It was only a year ago that we moved to a permanent office of Frappe, which is located in a proper business complex. Before that, Frappe used to reside in Bandra's residential complex. It was an interesting and homely place, but didn’t have a business environment around. There are some fond memories of the place. However, neither the space, nor the size of the community motivated us to plan community meet-ups there.
Frappe's first office in a residential complex
However, after Frappe moved to a proper business complex, the business and the business size started moving towards the brighter end. Our initial base of the customers kept growing. Frappe and ERPNext kept getting feature-rich and stabler than ever. We had the first ground-breaking version release called version 4, where Frappe’s app model was introduced. A decent no. of people started collaborating on the Frappe’s community forum. Some of these positives motivated us to announce a first meet-up in our office.
We floated the online registration on Meetup groups. Around 40 people signed up. This was exciting for us. On the day of the event, we started making space for 40 people. Prakash checked with the office next door who were kind enough to offer us extra chairs for the event. We got Samosas and Sodas to serve the guests and were all set by 4 PM to guide people to their seats. In the initial hours, one person showed-up. Rushabh engaged with him in a casual discussion, while we expected more registrants to show-up. We waited till 4:30. None showed up. If you only measure the event’s success based on the head-count, it was a failure at 4 PM itself.
In such de-motivating times, striking a constructive discussion was hard. We couldn’t even think of going in that direction. However, Rushabh still nudged us to do that.
“Now that we have allocated two hours for the meet-up, let’s build something. Let’s see where it goes”.
Anand Doshi was in an unusual and never ending search for a todo app. He suggested making a Todo app. After a couple of discussions, we decided to make an app to track Meeting Notes using Frappe Framework. Anand turned-on screen capture on this laptop and initiated logging the specification and design of a basic app as per the discussion going on. While Anand was coding the app, Rushabh and Nabin kept sharing technical inputs. Myself and Prakash were silent spectators, just watching and learning. Day ended, and we had two hours worth recording at the end of it. We enjoyed the snacks and called it a day. It was one more experiment that didn’t work out and we decided to move on.
From next week onwards, Rushabh started working on the recording, made slides to give an introduction on Frappe Framework and then jumped to Anand’s recording to add narration on top of it. He completed editing all the videos within a day. We had a first video course of Frappe Framework which was uploaded on YouTube. It’s out-dated today but still relevant and live on YouTube. The course, made in a meet-up which attracted one attendee, has delivered around 200,000 thousand session views till today. This is the perfect example of “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”.
Course built during a first meet-up
This was a time when we had a small but very loyal customer base. Most of them were second generation business owners and early adopters of technology using ERPNext for 2-3 years and saw the value for their business.
It was around 2012-13 when the open-source community was just getting shaped-up. At Frappe, we have a tendency of using a third-party application for a while, and then making a better version of it in Frappe. After having a couple of product conferences and expos, we decided to host our own. Also, a global community who connected online needed a reason and platform to meet each other in person. Hosting our own conference was a perfect answer for this.
In the year 2014, we announced a conference. We kept entry free. About 150 people registered. Hoping that all of them would turn-up (at least for free food), just 70-75 of them turned-up as the day progressed. Again, life gave us lemon!
The day started with talks from the Frappe team, mainly Rushabh, Nabin, Anand and I. Then the stage was set for the Customer’s talk. They spoke with great enthusiasm for Frappe and what we were doing as a team. In-spite of low turn-out, the customer talks and workshop on Frappe Framework came out just fine.
The event itself was a validation for the team’s effort, validation for the product and a nice boost for the nascent open-source community forming globally.
Is there a Secret Sauce?
The journey onwards from there has been a constant build-up year-on-year. Just like companies have “test driven development”, the idea of “conference driven development” is a fact and an internal joke as well. However, what attendees often question in these events is how a team as small as yours can deliver so much. Sounds like a pretty simple question. Right? However, what went behind this is pretty complex, radical and unheard of. Let’s see if I could decipher it myself.
As learnt from my mentor, the simple rule of surviving a business is pretty simple. “Do not run out of cash”. This was harder done than said though.
In the initial years, we had a decent open-source ERP product. In order to earn, we had to build our own deployment & distribution platform. It evolved over the years, but turned into a mammoth system handling 1000s of times (paid and trial) along with billing and shipping today.
Our very first plan cost just $7/user/month. A rock-bottom pricing, but a solid email, chat and call support helped us acquire the first set of customers. We kept iterating prices, but always kept SMBs and small billing in mind. While we were lean at the same time, the fear of running out of cash subsided, however it took a couple of years, and lots of patience..
Build Quality Product
The primary reason for poor adoption of open-source apps in the businesses were their UI and UX issues. My hypothesis is, hobbyists started an open-source project, but don’t have a run-away to stretch in that last mile which is required to bring polish and finesse in the UI/UX. Since the business model around an open-source solution is also a challenge, the UI/UX takes a back-seat in their priority list.
Thankfully, at Frappe, a clean UI was always the center of focus. Most of it was taken care of by the Frappe Framework that offers decent and well placed UI elements in the newly designed features as well. Further,constant investments were made to get the re-designing done again and again from some of the best designers of the country, for which we paid a premium price. It’s easier for me to write and you to read, but it does take a lot of seriousness, taste and concerns for the quality to pay a premium for the designs, when you are pretty much hand to mouth yourself.
Team & Culture
This is perhaps the hardest and most unique element which sets Frappe apart from contemporaries. I guess there is no formula to find the right candidate, but it’s about setting the values and high-standard internally, and then working with the colleagues who care for those values, to live up to those standards. Aarrgghh!! This is all a boring theory.
The core idea behind this is well explained in Rushabh's keynote talk in this year’s Frappeverse conference. In a world influenced and designed to benefit capitalist the most, we are framed and domesticated to obey. Frappe offers a culture where questioning is encouraged. Once you are able to question, you are able to break the societal-shackles, often imposed on us in the name of discipline. Enabling this one quality helps people see new and uncharted horizons.
Once teammates develop questioning ability, what more you need is an environment which values risk-taking, and allows an individual to try and fail. And what you see happening on the other side is full-scale products like Frappe Insights, Frappe Builder, Frappe Drive and Frappe CRM being built by just one person each. You see a young IT graduate like Michelle Alva delivering a business keynote. You see tons of features being delivered by two to three peoples teams of Frappe Framework, ERPNext and Frappe Cloud team, impacting thousands of sites, and perhaps millions of users and customers.
When you offer a stack of open-source and free product(s) which works, community comes in just organically. There are hundreds of service providers among the Frappe ecosystem, building profitable businesses around Frappe apps. It was heartening to see service providers, who often compete with each other, still engage to explore collaboration to complement each other's skills. Sailesh, who comes from the SAP ecosystem, said in the panel discussion that culture in the Frappe’s Ecosystem is pretty unique. While partners in other ecosystems see partners as rivals, he was literally supported by the other partner to get his own team up and running faster. That speaks tons for the values of collaborative learning and growing in the Frappeverse.
It’s perhaps an over-statement to say Frappe is becoming a movement. We are just one tiny dot in the huge IT and FOSS landscape. But that’s how movement starts. Isn’t it?
- They are tiny, opposing the superpowers of their times.
- They move slow, almost crawling
- They leave a lasting impact on the entire ecosystem
If you see Frappe through these lenses, we are certainly on the path to become a movement. If you wish to cross-check in future, feel free to bookmark this claim ;)
From one in the first meet-up to 600 in the last conference