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Mastodon creator Eugen Rochko talks about funding and how to build anti-Twitter • TechCrunch

Mastodon creator Eugen Rochko talks about funding and how to build anti-Twitter • TechCrunch

Mastodon creator Eugen Rochko talks about funding and how to build anti-Twitter • TechCrunch

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Eugene Rochko had the idea and built Mastodon about six years ago during another Twitter drop. A developer already interested in and working with open source software, he got the idea for Mastodon from a federated version of a forum he had built in high school.

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This project was called Zeon Federated, and it’s no longer active. While developing this, he also built and sold a platform to manage escrow for artists around commissions.

The success of Mastodon somewhat surprised its creator. Rochko didn’t come into this project as an experienced social media user, nor is he inclined to share much about himself. When we spoke, he connected to our video chat from an undisclosed location. He never even used Instagram. If growth hackers view building audiences or revenue as an end in itself, Rochko seems to be the opposite when it comes to growth.

This week, we spoke with Rochko about Mastodon’s early days, its recent surge in users, and how advertising may or may not factor into its future.


TechCrunch: You’ve probably seen significant growth over the past six weeks or so. Has the pace of growth been maintained, increased or slowed since the early days of the handover to Elon Musk? How many users and servers do you currently have?

Eugene Rochko: If you look at it on the chart, we had a huge spike around the news of Elon Musk buying Twitter. And there was another spike when Musk fired most Twitter employees. It’s slowed down now, but the rate is much higher than it was before October. We now have 2.5 million monthly active users on Mastodon, across 8,600 servers.

We don’t represent the growth rate, but right now app downloads on iOS and Android are around 4,000 each per day. The highest spike we saw was when Musk laid off employees – we had 149,000 downloads on Android and 235,000 on iOS. Over the past 90 days, the iOS app has had 1.8 million downloads. Android provides different numbers, but in October the installed audience for the Android app was 53,000 devices. Now it’s 907,000 devices.

I can’t tell you if mobile is more popular than desktop: I don’t monitor it. We have not built dashboards for this.

“Moderation work is not suitable for automation. Simple cases are so simple that even if it’s a person doing it, it only takes a few seconds to do it. And when it’s complicated, no automation can help.It requires a human to read the context of the situation and make the call. Eugene Rochko

TC: You say “we”, but how many people do you have at Mastodon?

Roshko: I’m the only full-time employee, and the others—five people—are contractors at the moment. I am looking to expand the team full time and have worked on some job openings. It’s kind of a slow process; I wish I could do it much faster. But it’s a new frontier for a company that’s been a sole proprietorship for six years. Everything has gone well so far, but now we need more people.

TC: Is Patreon the only vehicle you’ve used to fund it so far?

Roshko: Patreon is the main one. We have also created a custom referral platform when a company wants to sponsor us to save on Patreon fees. We also obtained this year a public grant from the European Commission to finance part of the work on feature films. But mostly, it’s Patreon.

TC: So most of it comes from about 8,500 contributors there…

Roshko: Yeah, it makes $31,000 a month. This number has increased significantly over the past month – it was just $7,000 last month. This is the only reason we can even think of recruiting new employees.

That’s kind of the scary part of running a donation-based nonprofit. I’m responsible for myself if the donations dry up, but if you hire other people and the donations stop, you’re suddenly responsible for other people’s livelihoods. This has been the plug for getting other people as employees before now.

I think there is now a buffer, so we want to involve a few more people.

Tech

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