How Cal.com is building an open-source rocketship in public 🚀
This young startup has been taking building in public to a whole new level
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There is so much hype with the rise of Generative AI tools in the market right now but to me the most under-appreciated trend in recent times is the rise of open-source alternatives to popular software tools.
Only a small sliver of people like OSS Capital have fully grasped the potential here and made it their entire thesis.
“Open source is eating software itself much faster than software is eating the world. “
Today, I want to shed light on a promising open-source startup called “Cal.com” that has embraced the whole ‘building in public’ philosophy in a refreshingly new way.
I’ve been a fan of Cal.com’s execution from afar having followed their story from early days and this case study is my way of showing appreciation to the unique approach they took. So let’s get started.
Cal.com is an open-source platform that is dubbed as the event-juggling scheduler for everyone. Created initially in 2021 as Calendso, the company rebranded as Cal.com, raised $25m series A from top funds like Seven Seven Six by Alexis Ohanian. It set out to challenge the well-funded Calendly (which was last valued at $3b) but with its own spin along with self-hosting and customizing capabilities. Venturebeat wrote about it in detail. Link here.
Who’s behind Cal.com?
When Peer worked on his previous business, Lean Hire, a hiring business to turn contractors into full-time employees via contract-to-hire he realized how there is very little infrastructure around scheduling, let alone an open-source solution that could be self-hosted and customized.
After a couple of days of browsing the web and finding no results for the Google query: "calendly open source" he decided to launch Calendso.com and later incorporate it with Bailey Pumfleet as Cal.com, Inc.
And they’re crushing it ever since. They just surpassed 50,000 signups recently.
What stands out in Cal.com’s build in public strategy?
Cal.com dubs itself as the most public private company there is and I tend to agree.
Here are the ways in which the startup approaches its own flavor of transparency:
1. Sharing an open dashboard of core metrics
Cal.com is part of the Open Startup movement which means it has a dedicated page with key metrics including total customers, monthly active users, and even Github stars.
The page is very comprehensive and is a sign of how open Cal.com wants to be. (with its employees, customers, investors and the larger open-source community)
Check it out for yourself here.
Chef’s kiss? All of these metrics are tracked and verified by jitsu.com, an open-source Segment alternative.
2. Publishing the company handbook for anyone to read
The team behind Cal.com has decided to publicly share internal docs that you’d expect to get if you onboarded as an employee. It’s uncanny how comprehensive and thoughtful this doc is. Reminds me of Hubspot’s Culture Code deck and Gitlab’s own handbook.
Cal.com’s handbook lays out how the company thinks about it’s expansion plans, best practices for optimizing code quality and even highlights its position within the competitive landscape. (See below) This is just brilliant and bold!
3. Openly sharing salaries and the strategy
Compensation in this modern era for a global, web-first remote company is super tricky. If you pay your employees localized salaries based on where they live, then you are signaling indirectly that their output matters less than their zip code. If you pay globalized salaries, you may retain a lot of talent from lower-income regions but won’t be able to justify lower salaries to those in in-demand locations like the Bay Area. Most companies are stuck between rock and a hard place.
But in stead of burying this dilemma, Cal.com just openly embraced this struggle and shared how the startup thinks about this topic. You could agree or disagree but there’s no lack of clarity which I appreciate.
4. Seeking feedback/brainstorming in public
Another routine activity you’ll notice if you follow the founders of Cal.com is just plain ole’ brainstorming in public. They ask inputs from the community, validate for basic demand and build stuff. This is not a one-time occurrence but really a recurring habit .. which increases your serendipity and helps you build buzz around what ever you launch down the line.
Here’s an example below from Peer:
you may wonder why being an Open Startup matters. Here’s what Peer had to say about that.
Frankly speaking, Open Startups have a tough time screwing you over. Almost everything they do is public.
As a founder, you’re not only building a product. You’re building an organization and its culture. If you believe code should be open and transparent, why stop there?
Lastly, when building a product in public that requires an active and engaged community, sharing the milestones can help you recruit true fans who’re actively interested in the growth of the project.
Read the rest of the rationale here.
All in all, I hope you found this case study to be helpful and actionable. I hope it was able to offer a peek into how a young startup is embracing the open-source and building in public movements at the same time both in its code and in its culture.
On a final note, Cal.com is currently free for individuals, so if you’re interested, sign up here.
Disclaimer: This post came to life entirely by my own research and commentary, not a sponsored case study paid for by Cal.com. However, I am a big time fan and a small check angel investor in the startup because I love the movement they’re building.
Shoutouts and Sponsors
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And that’s a wrap for now!
Thank you for giving your attention and checking this edition out.
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