so lucky, , so I'm curious, like, how did you sell that to investors?
Nikhil Nandagopal: Uh, so I think, uh, you know, I think, I think the trick is to not sell it and to not sell it.
um, , uh, you know, we, we, uh, we want, I mean, this isn't, uh, I mean this is a, a path you, you tread, right? And you don't, you don't wanna package it up and, uh, you know, purify it for somebody else to uh, you know, hop on your bandwagon. Cause it's gonna be a really long path. It's gonna be a difficult path. Um, and I.
What we did is we, we actually looked for people who were really excited about this part, who really believed in this part with us. Um, and, you know, who, who had a lot of great ideas, you know, how to tread this part of open source really, really well. Um, and, and because we just, you know, found the right people who, uh, you know, were excited about, uh, working with us, uh, in, uh, you know, uh, with the strategy.
Uh, you know, with this belief that this software should be open source, uh, it was honestly very easy. Uh, so the conversations weren't really like, you know, okay, you know, we should do it because open source is great and you know, it, it'll help us in X, Y, Z. Uh, it was always like, Hey, yeah, Obviously open source is great, right?
And like, you know, these are all these amazing benefits. Let's talk about, you know, how you're gonna really leverage it to like, you know, unlock more power and get into the hands of more developers and, you know, right. What would that look like? What do the product be like? Uh, so, you know, you know, that's really how we thought about it.
Like, There's no point selling something like open source. You know, you either believe in it and you're, and you're really excited about it, uh, or you don't.
[00:26:37] Turning Down Short Term Revenue to Focus on Building the Open Source Community
Avi Press: So, I guess may maybe to, to get a little bit more specific. I, I don't necessarily mean, um, you know, to open source it or to not open source it, but rather to be commercializing it with, you know, to kind of turn on some of those, you know, those enterprise features that you were talking about.
And so I guess I'm curious, like did you have opportunities to, for instance, sell something, um, that you kind of turned down because you were continuing to focus on the community edition of it? And I'm curious like how you know it. I imagine this took a lot of like, you know, sticking to your core beliefs and turning down opportunities to continue that focus.
Um, were there any particular points where you had a really compelling opportunity that you turned down to continue the focus on the community edition?
Nikhil Nandagopal: Um, I, I would, I, I'd say there are probably a few, uh, where, you know, people have reached out and, uh, you know, said like, Hey, you know, let's work together.
Let's, let's try and, uh, build, uh, you know, some of these core features out together. Mm-hmm. , and we kind of had to take a strong stance and say, you know, no, we're not gonna do that right now. So it's gonna be at least another, uh, year before we actually started to focus on this. Um, . I, I think, uh, it, it wasn't too difficult conversation to be honest, because, um, we were always clear that we were building this platform for, uh, you know, the, uh, for the long, uh, for the long run.
And, um, in order to do that, we had to build a really good platform, um, that was extremely stable, that, um, you know, had, um, that had immense developer love. Um, and I think that was always our core goal and our core focus, whether it was internally within the team, , you know, uh, externally within, uh, the community or even, you know, within our investors, um, our core focus has always been like, create something that, uh, you know, developers out there really, really love.
And, and until we were absolutely confident that, uh, you know, we have something like that, we didn't even want to think about monetization. So I think, uh, a lot of it comes down to. You know, propagating that belief in what you're building and just having that alignment with everyone that, you know, we are gonna continue to kind of build it this way.
And, um, yeah, I think we've just, uh, we've just been very transparent about that. And I think especially with the community, you'd, you'd be surprised, but, uh, I think it, the conversation with the community was a lot harder because there would be so many people who would ask for features like random access control and auto logs.
And so n wonder why we're just not building it and, you know, Consistently follow up every, you know, the two to three months and say like, you know, when is this feature happening? Oh, wow. And, and we'd have to be really transparent and just say, Hey, I'm, I'm sorry. I understand you're a slightly larger organization team and, you know, you'd see a lot of value from this, but, uh, you know, there are all these, you know, 20 other features that, um, the large communities just really struggling with right now.
You know, our priorities are there before we can get to this. And, and, you know, being really transparent about that was, was very, very important
Matt Yonkovit: for us. So your focus was really on getting the platform to a place where you felt that it was the good foundation to take you to a commercialization strategy.
It sounds like. Absolutely that, that didn't preclude you from growing the community. And so I'm curious while you're going through this, you know, a lot of companies measure their success on a r r, right? So how much a r r do we have? More a r r. More a r. More customers. Well, so when you don't have a r r to get, or customers to get, what sort of metrics or things are you looking at growing in this phase before that commercialization?
How, how are you measuring your broad. .
Nikhil Nandagopal: Yeah. Uh, that's a, that's a great question. I think, uh, you know, uh, the number one and the absolute number one thing that, you know, we live and die by is that AB Smith, uh, is our developer retention. Uh, that's, that's pretty much the main thing that we really care about.
Uh, and what this means is it's not about getting new developers. It's, uh, it's really just about making sure that. Every developer who checks out the product, like sticks around for the long run. And if they didn't like, you know, why did they stick around? Like, you know, what stopped them, uh, from actually, you know, using apps with, it's the kind of product that could pretty much help you in your pre, in your everyday work.
You could use it for like a ton of things, whether it's your, your side hobby project or your actual, uh, work, uh, for internal tools or, you know, even experimenting on, uh, you know, something, uh, on a side business if you'd like. Um, so, you know, we, we'd, we'd consistently keep asking that question and you know, we'd be obsessed.
[00:30:50] Measuring Developer Retention
Nikhil Nandagopal: Uh, you know, what is our developer retention and, you know, how do we measure it and how do we make sure the developer retention gets better? Um, and, and that would be like our core metric internally.
Matt Yonkovit: So how do you measure that? Because Obviously open source, you can download it, you can install it from source, you can get it from multiple places like, so.
I know a lot of companies have this challenge of. A million people went and got our software. Who's actually using it? How did you go about solving that? Or did you, or how, how did you come up with metrics to kind of show where you were? .
Nikhil Nandagopal: Yeah. Uh, so this is one of the cases where honestly, we don't believe that, you know, being accurate is the right answer here.
Okay. Um, and, um, we kind of assume that the, um, that what we do know is the representative of the larger audience. So whatever data that we do get, we kind of ensure that, hey, you know, that that data's actually working for us. So if we have, let's say, you know, a hundred, uh, people in the community and maybe only like five or 10 decide to share data with us and say, you know, this is, this is what apps I'm building and, uh, this I, I'm kinda sticking around.
We kind of use that as a good proxy to understand like how our, you know, uh, how our engagement, uh, with these developers, uh, is working. Uh, but we also track things. . Um, the developers in our community, uh, do they consistently, uh, you know, uh, engage with us on Discord? So our most active Discord members, uh, you know, are they continuing to be active?
Are they continuing to build? Uh, do they keep asking more questions? Do they keep contributing? And, uh, you know, kind of, um, helping, uh, not only us, But also helping other new community members actually get onboarded with their applications. Um, so that, that's one thing that we looked at. We, uh, we looked at Obviously product, in product metrics of, uh, whether people were actually getting to their first successful application or whether they were sticking around, uh, with building more applications.
Uh, you know, going forward, uh, we looked at stuff like that. Uh, we looked at, uh, our engagement on our events, uh, whether people were joining those events, whether they, they continue to engage with us, uh, on our community calls. You know, our other, uh, uh, you know, issues or education efforts. So we use things like that to really understand, uh, and also of course, the type of, uh, you know, support credits that we would get.
We look at, uh, you know, whether users were, uh, struggling with, uh, you know, the basics of. Getting set up in app building or were they, were we getting more queries around advanced concepts of, you know, how do I scale my applications? Uh, how do I build, uh, more applications faster and how do I, uh, you know, really make my applications look incredible?
Um, so that kind of gives us a good sense of where. These developers were in their entire journey, whether they were all at the beginning of the funnel or were they like more towards the end and being like solidly retained and a mix of these gave us a good idea.
[00:33:33] Talking Open Source Telemetry or Call-Home Functionality: Is it Woth Trying?
Matt Yonkovit: Now you, you realize be why I'm asking all these metrics questions because I have the metrics hat on, right?
So false metrics . So, so I have to, it's like the power of the hat compels me to ask about this stuff. Um, I'm curious a lot of companies in this space, especially when you're talking about trying to, you know, gauge usage, talk telemetry, Have you had that conversation? I'm probably sure you have, like, you know, oh, can we send stuff back?
You know, what can we collect? Um, maybe tell us, give us a little insight on that conversation and where you ended up .
Nikhil Nandagopal: Yeah, I think we've, uh, we've all, uh, had that conversation at some point in time or the other, if you're an open source product, um, Uh, I, I think, uh, you know, it, it's a tough, complicated conversation because, uh, you're constantly trying to, um, you know, balance between having more data so that you can make better product decisions.
Uh, but at the same time, um, bigger, better product, uh, that users can trust and respect, uh, you know, because it values us. Privacy and security councils. Right. And um, you know, what we did is we just fell back to our, uh, the roots and principles here. And, uh, we said that, you know, the reason we went open source, um, and the reason we built this community and the reason, um, that, you know, we are able to.
Grow through what not and whatnot is because we've just been transparent through this entire process, right? We've, we've, we transparently build the product in open. We, we transparently prioritize issues. We transparently, uh, acknowledge, you know, our mistakes, uh, as well as, you know, we celebrate our successes and.
That's where it really fell on, you know, so, uh, we just transparently tell people that, you know, uh, absolute would like to collect your, you know, some behavioral data about the product from you. Uh, this data is actually going to help us. You know, not only make the product better, but it's also gonna help us support you if you have any issues.
Um, if you don't want to do this, it's perfectly okay. You can just turn it off and here's how you turn it off. And we deliberately made that easy. We didn't, we didn't, you know, there are these dark patterns where you can just say, Hey, it's on. I'll never tell you about it. , but you can go and find it somewhere in the settings of this product, right?
And, and, uh, some people err on that side, but we want to kind of move, kind of stick to our roots and, you know, be extremely transparent. So it's pretty much the one of the first things that you see. Uh, you can directly just turn it on or off. You can save it and, you know, we will kind like, respect that option that, uh, you know, you.
Got it. But, but we also, uh, we also plan to do things to kind of encourage you to share more data. Uh, you know, like, uh, things like, uh, uh, kind of giving you, uh, we are thinking about actually, uh, giving you different services that, uh, such as an automatic, uh, email service where you don't have to set up your email, for instance, uh, and things like that.
So, you know, we, we, we believe in like, you know, encouraging people to share more, but at the end of the day, we really also have to be transparent. .
Avi Press: Yeah, we've definitely seen transparency being very key to, to this kind of, um, to this kind of discussion. We'll be very curious to maybe check back in later to see how these kinds of incentivization, um, um, strategies goes if it, if it actually gets people to share more data with you.
I think that would be a really great finding to see that a lot of other projects would benefit from. Um, one thing that I was curious to, to ask, and I think that, um, , a lot of open source companies talk about transparency a lot. I think it's, you know, a very, um, a common value that's baked into a lot of what we do.
Um, but I think that one, you know, not necessarily a mistake that we see, but just a, a thing that people definitely overlook is that, you know, just because you are going to be transparent with your community about something, that doesn't mean that it's trivial to figure out how to actually message, you know, any given thing that you might want to say to them or ask to them.
There's a lot of. You know, complexity in the details around that, if you're gonna be effective when you talk to them about stuff. And so I think one of the things that, um, where that is particularly meaningful is, you know, the positioning of the product. Um, and I think. Where Appsmith sits is super interesting because there are also, you know, other companies and products in the space that build kind of similar things that, you know, are sometimes not open source and, you know, so like a retool comes to mind, for instance, where you have this, you know, a proprietary, um, you know, of the proprietary version of what you're building.
[00:38:01] Choosing the Right Messaging and Positioning for Your Open Source Software
Avi Press: And I'm curious, um, you know, with your community, In your marketing, these kinds of things, how do you position, um, how, how are you positioning App Appsmith, um, with regards to, to these other players in the space? Are you, you know, are you, have you ever said like, you know, the open source version of X? Are you shying away from that kind of thing?
How are you generally, you know, talking to your community about, You know what Appsmith is doing in relation to others?
Nikhil Nandagopal: Yeah, that's a great question. Um, you know, one, while there are a lot of, um, tools in this space, it's actually interesting to note that our biggest competitor today, Is probably actually just vanilla react to, to be very honest.
Right. And, and you'd be surprised, uh, how low the penetration of something like low code or low-code is, especially in, in the engineering community. Sure. Um, so, you know, while something like retool, uh, you know, does come up, uh, every now and then, um, we don't like try to actively position ourselves as the open source retool because, uh, to be honest, like, you know, while retool is a good product, We, we really think that, uh, there is a lot of scope there.
Like, uh, yeah, there is a lot of scope to actually build something that is gonna be extremely engineering and developer centric. Um, and, and that's kind of why we don't really. think too much about retool or try to position ourselves as the open source retool. In fact, I don't think you'll ever see that written, uh, you know, on Appsmith.
Um, and, uh, you know, when people ask us like, you know, how do you get to position yourself over here? Uh, the main thing that I tell them is that we position ourself as an open source low-code framework. Um, and now what that. Me and for developers, right? And what that really means is that, um, one, uh, we really want to build this framework with the entire community.
Um, we, we don't wanna build this alone. Uh, we want to build it in a way that is super extensible so that, uh, different members can actually come and contribute different parts of the product. Uh, a lot of projects that are open source are actually really hard to contribute. , right? Um, and we wanna change that.
We wanna make it really easy for you to actually modify the platform so that it can actually suit your custom needs. Um, we also want the entire platform to be very dev developer-centric. Um, one of the, one of the issues today with like no code, low code is that because it, it so drastically reduces the barrier to actually building applications.
You tend to get distracted by all these different. User personas that come into your applications, right? You have like product managers, technical product managers, technical support heads, um, a whole plethora of, uh, these different personas. We're trying to use your tool and because of that, you try to create the lowest common denominator, um, tool that can solve all of these different, uh, you know, use cases and user types.
But for absence, we've always been very clear. Uh, it's gonna be primarily focused on, uh, engineering folks. And it's, and because of that, we actually don't even shy away from writing code and absolute, in fact, we have one of the best coding, uh, editors of pretty much any local tool out there. Uh, simply because we actually believe that there are some things just better done, you know, via code.
Um, And that's the other part of, uh, you know, the puzzle where, uh, people come to abstinent because they see that it's genuinely a much better developer experience. Uh, another example of this is you can actually sync all of your absolute applications to a Git repo, uh, you know, create like, Commits, uh, on a separate branch.
Um, raise a pool request, have it reviewed by one of, uh, you know, uh, the, uh, the engineers in your team have it merged in, um, and, uh, you know, have it automatically deployed just like you would in a normal C I C D process. And that's pretty much, that's kind of unheard of most low code tools, right? Like you, you don't see that really often, uh, or that being like a strong use case if you know you're the customer support head who's trying to.
A tool or you know, if, uh, if, uh, you're a product manager in, uh, one part of the company who's trying to hack accelerate together. Um, and I think that's kind of what's drawn the community towards us because we've just been so focused on like open source, making it a framework that's really extensible and, you know, just keeping it really developer-centric, um, by really enabling it to write like code in a much better, faster, easier manner.
And even maintaining that code. Um, and that, that's, that's really why, you know, people see us as being really.
[00:42:25] Learning from the Early Days of Your First Commercial Open Source Offering
Avi Press: Um, so I just, just to make sure I am, uh, on the same page about, um, kind of where things are before my next question. So are you about to turn on, um, your. Like enterprise, uh, um, kind of the, the non-core, the, the part that you're charging for. Is that something that you have started doing or about to do? Or where, where are you
Nikhil Nandagopal: exactly?
So we, we've been doing this for about, uh, the last, uh, three to four months. Uh, we've been working with a few, uh, early customers, uh, you know, on a, uh, in a very touch, kindly basis. Uh, very close relationships where we're just trying to build it out together. But, uh, the platform's kind of almost ready now and we're gonna be launching it soon.
You're gonna be able to sign up on your. , uh, you know, use the best edition without having to ever speak to someone, because that's another thing we don't even believe is that, uh, you know, the entire platform should be really self-served, uh, and very easy to get started with without having to, you know, go through like a boring sales call.
Matt Yonkovit: you for building for introverts who don't like to talk to people. . Yeah.
Avi Press: That's very helpful. Um, so I guess you know, now that you're, now that you're a couple months into it, um, were any of the either assumptions or like hypotheses that you were testing, were any of them wrong that you like learned from already?
Nikhil Nandagopal: I, I, I don't, I'm not sure if any of them were wrong, but we actually discovered a lot of things that we didn't know before , which were, which were pretty interesting. Um, one of the things that we discovered was, uh, you know, that, uh, a lot of, uh, users actually want to just. Uh, not build a standalone application but wanna extend their existing applications.
And, and that was kinda like an eyeopener for us because, uh, we actually, uh, learned that a, you know, big part of the community was, uh, using apps with, as part of their existing React projects. They were just embedding it, um, you know, in an eye frame. Um, and kind of like, uh, you know, they gave, they gave up on that React project, maintaining it and, uh, making it better.
And, and they just said, Hey, you know, we'll, we'll do the rest of it with, uh, Appsmith. And that, that was a pretty interesting insight and people actually wanted a much better experience of, uh, of doing. . Hmm.
Avi Press: Yeah. That's interesting. That's interesting. Yeah. I'm sure there like definitely lots of, uh, product usage, um, insights that will come from the second you start, you know, really putting it out there like that for people to get started.
[00:44:39] Time Traveling Founder Advice: Network More Early on!
Avi Press: Matt, did you have
Matt Yonkovit: something next? Yes, I do. You know, we, we've only got a few minutes left and so, you know, I, I, I have to ask the most important question of the day, and that is, do you believe in time travel.
Nikhil Nandagopal: Um,
Matt Yonkovit: because I'm asking this for a very specific reason. Okay. . And the specific reason is I always like to ask if you could go back in time and visit the younger version of yourself and give them advice on, you know, maybe something to avoid, something that they should focus on early on. Something that you wish the younger version of you, maybe five years.
Would be able to do because eventually if we do crack the time travel thing, we can always go back, listen to these, and then go back and tell younger you, this is what older you said. But for those who who don't, maybe they can learn from, you know, what, what you would tell yourself. .
Nikhil Nandagopal: Okay. And this is, uh, considering that I wouldn't be destroying the timeline, right?
Matt Yonkovit: Yes. This is a, this is a parallel pocket universe or something, I dunno. Timeline intact. Yes. Yes. Thank you for going down that route because that just you. Yeah.
Nikhil Nandagopal: Yeah. Okay. Um, uh, one thing I probably, uh, tell myself is to, uh, network a lot more. Um, it's, uh, it's something that I picked up a lot later in life, uh, and, uh, I, I only realized it's, uh, value much, uh, much, much later on.
Um, uh, I think networking is super, super important because, uh, it, it gives you a pool of people that, uh, you could actually draw, uh, immense amounts of information from a pool of like-minded people that can actually push you. . Um, and, uh, you know, I know there's this like, uh, quote that, you know, you're like the, the average of the, you know, five people that you hang out with, uh, and whatnot, but.
I really feel that, uh, by networking, uh, more with, um, you know, people who have done credible things, you, you end up learning so much more and, and kind of pushes the bar of your awareness in so many different aspects, uh, that you would've never thought about before. Um, and, and, you know, it, it just helps you, uh, grow so much faster.
And, and that's something that we really believe in. You know, I personally really believe in that. Uh, it's not where you are, it's, it's how quickly can you grow, uh, to where you wanna be. And, um, and I think that networking, uh, is a huge lever in that aspect. So yeah, definitely like network a lot more. Yeah,
Matt Yonkovit: that, that's good advice.
But in the engineering spaces, there's a lot of people who don't like to talk to other people. They're like, ah, social interaction is very bad, . Um, so any quick advice on maybe, you know, what they could do to network?
Nikhil Nandagopal: Um, I, I think, uh, one great tip here would be, uh, to just, uh, attend, uh, a lot of, uh, engineering conferences.
Uh, it's a great place for networking, uh, with a lot of likeminded people. Uh, typically engineers don't like networking. It's like, it's like speaking, it's like speaking in different languages to people who can't understand the language you're speaking, right? Um, but uh, at these conferences, the great thing is that you get to meet, uh, engineering folks at different levels, right?
You get to meet product engineering folks, uh, who have done engineering before, but are now in the product domain and thinking a lot more about product. You get to meet, uh, sales engineering folks, uh, you know, that are now. Focused on setting software and, you know, using their engineering skills to actually do great demos.
Uh, you know, or like automate, uh, things in the sales pipeline. Uh, you get to meet, uh, you know, uh, leadership folks that are thinking about, uh, how to, what are the best practices for, uh, some of the engineering pro, uh, processes that you already follow internally, uh, you know, and what are the, what could you potentially do to actually improve those processes?
Uh, so I think like conferences are like one of the best places because, uh, there's a lot of great ice breaking that happens over there. You are typically, uh, in a setting where there's a great engineering topic, you're, you're talking to people about something that you already have some understanding of.
There's a great place to ask questions and people are like very open to actually interacting with you and answering your questions. Uh, so that would be my d networking. That's
Avi Press: a great one. Is there, I, I guess one just very small follow up, is there a particular conference that, uh, is like a standout favorite of yours, whether, uh, past or future that you're looking forward to?
Nikhil Nandagopal: Uh, there, there, uh, I think, uh, in, uh, in Bangalore, India, uh, there used to be Dr. Con, uh, that I, I would like, you know, pretty much, uh, ly attend like every single year. Uh, but lately, uh, the FO conferences has, has also been like, uh, really good in that, uh, aspect and I'm, I'm really looking forward to. Nice.
Avi Press: Very cool.
[00:49:07] Final Thoughts:
Matt Yonkovit: Awesome, awesome. Now, by the way, I don't know if anybody realized this, but I'm totally at risk of potentially being canceled by all the engineers on all of my socials because I classified all engineers as not being social. So, , that was not intentional . It was. It was. It was a joke. I'm sorry. Um, Do the opposite, like, and subscribe to this channel.
Please, please. Absolutely, absolutely. Nikal, I wanna thank you for hanging out with us today. We really enjoyed the time. Hopefully this was, this was enjoyable for you as well. Um, we do appreciate your insight into, um, the opensource space, what Appsmith is doing, and of course, answering all of those rapid fire questions.
Nikhil Nandagopal: Thanks. Uh, thanks so much Matt. It was really great, uh, speaking with you and uh, thank you so much for having me on the show, uhk speaking to you as well, Avi.
Matt Yonkovit: Alright, likewise, likewise. Until next time, we hope all of you will follow us and you know, don't forget to subscribe. Thanks later everyone.