Supabase's community-led approach that's taking on Google Firebase

There are no mistakes, just happy accidents - an unexpected turn of events put a full stop to their initial plan. One of the alpha users shared Supabase’s website on Hacker News and this post ended up going viral.
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Priyanshu Anand
March 29, 2022

It’s like Firebase, but open-source

For a name that was inspired by Nicki Minaj’s hilarious yet iconic hit single, Supabase seems rather adept at what they do than what their first impression might be like on most people. What sounds like a loosely built mobile game is in fact a one-man army taking on Google’s giant Firebase; it’s an open-source alternative to Google Firebase. For those who don’t know what Firebase does or is, I’ll save you a Google search - Google Firebase is a platform that offers the right infrastructures and integrations for developing, releasing, and scaling web applications.

For Supabase to be a contender with the likes of Google, they had to do something worth dragging everyone’s attention. Paul Copplestone and Anthony Wilson knew this when they decided to put on armor and head on down to the battlefield. Making a name for themselves would be difficult, but as the good ol’ saying goes “you will never know unless you’ve tried”. And they did it, which is what this story is all about. But first, a little context of what Supabase does.

In some ways, running Supabase is like launching many startups at the same time, we have to build and maintain many different parallel projects in order to match Firebase's incredible suite of products - Anthony Wilson

Authentication, storage, databases, and even functions (coming soon) - Supabase lays out a plethora of services to equip your backend with the tools that it needs. You can create a Postgres database in less than 2 minutes, get an API that adapts to the dynamically evolving database (with documentation), secure user authentication features, and storage for handling larger files. All this can be managed by a comprehensive dashboard and eliminates all the unnecessary clicks that over-complicate the development process.

Let’s break down some important points. First of all - what is Postgres and why is it a big deal nowadays in the developer community? Postgres or PostgreSQL is considered to be the world's more advanced open-source relational database system. Essentially, it is a database working to store data using SQL (Structured Query Language). Over the past three decades, it has been subjected to constant development and upgrades and has rightfully earned its place as the go-to database system for building open-source projects.

Secondly, APIs. We don’t think at this point anyone is oblivious to what APIs stand for in today’s technological climate. These guys are not the hero we deserve, but the ones we need right now. From ticket bookings to payments and even messaging - APIs have taken the world by storm. Every time you interact with the internet and ask for data, there’s an API that’s listening to your request and delivers whatever you need. To know more about APIs, check this out.

A glimpse of the Supabase database

From YC to $36 million in funding

Paul was one of the founders of another startup before Supabase, called Nimbus. As a part of migrating their database changes from Firebase to PostgreSQL, he and his team created a system on Github that could update database changes in real-time. The Github stars aligned and Paul took this as a sign from the universe, eventually getting Anthony on board. The Supabase journey started in January 2020 and they decided their safest bet was to get accepted into YCombinator (YC), which is exactly what they did.

With 80 alpha users in the bag, they planned to keep improving the product with these initial users and do a public launch sometime before the demo. There are no mistakes, just happy accidents - an unexpected turn of events put a full stop to their initial plan. One of the alpha users shared Supabase’s website on Hacker News and this post ended up going viral. How viral? Well, keep reading. This was quite a tall order for the founders who were obviously ill-prepared. What followed was a series of feature requests and bug fixes for the next 2 months. They closed their seed round after the demo day in August that year.

Supabase launches on Hacker News

After the big success of their demo at YC, they realized there was a driving factor that pushed them to build an MVP before onboarding investors. Now, that the YC batch had ended, their dose of inspiration was also on the low, or so they thought “what if we just pretend that the next YC demo is in 3 months and plan for a big release”. This fixed timeline idea was a hit as they were able to ship out Supabase beta which accounted for a tremendous advancement in stability, robustness, and performance of the product. Like a domino effect, a better product resulted in more signups, more signups meant a better outreach, and better outreach started establishing their brand persona.

Having cleared a seed round for $6 million, they started with the obvious - growing their team. One after another, they started building Supabase brick by brick, and what was to come of it except a one-way ticket to a lot of learnings, and a lot of success. So much so that they raised their Series A within a year of having raised their seed round.

The fixed deadline idea took off for Supabase and it shaped itself into a core part of their culture. After the Beta launch, reflecting on those 3 months, the team landed on the idea of having a launch week instead of a launch day. Have a new release every day for a week and keep the traction up for an extended timeframe instead of perfecting one major drop. The ‘Launch week’ idea quickly laddered through the ranks and became a part of Supabase’s identity.

Launch Week at Supabase

in 2021, Supabase had 3 launch weeks and each one was more ballistically successful than the last. Community became a valuable contributor to Supabase’s open-source platform. The addition of Community day, it made easier for them to introduce various new features to the product and get more external support for it. They realized that community can help boost the product's reliability and support as it scales.

Growth in databases with each launch

In a post leading upto the third launch week, Anthony Wilson sheds light on a few tricks-of-the-trade explaining how the launch cycle works at Supabase.

The planning meeting - starts with all the minds at Supabase collectively unfolding their ideas on a Google Jam board. To get the creative juices flowing, it’s best to have all the obvious ideas out in the open which creates a necessity to dig deeper. There are no walls here, everyone is expected to leap into each other’s expertise and see what’s best for growth. Developers are encouraged to explore marketing ideas and marketers are open to exploring product ideas, no holds barred. The aim is to get a blueprint of what the launch should include and look like.

The team ‘thinking out loud’ for the next launch

The kick-off meeting - breaking down the goal into quantifiable projects, assigning leads, delegating work, and creating a realistically detailed roadmap to execution. All the grunt work that precedes the real work is addressed and cleared out of the way to make sure everyone’s on the same page about everything - the timelines, deliverables, and announcements.

Time to work - a 3-month cycle of working and putting the pieces together. Again, the timeline doesn’t encourage an unhealthy work culture but is merely putting a finish line for people to meet at the end. If something seems unattainable or if an unprecedented situation presents itself, the idea is pushed to a later release without pushing things to the limit. The time leading upto the release is spent reviewing the accomplished work, last-minute details, and marketing efforts to hype up the announcement.

Pre-launch week and Launch week -  Learnings from all the launches taught them that this should be a marathon, not a sprint. Conquer things one at a time, slowly but surely. The pre-launch week is all about getting things functional, all content pieces proofread, and social agendas laid out on a detailed timeline. If all things leading upto the launch are said and done, the culmination of the launch week itself becomes a cakewalk.

Retrospection - A launch is incomplete without reflections. The team gets together to look back on the things that worked, the things that didn’t, and what were some biggest takeaways from a 3-month long process. The point is to go into the next launch week with a more polished approach.

Contributors increased by more than 300% in less than a year. This is a big win for Supabase and its community-led growth that personifies the importance of doing things ‘for the people’.

Supabase 🤝 Community

‘Open-source’ and ‘community’ are like salt and pepper, they just go together. Supabase understood that in the space they were in, if they give the developer community a worthy alternative to Firebase, then it becomes more of an incentive to them than a way for the company to make money. With each iteration, the product becomes more customizable to fit missing pieces and gives more of a reason to the developers to gravitate towards it.

Here are some ways in which Supabase fosters a great community 👇

Community on Github

Supabase has been one the fastest growing startups on Github for five consecutive quarters since late 202,0 with the highest increase of 1373% in Q4 of 2020. Currently, they have 30,000+ stars and 1,700+ forks and growing. Github is home to Supabase’s primary community of enthusiasts, contributors, advocates, and sponsors.

Paul welcoming and initiating a discussion on Github

You can start discussions here across various categories, ask questions if you’re stuck, give ideas, and maybe even show what you made with Supabase and get feedback.

Discussion forum on Github

Become a contributor to the open-source projects on Github. Supabase gives you a public roadmap to show you where the product currently stands.

Public roadmap of the open-source project

Apart from taking part in discussions and contributing to the open-source projects, you can raise issues, solve bugs, take part in translating essential documentation, test new features, and give feedback. This place is a market for budding developers.

Discord channel

Close to 6,000 members strong, Supabse’s Discord channel started as a way for developers to just hang out and have fun. Although Github remains the primary place for discussions and debugging, Discord is more like the ‘fun cousin’ who you chill and have drinks with.

Paul's announcement on their Discord channel

Supasquad

Supasquad is the official Supabase advocate program that encourages community members to help build and manage the Supabase community. You get to be a key part of the community and help steer the future of the team. There are 6 ways in which you can be a part of the Supasquad:

  • Maintainer - maintain repositories by building libraries, resolving issues, and fixing bugs.
  • Expert - Answer questions on Github and Discord.
  • Advocate - Talk about Supabase on social platforms.
  • Builder - build projects with Supabase.
  • Author - write guest blogs, create documentation, or help translate existing documentation.
  • Moderator - Maintain the community guidelines

Supasquad program

Some benefits of being a member of the Supasquad:

  • Elevated privileges in the community.
  • AMAs with the Supabase team.
  • Monthly DevRel committee calls with industry leaders who are also angel investors.
  • Get featured on the Supabase website.
  • Early access to new features.
  • Exclusive swag.

Check out the Supasquad program for more details.

A Github community for contributors

Supabase hosts another community on Github just for the open-source contributors in the community.

The unofficial community for contributors

Become a sponsor

Since Supabase is open-source, the contributors can be anyone. As a token of appreciation, or even as a gentle encouragement, you can make payments to developers, and even organizations that design, create, and maintain open-source projects.

As you’re reading this, 42 sponsors are fueling Supabase’s work, and with each dollar, they’re getting a step closer to their goal of reaching $10,000 paid out to support developers. The contributions are divided into a hierarchy and you can choose to contribute as little as $5 to the developer or organization of your choice. Check out their sponsorship page for more details.

Sponsor developer who are building Supabase

Documentation and guides

A complete guide to working with Supabase is divided into 4 fundamental backend services - databases, auth, storage, and APIs. There is also detailed documentation for app integrations like Appsmith, Vercel, Auth0, Prisma, and more.

Supabase documentation

A simple guide to getting started with Supabase 👇

Supabase Swag store

The community started buzzing with swag when Supabase started sending it out. In July 2021 they officially launched the swag store all things Supabase. This is a way to acknowledge honorable contributions from the community and put smiles on their faces.

Here’s how you can get yourself that Supabase swag 🤘

Building a company community

Supabase’s community approach is remarkable, to say the least. Think about it - a company that’s not more than 3 years old is taking on an industry giant like Google. What’s even more wow-worthy is that they’re achieving that goal. Building a community around active developers shaping an open-source product into a reliable alternative to Firebase. It’s like Supabase and the dev community are helping each other improve the product for themselves. This has community-led growth written all over it.

The smallest of things can create a domino effect, causing an impact larger than what was anticipated. Supabase doesn’t miss out on these opportunities either. Supabase is a part of the DEV community (dev.to), a network of 800,000+ developers, where they constantly share feature updates and new releases. They conduct hackathons as well that offer attractive prizes to winners and of course, exclusive swag too.

A community and company that builds together, grows together. Supabase definitely has that figured out. And who is it to say, maybe they would've ended up on a different path had Supabase not gone viral on Hacker News. That's the beauty of unknowns, isn't it? And kudos to you for getting this far, because that accidental yet monumental launch on HN ended up being one of the most upvoted dev tool launch ever, second only to Stripe.

On that note, it’s launch week again!


To summarize

It’s like Firebase, but open-source

  • The premise for Supabase - an open-source alternative to Google Firebase.
  • What does Supabase do and what does it offer - Database, storage, authentication, and APIs
  • What is Postgres? How is it perfect for Supabase’s open-source platform?

From YC to $36 million in funding

  • Paul’s enlightenment while working at Nimbus.
  • Getting Anthony on board to start building Supabase and getting into YCombinator 2020.
  • No mistakes just happy accidents - Supabase comes out in the open with 1000s of new signups.
  • Raising seed round for $6 million and another $30 million within a year.
  • The Launch week idea.

Launch Week at Supabase

  • 3 major launch weeks in 2021, each one more successful than the last.
  • Breaking down the launch week idea and steps involved.

Supabase 🤝 Community

  • Community on Github - 30,000+ stars and 1,700+ forks. A place for discussions, solving issues, contributing to open-source projects, and building Supabase.
  • Discord Channel - Almost 6,000 member strong community of developers.
  • Supasquad - A way to be an exclusive part of the Supabase community and get privileges.
  • A Github community for contributors - An unofficial community of open-source contributors.
  • Become a sponsor - Make payments to developers and organizations that design and maintain open-source projects.
  • Documentation and guides - Guides to learn and build with Supabase.
  • Supabase Swag store - A store for rewarding community contributors.
Building a company community
  • Supabase’s relationship with the community.
  • Smaller community-building efforts.


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