GitHub Launch and Growth Strategy – Case Study
GitHub, a web-based software development environment, launched in 2008, initially focused on facilitating projects that used the Git system for revision control.
The idea for the site was developed on a whim over a weekend. In 3 years and 8 months, however, it grew to become a site with a million code repositories. In December 2013, that number reached a staggering 10 million.
At its core, GitHub is a success because it solves a problem. The Git version-control system developed by Linus Torvalds in 2005 made collaboration possible for Linux kernel development, but it was far from an “easy” solution.
Prior to GitHub, developers who wanted to contribute code to an open source project were forced to download the source code, create their changes locally, and compile a list of those changes called a patch. This would then be emailed to the project’s maintainer for approval or rejection.
On GitHub, developers can “fork” or copy any code repository that has been made public and modify it within their own account. They then share the changes with the repository’s owner with a “pull request.” If the owner likes the changes, they’re merged into the original repository.
All of the friction that was once standard to software collaboration is removed with a solution that is manageable, seamless, and completely scalable.
GitHub customers can have free access, but if they subscribe to a private account, they have more freedom to leverage GitHub’s resources within their development teams.
Some of the biggest GitHub customers include The White House, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Amazon.
GitHub has grown so quickly because it is inherently driven by network dynamics. The larger the overall code repository grows, the more attractive the site is to developers.
There are social networking functions built in to the site including feeds and tools to follow users. Live conversations and chats are central to the GitHub culture, which also includes wikis of constantly edited and updated information.
In just six years, GitHub has become the most important social network for computer engineers
…and an invaluable repository for code elements. New users are drawn to the community by many channels, including invites from existing members as well as through open source collaborative efforts.
The site has become a channel for technical marketers and professionals to reach developers, and repositories of code are often used by members as resumes of their work.
The free public beta of GitHub switched to a freemium model by user request. People wanted private repositories, and they were willing to pay for them. The cost is still remarkably low, $7 for individuals and $25 for organizations, but at the enterprise tier, the company can earn millions per year.
Although GitHub obviously came hardwired with a formula for success due to the unique niche it fills, the company has smartly embraced a collaborative corporate culture that attracts and keeps good minds. Employees can work any time they like, from anywhere, and on anything that attracts their interest.
There are no managers and no delegated tasks. Employees hold themselves accountable and are driven by their passion for the work they do. The GitHub philosophy is that truly committed and engaged people will always return superior quality work because they are doing what they love. This is a very high-level expression of the growth hacking concept of market fit.
There is no reticence at GitHub to beta test new functionality. Bugs are uncovered in real time, problems fixed on the fly, and hidden potential uncovered. It is something of a free-for-all atmosphere that clearly works.
The “product,” in this case a productive and social collaborative environment, has a high level of “stickiness” that has allowed GitHub to quickly become an industry standard for software-development projects.
The environment is so efficient, it now encompasses not just code projects, but anything that involves working with files on a computer, from writing books to designing circuit board schematics.
The GitHub community is now self-sustaining, but is clearly tended by a corporate team that understands the dynamics of growth and does not allow its offerings to become stale or dated.