The first line of code for Ente was written on March 25th, 2020.
The product, while centered around theme of creating a safe space for photos, pivoted multiple times. From a hardware device, to a self-hosted solution to finally what Ente is today.
Then went back to building, because we thought
If you build something good, they will come.
If you build something good, and they hear about you, they might come.
We hate noise, and hate making noise. So we chose to build quietly. This comfortable silence gave us the headspace to craft a high quality product. But it also cost us growth, and more importantly, the freedom to deliver more.
Distribution is queen; product is king.
Now that the obvious has dawned on us, how do we move forward?
We aren't sure of the optimal path, but there is inspiration to be drawn from peers like DuckDuckGo and ProtonMail. Their marketing has been so good that they managed to spread awareness and increase their addressable market.
Gabriel Weinberg, founder of DuckDuckGo, has documented a generic, but actionable framework for growth in his book called "Traction". Although the book was published in 2015, it is amusing how the growth channels he documented are still relevant.
Engineering as marketing
Out of the 19 channels Gabriel identified, what struck a chord with us was the chapter on using Engineering as a marketing channel.
We essentially had to serve a free tool that could add value to the life of our potential customers, and hope for some of them to discover our paid service for Photos.
As luck would have it, we didn't have to start from scratch. We already had an open-source Authenticator app that we built to cure our own itch and to serve as a proof-of-concept for a multi-tenant architecture. This was already providing value to some customers. So we decided to prioritize improvements to this product and launch Auth v2.
Now since we don't have analytics to help with attribution, it's hard to say how much all this helped. But there has been a spike in the number of paid customers who have signed up for Photos since.
A proxy indicator is perhaps the growth in the repo's stars.
While we have to find a better way to measure the effectiveness of our efforts, this was the first time that we were focusing on growth, and we're happy with the results.
The other learning was that given our love for building, Engineering is a channel that we should keep leveraging.
Documenting our journey as we try to demystify growth seemed like a good way for us to get better, faster; while possibly entertaining you in the process. Over the next few months we'll publish retrospectives for these experiments we run.
There's a lot for us to learn, and for now I'll leave you with this quote from Seth Godin that I felt was gold.
Your emergency is not a license to steal my attention. Your insecurity is not a permit to hustle me or my friends.