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Build open source communities


TLDR: Top takeaways to build an open-source community

Jimmy Guerrero’s approach to open-source community development is scrappy but resourceful.

He starts by understanding the needs of the community and pays close attention to their questions — especially those that are asked repeatedly. Then he identifies gaps and opportunities to provide helpful information and educational resources. One of the upsides of being a startup is that you’re likely to fill gaps more quickly and nimbly than a larger company.

If you create well-documented quality information, you’re not only educating community members but also building your brand as a quality, go-to source.


5 main steps to make an impact in an open-source community:


1. Study, listen, and observe the community.
2. Identify opportunities to engage and help.
3. Provide useful information with a genuine tone.
4. Document educational information.
5. Analyze what’s working and what’s not.

Jimmy Guerrero feels like he’s worked for Arrikto for much longer than a few months — a good thing, to be clear. The VP of community and marketing described the momentum of the MLOps platform company with excitement when we spoke with him in August 2021.


“If startups are done correctly, time moves fast. If not, every day is a struggle,” he says via Zoom from San Mateo.


He should know. Before joining Arrikto, Guerrero helped bring a number of enterprise software startups to market, including YugabyteDB, InfluxDB, and StrongLoop. Before that, he worked in product marketing for Red Hat, Oracle, and MySQL among other tech giants. 


“I’ve been in and around IT for 25 years and have worn many hats — tech support engineer, sales engineer, product manager, marketer, developer relations person, and co-founder,” he says. “I’ve gotten to experience all the roles in startups in the Valley with the exception of being an engineer.”

How can open-source startups stand out in a crowded pack of tech giants?

As a startup, how can you engage with an open-source community that’s largely driven by mega-tech companies like Google, Red Hat, or Microsoft? That’s the question Guerrero keeps top of mind when he joins a new software company. 


When Guerrero began working for Arrikto, the company lacked broad awareness within the Kubeflow and MLOps community. But just two months into applying his signature style of engagement, Arrikto has not only gained awareness but has become a leader in the community. 


Arrikto’s community engagement activities

These are some of the projects that Guerrero has established in just a few months:


  • Established 12 meetups in five countries that now boasts more than 1,500 members


  • Delivered three technical MLOps workshops, which garnered over 1,000 registrations

  • Launched the community-driven “Introduction to Kubeflow” series of courses and certifications available in instructor-led and on-demand formats. This first course, of many to come, drew more than 250 students in one week in November 2021. 


What are the benefits of being a small software company?

One of the upsides of being a startup is that you can identify gaps in the community and quickly fill them. Guerrero specializes in being an active and helpful member in an existing community, using information and support (answering questions, sharing resources, etc) to build awareness and a reputation as a go-to resource for community members — without a sales pitch. He recently accomplished the same thing at YugabyteDB, which resulted in over 4,000 new members joining their Slack channel in just two years.


You could call Guerrero’s approach scrappy or guerrilla — a methodology he’s fine-tuned for a number of early-stage startups. Essentially, without a hefty marketing budget, Guerrero starts by investing the bulk of his time into understanding the needs of the community. He pays close attention to their questions — especially the ones that are asked repeatedly. From there, he identifies gaps and opportunities to provide helpful information and educational resources. 


The more Guerrero learns about a company’s software and the best sources of documentation and helpful info, the more questions he’s able to answer in Slack and other community forums as well as in meetups and other events. In essence, he becomes an active member of the community and, eventually, is seen as a problem-solving leader.

In addition to engaging with the community, Guerrero pays close attention to the companies that employ fellow community members, and digs into data to figure out where unidentified site visitors are coming from using technology from BigPicture. With a handful of analytics info, he looks at Crunchbase lists, tracks web traffic to the company’s site, uses Github to help identify how invested a company is in the technology, and LinkedIn for understanding who the users of said technology are. Guerrero then connects the dots and the data to get a better understanding of the types of companies, that engage with their marketing site and educational content.


The guerrilla open-source community-building approach works in 2 scenarios

Before we dive into the details of how to become a leading voice in an established open-source community, let’s qualify the two scenarios in which this DIY approach is effective. Keep in mind that the “politics” are different in these instances:

1. Your software company created the open source-project and the community

If this is the case, lucky you! You have the opportunity to shape the community culture and conversations from the ground up. But of course, be prepared for potential competitors to enter the playing field at some point. MySQL, YugabyteDB, and InfluxDB are examples of both the technology and community being “controlled” by a single entity, at least in the beginning.

2. Your company is one of several players in the same community 

If your company is among several in the same open-source community, you’ll need to carve out your niche. This is the case for Arrikto — they created MiniKF for developers to use in Kubeflow. Arrikto is one of several companies in the Kubeflow space, including Google, Amazon, and Microsoft.

For context, Kubeflow was originally spun out of Google in 2017 and as it gained popularity, other organizations became top-level community/project organizers. 


If your company is in this situation, you likely can’t change much about the community’s organizational structure, but you can make an impact by becoming an engaged participant in the community. You have an opportunity to be a co-sponsors/co-steward/collaborator in your target open-source community.


Ready to dive into the details? Here are the five key steps in Guerrero’s approach to making an impact in an open-source community.

5 steps to make an impact in an open-source community


Step 1: Study, listen, and observe the community


Identify the primary channel(s) where your community spends time — this could be a Slack channel, a community forum, meetups, etc. Read and observe everything you can get your eyes on.


Put on your empathy cap — think of what it’s like to be in a member of the community’s shoes. Ask yourself, as a new member, what do you wish other community members would say to me? As an established member, what kinds of topics would you like to talk about? 


Does the community consistently ask for advice on how to install the software? This is an opportunity to help newbies as well as future new users. Document the critical steps on your website and point new users to the instructions moving forward.  


Step 2: Identify opportunities to engage and help

• What problems and gaps do you see the community talking about consistently?

• Where are the top-level organizers dropping the ball? And how can you solve these problems or fill these gaps? (FYI: You don’t need to ask for permission from larger players in the space to help.)

Log the answers to these questions into a spreadsheet and begin collecting data and metrics and note consistent themes, topics, and problems. Dig into your internal tools, such as Google Analytics, to observe the site pages that are visited most and which forms are filled out most?

Step 3: Provide useful information with a genuine tone


Now that you’ve taken time to listen to the community and understand their pain points, introduce yourself to the community if you haven’t already. Tell them a bit about your background and what your company does.


Then, dip your toe into answering community questions. Over time, build up your involvement in helping to solve fellow community members’ problems.


If you’re a startup, you can add value and indirectly build brand awareness by setting a positive, action-oriented tone. Answering people’s questions is free promotion for your company and a way to build your brand as a reliable source.


Take initiative and engage, but don’t turn your message into a sales or marketing pitch. You can say, “I’m from X company, and here’s a better way to solve that problem,” ideally with links to documentation or tutorials to support your suggestion.


Step 4: Document educational information


Guerrero has become so active in the Kubeflow community that he’s admittedly had a hard time keeping up with all of the new happenings. He figured other members might be feeling the same way, so he created a monthly wrap-up to summarize key takeaways. 


In addition to monthly community recaps, Guerrero has authored more than 40 blogs and videos with helpful how-to and problem-solving information. Over time, content that you publish on your company website may be able to rank in Google search so that when people search for topics such as “How to fix x problem in X software,” your content may appear.

Step 5: Analyze what’s working and what’s not

You'll be analyzing and adjusting the effectiveness of your active community engagement from day one, but it will take a few months to fully assess the results.


Also take time to analyze any educational or sales resources you feature on your website. By way of example, if you’re finding that your sales demo isn’t getting enough traction, you may need to reposition some of your current offerings. That's what Guerrero did at Arrikto — after changing the language from “demos” to “workshops,” participation spiked.


Written by
Bill Hodak
Marketing GTM
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