Why Zulip is on GitHub Sponsors

Alya Abbott 4 min read

At Zulip, we’re out to build the world’s best collaboration platform, and we’re committed to keeping it 100% open source. If you’ve been using Zulip, love the product and its innovative threading model, and want to help share it with the world, please consider supporting us.

An important part of Zulip’s mission is ensuring that worthy organizations, from programming-language developers to research communities, are able to use Zulip whether or not they have funding. For this reason, we sponsor Zulip Cloud Standard hosting for open source projects, non-profits, education, and academic research. This program has grown exponentially since its inception; today we are proud to fully sponsor Zulip hosting for several hundred organizations. Support from the community will help us continue to afford these programs as their popularity grows.

Who we are

Zulip is built by an incredible distributed community of developers from all around the world. Guiding that community in developing a world-class team chat product with apps for every major desktop and mobile platform requires leadership from a talented, dedicated team. The only sustainable model is for our core team to be compensated fairly for their time, not burned out because they are effectively working two full-time jobs.

To fund Zulip, we have created a mission-driven for-profit company, Kandra Labs. Incorporating as a business rather than a non-profit helps us attract top talent by offering a stake in the company, so that employees can benefit if Zulip is highly successful. It also makes us eligible for innovation grants from the US National Science Foundation, which have been an important part of funding Zulip.

Our values

Meanwhile, we have purposefully chosen not to take venture capital funding. This choice allows us to live by our values, without investor pressure to compromise them when doing so might be “good business” or “what everyone does”. Here are some principle-based choices we make day after day:

  • Fully open source. Many modern “open-source” companies use an intentionally crippled “open-source” version as a demo for their non-open-source paid product. In contrast, Zulip is 100% open source. We work hard to make it easy to set up and run a self-hosted Zulip installation without paying us a dime, which is why thousands of organizations do so.

  • Community and mentorship. Our welcoming community is fully committed to helping bring up the next generation of open-source contributors from a wide range of backgrounds. We have invested into making Zulip’s code uniquely readable, well tested, and easy to modify. Beyond that, we have written an extraordinary 150K words of documentation on how to contribute to Zulip, with topics ranging from practical Git tips to essays on important architectural decisions.

    The help, guidance and support I’ve received within the community really set Zulip apart. My first contributions to Zulip included a couple of complex integrations, which I could only have dreamed of being able to code just a few weeks earlier.

    —Adam Birds (Director, ADB Web Designs)

    Additionally, more than 70 students have participated in our formal internship programs since 2017, primarily through Google Summer of Code and Outreachy. Because of the thousands of hours our more senior contributors (including alumni of these programs!) have dedicated to mentorship, many of these students have told us that they learned more contributing to Zulip than in their 4-year formal computer science education.

Our competitors operate very differently from Zulip—the team chat space is crowded with giant corporations with vast resources. Slack has spent as much as $250 million a year in marketing, and is now part of a corporation worth $200 billion. Slack has itself filed an EU antitrust complaint arguing that Microsoft (a $2 trillion behemoth) is illegally limiting the market for team chat by bundling Microsoft Teams with its enterprise suite.

Consequently, the path for Zulip from building a great product to achieving exponential growth and financial success is not an easy one, and our company is not yet profitable. Support from the community will help us continue fully sponsoring hundreds of worthy organizations while we build the world’s best collaboration platform.

If you are able, please help us out by supporting Zulip on GitHub Sponsors (preferred), Open Collective or Patreon. And please consider promoting Zulip and other free and open-source applications in your community, at your job, and on social media. We greatly appreciate your support!