Why Did We Start Building?
We built Flagsmith as the open source feature flagging tool we needed but couldn’t find on GitHub.
It started as a side project when we were developers running an agency, and it’s grown into a profitable, sustainable product used by teams around the world.
Earlier this year we celebrated hitting $1.5M ARR. It’s been a long journey! Building a sustainable commercial open source company is rewarding but it’s not an easy—or quick—path.
As we grow, we want to keep feature flag management open, accessible, and easy to implement. To do that, we have an internal philosophy around:
- Bootstrapping and staying profitable - We build the way we want and keep prices where we want them.
- Keeping the product open source - Feature flag functionality stays open source and we partner with OpenFeature for open standards.
- Offering flexible deployment options - Use Flagsmith via our hosted cloud, single-tenant private cloud, or self-host on-premises or in your own cloud.
- Integrating and playing well with other tools - Integrations are accessible and let you keep making decisions where you already make them (analytics, observability, etc.)
Everyone builds differently, and this letter is to share a little bit about our choices.
Why We’re Bootstrapped and How That Affects You
We’ve chosen to bootstrap without venture capital. Lots of companies accept VC money to grow quickly, but we’ve sidestepped it to build profitably and efficiently.
Why We Bootstrapped
VC funding can help companies grow faster and take more market share, but we’ve chosen to take a different path for a few reasons.
First, since we started building Flagsmith alongside running an agency, we were able to grow it organically in line with open source growth. This naturally let us avoid external funding at first because we simply had less financial pressure.
As we’ve grown, we’ve realised that VC money comes with a lot of pressure to hire and grow fast. This is the right path for some but doesn’t fit the way we want to build. Flagsmith is built by devs and our focus is on growing efficiently and keeping a great product for customers.
The costs of starting a software business are also so much lower these days that VC funding is no longer the necessity it once was. We’ve built a platform that scaled to billions of monthly requests with a small team, and 20 years ago that would have been almost impossible. 10 years ago it would have cost a fortune. The tooling is much more efficient, which means we’ve been able to make different choices.
How This Affects Customers
The VC track puts a lot of focus on revenue milestones, goals and outcomes. Bootstrapping has let us put a lot of focus on the customer.
We don’t have a mandate to grow to a certain revenue goal in a set timeframe. This means we don't need to oversell or hike prices. Instead, our pricing, product and support can fit our business model.
How This Affects Our View of the Market/Competition
We believe enterprise software is not a winner-takes-all game. With the current software landscape, the network effects are diminished, switching costs are diminished and there's room for multiple players in most software markets.
The competitive advantage of VC funding has drawbacks just like bootstrapping has drawbacks. You can do really well without the competitive advantage of VC-backing if you have a niche and constantly improve your product.
How This Affects The Team
Ben Horowitz wrote an article on how to ruin your company, and much of it comes down to making the wrong budgeting or team decisions. E.g. Doubling your team too fast can create a cultural drift.
With an engineering team, if you go from 4-6 people, that can work. If you go from 10 to 20 people too quickly, you can wake up one day and realise there are loads of problems and a lot of the good people are out the door.
This would be a nightmare for our engineering team, product and company. Bootstrapping lets us grow efficiently and avoid dangerous pitfalls like cultural debt and technical debt.
Why We’re Open Source
We’re putting our code in the open, which means our product is constantly tested and validated by devs around the world. It’s a big incentive to write quality code.
Our view on open source mirrors our view on bootstrapping: We want to be transparent, build a great product with great people, and build in the open.
For customers, staying open source means built-in:
- Trials - Get started and see whether it works for your needs first
- Transparency - Contribute to the product on GitHub and view the roadmap
- Testing and community - The product is constantly tested and used by global dev teams
- Freedom to change tools - Open source stops lock-in. Flagsmith partners with OpenFeature and our open source version is always available
Thank you for reading and being part of the Flagsmith community. Here’s to the next milestone!
-Ben and the Flagsmith team