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Launch HN: Chatwoot (YC W21) – Open-Source Alternative to Intercom, Zendesk
396 points by pranav_rajs on March 18, 2021 | hide | past | favorite | 110 comments
Hello everyone,

We are a 3 founder team. Myself Pranav. Sojan and Nithin are my co-founders. We are building Chatwoot (https://www.chatwoot.com, https://github.com/chatwoot/chatwoot). With Chatwoot, businesses can connect channels like website live chat, email, Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc and talk to the customers from one place.

Chatwoot is an open-source alternative to Intercom, Zendesk etc.

We help companies in regulated industries to manage customer data without sharing it with third-party providers. Since the software is open-source, it is easier to build custom workflows that suit your business on top of Chatwoot.

We started building Chatwoot as proprietary software in 2017, but the startup failed. Seeing the data privacy regulations and people taking interest in self-hosted alternatives, we open-sourced the product in 2019, we got a lot of love from the HN community. (https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21559139).

Over the last year, we have been working with the community to build the software. Seeing the interest from the open-source world, we decided to quit our jobs and work full time on Chatwoot. We introduced support plans to validate the need for self-hosted solutions and it worked out well. We applied to YC and got into the W21 batch.

Right now, there are 1000+ companies using Chatwoot. We have around 7.2k stars and more than 100 contributors in our repository. The software can be used in more than 25+ regional languages.

Apart from the omnichannel support desk, we are adding more features like a self-service portal, marketing campaigns, customer segmentation, workflows etc.

We make money by charging a license fee of $99 per user per month for features like customisable dashboards, SLA Management, Agent scheduling software, IP blocklisting etc which are suited for large enterprises.

We will continue to work with the community to build Chatwoot. We would love to hear your experiences, thoughts and ideas!

Thank you for licensing this under a proper open source license. Out of curiosity, how would you feel about a company selling this as a service? It's obviously legal per the license, but I'm wondering what your perspective is. If you encourage it, do you have any plans for how to ensure everybody are happy and turns a profit from it?

I have grown cynical over the years with these kinds of open source challengers as it seems to be a playbook these days to bait and switch, going from a) freely license a competitor to b) build a large user base to c) switch license to consolidate power over the software, make money and slowly kill it.

Of course what's once open source will always stay that way, but if you're large enough when you branch, your engineering resources alone might be enough to turn people off the OSS fork.

There are people who have built custom solutions on top of Chatwoot and selling it. There are people who are selling it in their country without changing the code and making profit out it. I'm happy to help those people out (not for free, would charge something obiviously). There are different markets where we might not be able to cater. Since the solution is flexible enough to build custom channels, I've seen people using it as "Whatsapp CRM for X country".

We are following the path Gitlab has taken. To sustain as a business, we will have some modules suited for large enterprises under an EE license, but it would not hinder the open-source part and the freedom that comes with it. If people want to build on Chatwoot, they will be free to do that.

I'm wondering if you've considered an additional option - "donation subscriptions". For people who are deriving a lot of value from a fork, and want to support you!

Github sponsors work that way!

Curious on on how ee license works - will it not stop somebody to take that source and run it for free ? or do parallel implementation on top of your free offerings.

We expect to follow Gitlab's path on this. There will be 2 repos. One with EE licensed code and the other one completely foss.

eg: Gitlab[0] vs Gitlab FOSS [1] code

[0] https://gitlab.com/gitlab-org/gitlab

[1] https://gitlab.com/gitlab-org/gitlab-foss

Love it. This (your commercial product) will go in an MVP I'm building. I've been using Intercom, which seems like the best option, but it's just so damn expensive for an MVP and that top tier price is not met by their medium tier product imo.

tbh I'd pay even for the first agent (perhaps a free trial would have sufficed), but the Hacker tier does make it a certainty I'll trial it.

Something most tool providers don't seem to get is that when I'm first building something I'm extremely price sensitive, but once I've got going I don't really care, like a tax if you take X% of my profit but you make my life easier and make it easier to grow that profit, who cares? That's fine compared to rinsing me when I'm not making any revenue (as with intercom). And if your product is any good, there's no way I'm going to switch once I get some traction, as the cost of any tool is ~ zero compared to the cost of employees.

> like a tax if you take X% of my profit

I have heard this analogy from other users of Intercom also. This is definitely an interesting take. But yeah, I got your point. Let us know if you need some help setting Chatwoot up.

YC backs another open source alternative to intercom with papercups: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24133719

That was backed last year. Isn't there some conflict from the investor when the companies are so similar?

Alex from Papercups here :)

My guess is partially what vardaro mentioned (to hedge their bets), and partially because the space is really, really "wide" (not sure if that's the right word) in the sense that products like this could go in a million different directions... for example: email marketing, CRM, session reply, chatbots, etc. etc.

That's to say, even though Papercups and Chatwoot seem pretty similar at the moment, I wouldn't be surprised if that changes quite a bit in a year or so!

(Also it's no secret that YC invests in a ton of similar companies :P e.g. our batch alone had at least three video conferencing companies iirc.)

Hey Alex, we use and love Papercups. Very nice to use and a refreshingly simple experience.

I’m guessing it’s a hedge in case one fails

Congratulations! Love chatwoot, and have been recommending it to others too.

If I may, what's your take on Cloudflare's upcoming DurableObjects for Workers [0] and the possibilities that entails for chat-applications like these?

> ...license fee of $99 per user per month for features like customisable dashboards, SLA Management, Agent scheduling software, IP blocklisting etc which are suited for large enterprises.

I see a lot of F/OSS YC startups (like PostHog, SuperTokens, QuestDB, OpsTrace, SigNoz etc) following the buyer-based open-core model that GitLab pioneered [1]. I wanted to know if there are there any other models other than GitLab's that YC recommends to its startups?

Also, curious why for-profit F/OSS startups would leave up a "sponsor" button on their GitHub. :D

> We started building Chatwoot as proprietary software in 2017, but the startup failed.

Tangential: Was this the startup that failed [2]? If so, it would be interesting to read your views on it since it looks like except the co-founder that blogged about the failure, the rest of the original founding team is back building chatwoot?

Off-topic: If you are okay, can you reveal if you've raised funds from Indian Angles (many particularly active in the SaaS scene [3]) and what has been your experience so far? And a set of recommendations, if any, for other Indian F/OSS SaaS upstarts? May be you should blog about it?


[0] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24616169

[1] https://www.heavybit.com/library/video/commercial-open-sourc...

[2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24988380

[3] https://saasboomi.com/indian-saas-tribe/

The sponsor button means (slightly) more money for the company, is there a particular reason you suggest to disable it?

> If I may, what's your take on Cloudflare's upcoming DurableObjects for Workers [0] and the possibilities that entails for chat-applications like these?

It seems interesting. We have not had time yet to deep dive.

> I wanted to know if there are there any other models other than GitLab's that YC recommends to its startups?

We have not seen any trend emerging other than open-core so far.

> Also, curious why for-profit F/OSS startups would leave up a "sponsor" button on their GitHub. :D

Some one wants to support us without taking subscription plans is a great reason to have it.

> Tangential: Was this the startup that failed [2]? If so, it would be interesting to read your views on it since it looks like except the co-founder that blogged about the failure, the rest of the original founding team is back building chatwoot?

I think you might have misunderstood, op was mentioning another startup, not Chatwoot.

You can read our story here. https://www.chatwoot.com/blog/building-in-the-open

> Off-topic: If you are okay, can you reveal if you've raised funds from Indian Angles (many particularly active in the SaaS scene [3]) and what has been your experience so far? And a set of recommendations, if any, for other Indian F/OSS SaaS upstarts? May be you should blog about it?

We will definitely write about it soon.

Oh, wow. I used Chatwoot in the past, happily surprised you went through YC! I did have trouble self-hosting once, I think I had to enable task queues in my Heroku or something. I might've eventually switched over to the hosted option which was much easier. I would use Chatwoot again on my current startup (https://learncoupling.com).

Is there Discord/SMS or Zapier integration?

We have sms channel available via Twilio. Discord / Zapier are integrations are there on our roadmap.

Since you are an open core business, how do you plan to deal with the situation where the community contributes features that are already in the proprietary enterprise version?

This is a hard decision to make. It would be considered on the basis of a couple of things. If it is derivate of already existing code, we would suggest not to do that. If it is an original work, then we would consider those.

Having said that, we want to reduce such kind of conflicts happening in the community. So we would try to limit an entire module under EE License rather a part of it.

> So we would try to limit an entire module under EE License rather a part of it.

As someone not familiar with this license, can you expand a little more into what it offers?

Also another option for this is for you guys to maintain your own branch which would be used for the free hosted solutions so any enterprise feature PR's can be contained to the self-hosted option.

Handling separate closed fork is one of the solution. Historically, it is an overhead for the team managing the project. You can read about the experience shared by Metabase [0].

[0] https://www.metabase.com/blog/Opening-Metabase-Enterprise/in...

I think by EE license, they mean "Enterprise Edition" (aka commercial license, not sure if the code itself would be considered open, closed or "shared").

That correct. The code can't considered open but rather source available.

nice to hear you guys open sourcing this product! Also be interested how you resolve this issue.

We have been using Chatwoot for a couple of months. Launch HN is a bit of an understatement, its already a very polished, comprehensive product. Congratulations!

Thanks a lot !!!

What would you say are the main things that distinguish you from Papercups (YC S20) https://papercups.io?


Papercups is a nice product. It's good to have multiple players in the open-source space.

Here are some of the thoughts which comes to my mind that differentiates Chatwoot from Papercups:

1. Omnichannel inbox [0]: Chatwoot let's you connect 7 different channels including email, whatsapp etc so that you have all your customer conversations in one place.

2. API Channel for building custom channels: Some people see Chatwoot as an alternative to Twilio Flex (except voice) as they could build custom channel using our API Channel and have the flexibility to customize the software to the extend they need.

3. Integration with Chatbot providers: Chatwoot has a concept of agent bots which allows you to connect with the existing Chatbot providers like Rasa.ai and Dialogflow easily. [1]

4. Shared inbox with teams: You can create a group of users under specific team and collaborate over a ticket. [2]

5. Flexibility to manage more than one brand under the same account. If the company has more than one product, instead of creating multiple accounts, the same account allows you to create different inboxes and set different permission levels for the users.

6. Availability of mobile apps on iOS and Android which helps you to chat with your customers on the go.

[0] https://www.chatwoot.com/features/channels

[1] https://www.chatwoot.com/features/chatbots

[2] https://www.chatwoot.com/features/shared-inbox

From first impressions it looks like papercups focuses on chat while Chatwoot is a more complete suite around customer communication?

We intend to build an entire suite for customer engagement while giving the flexibility to customize it to match the business needs.

Thanks for the mention:

Like Pranav said we think the space is good to have multiple players and we've had many friendly conversations where we have traded notes.

I think our vision is very similar in terms that we eventually want to focus on omni channel customer communication.

A few things that Chatwoot has that we don't at the moment are:

1. Omni channel through messenger and Twillio integration

2. A Mobile app to chat with your customers

3. Shared inbox for teams - for team management

What we have that differentiates us from Chatwoot:

1. We have a Reply from Slack + Reply from Mattermost integration where you never have to leave your workspaces (We believe your tools should conform to where you work and not force you to use a different tool)

2. Highly customizable [chat widget](https://github.com/papercups-io/chat-builder) with react and flutter components

3. We have a live screen sharing feature that lets you debug issues with your customers through the browser

Our goal is to build out omni channel communications too but at the moment we want to make our chat widget experience amazing and we believe that your chat widget should look like your website and not an ad for your tool.

*Note we do have apis and webhooks that you can integrate with dialogue flow and Rasa

You know what I don't get about website live chat buttons like Intercom? The fact that you need to stay on the website to continue the conversation. Why not just provide a link to open a conversation in existing channels, like email, Twitter, Telegram, WhatsApp, etc.? That way the customer can choose whichever channel they already have or prefer, and the conversation continues seamlessly after they've left your website.

Yes, I know Intercom offers the option to seamlessly switch to email, but at that point you could just build a simple 1990's email contact form in a fancy JS popup and it's effectively the same thing.

I understand Intercom made a billion dollar company out of their chat widget because businesses want to look savvy, but that doesn't mean it's actually a good experience for users. As a startup founder myself, I care more about a seamless experience for my customers than for me.

It is not a good experience from the support side either.

In my experience, if the internal employee on the Intercom chat escalates the issue to Zendesk via their integration, the setup treats it as though the initial employee has no further need or relationship with the customer.

To the Zendesk agent, the ticket is created ‘from’ the customer, not the employee that initiated the ticket.

The agent has to manually add the employee back to the ticket, so they can also be in the loop.

Not to mention the ticket is mostly just the chat transcript.

Not good.

This might be a naive question but why would you use Intercom with a Zendesk integration when Zendesk already has a chat functionality?

I would assume one either uses Zendesk as a suite for a larger setup or just Intercom for a smaller setup?

Sales-team likes the shiny of Intercom, and also having Intercom on your public-facing site is a bit of a status-thing.

But, also, Zendesk pricing is per agent, whereas Intercom is tiered for a number of users.

Then, to upgrade to the Talk, not the full Suite, is an additional per agent cost.

So, basically, sales can function as Tier 1 support, since they should have basic knowledge of the product they are selling.

We don’t need a Zendesk agent license for each salesperson, only each support person.

Zendesk is pretty powerful between its well documented API and native ‘triggers’, and also its new reporting and dashboard tool, but it is pricey for enabling extras.

I was attempting to write an integration with our phone system, basically having a screen pop-up with the call info inside Zendesk, and could show all prior and open tickets if their is a caller ID match.

I need to pay for Talk just to access the pop-up API.

Also, having multiple forms for a ticket, that costs extra, too.

Given the way you see the world, I'd say you odds of being successful in this industry are probably higher than most.

Intercom made its valuation because they are used to track engagement/etc, the chat widget is just the trojan horse.

What we have seen is some customers prefer chat buttons especially when they prefer not to give out their personal information.

In Chatwoot the channels like email, twitter, Whatsapp etc are also considered primary conversation channels. So its helpful even when your primary support channel isn't chat.

We used to use kayako.com which switches from online to email chat, but they've since updated their pricing and screwed us around a bit so we've left them.

Now we've switched to chatra.io, and this does the same and the price seems fair.

There are companies that do this. Example: https://www.messagebird.com/en/

You guys are miles ahead, seriously.

Glad to see a fellow Indian startup taking this route (I was surprised to see it licensed as MIT tbh)

We are a successful Mumbai based startup who are in the process of integrating Chatwoot (beta release just went out today), it will replace Haptik.ai for which we had already paid in advance for a year but don't want to use it anymore just after 1 month.

Chatwoot isn't a piece of cake to set it up but definitely peanuts compared to the money some companies pay to other customer support solutions.

Moreover, we are in the process of hiring and dedicating a small team who will contribute changes to Chatwoot and raise PRs upstream.

Good luck to you guys, hope to connect with y'all on discord in coming weeks.

> Chatwoot isn't a piece of cake to set it up

We are working on make it simpler. :D You will hear from us in the upcoming releases.

> Moreover, we are in the process of hiring and dedicating a small team who will contribute changes to Chatwoot and raise PRs upstream.

That's great to know.

We've been using Chatwoot for a few months now and been pretty happy with it.

It's a Vue app that we have found easy to extend and and deep integrations with our product and support flow, without too much fuss. Nice work!

Glad to hear you are happy with Chatwoot :) Do let us know if you need any help, anytime !!!

Congrats on the launch! Is there any plan beyond agent-based chat on the roadmap? I like to start with a dialogue flow for the common use cases before passing the conversation off to human agents.

Yes, we already integrate with Rasa.ai and Dialogflow. You can start the conversation with DialogFlow and pass it off to the agent.

You can see a demo here https://www.chatwoot.com/features/chatbots and a setup guide with a sample code here https://github.com/chatwoot/dialogflow-agent-bot-demo

Amazing! You have a customer at CareDash. Feel free to reach out to me if you want any feedback as we will start implementing this shortly. rcarlton@caredash.com

Great! Just sent an email :)

Congrats on the launch! It looks really cool. The UI reminded me of DelightChat [0]

[0] - https://www.delightchat.io/

We know Preetam, they are a great team!

Preetam here :)

Congrats on the launch and traction Pranav!

Congrats on the launch. One of my clients will become a customer of yours I'm pretty sure. :)

Let us know if you need any help in setting it up.

I tried to replace Zendesk (chat) with self-hosted Chatwoot for our SaaS in December 2020. Unfortunately I couldn't get email conversation continuity to work back then and the docs were lacking.

Happy to see that this now seems to be resolved. Will give Chatwoot another go when our Zendesk license is due for renewal.

There was some issues with email continuity at that time. This is resolved and the docs for both continuity [0] and email channel [1] are updated.

Let us know if you need some help setting it up, our team will be happy to take a call.

[0] https://www.chatwoot.com/docs/conversation-continuity

[1] https://www.chatwoot.com/docs/self-hosted/email-setup

This looks really useful. I sell custom 3D printed jewelry mostly on Etsy but I’ve been hoping to move to my own website. A large number of my customers like to chat with me on Etsy before buying so I’m hoping if I install this I can replicate that on my own website.

Cool product.

How do you expect you will be able to compete with the likes of the more advanced CX vendors out there? For example:


With Chatwoot being opensource, you will be able to customise and deliver a very tailor made experience for your organisation. Thats one aspect to consider.

Looks very cool! For me, the USP of Intercom was their data model. The tag-based system and the fact that everything could be easily exported to a flat CSV file made it super powerful.

Can you comment on whether Chatwoot is similar in this regard?

We allow tagging the conversations and contacts, filter them based on the tag. At the moment we don't have a CSV export, we are working on it. You can get the same information as JSON using our APIs.

@pranav_rajs I work with a bunch of open source projects via a foundation and wanted been working on a side project to help build ecosystems around complimentary open source technologies for both users and contributors. Would be interested in chatting more around how you’ve been growing? I am offering free use of webinar, events, and cross-community tools to open source projects to try out my ideas.

MIT license. Easy to copy and host cheaper. Curious how long this will work before you change it.

I was wondering the exact same thing, I think the MIT license is a really bad choice here for reasons explained here: https://www.lesinskis.com/MIT-licence-community-hostile.html

We have a enterprise edition in works. We will launch it soon. Whatever is MIT now, will stay as MIT.

Hope MIT core/features will continue to be improved, not abandoned. Adding new large features as enterprise only makes sense.

The community edition remains a core part of our vision and is also the base on which the enterprise features are build. So rest assured that we will keep working on improving them.


Haha! for sure.

Is your hosted version multi tenant? Or are you running an individual tenant for every customer?

It is multi-tenant, just like other SaaS providers. We can provide managed-services based on request.

Just signed up to give it a shot and emails aren't coming through :(

Intercom pricing[1] shows 5 seats for $119 - am I missing something in their pricing page ?

If not Chatwoot seems expensive at $99/user/month ?

[1] : https://www.intercom.com/pricing

Our community edition which is available with MIT license and is free for use should cover the starter plans in Intercom.

$99/user/month is targetted at large enterprises requiring enterprise support.

Is the community edition available in hosted form? Otherwise you may wish to consider aiming a paid hosted product at the lower end of the market too. We use Intercom in our product, and it's the one thing we explicitly don't want to self-host because it's what our customers use to contact us if our own services are ever down or broken.

We do have a hosted offering available on https://app.chatwoot.com/

Makes sense.

I specifically use Zendesk to use their support ticket system. I am not interested in live chat. I also like their CRM. Right now, you don't provide those features, right?

I can only see live chat. Am I missing something?

You can integrate 7 channels with Chatwoot including Email. https://www.chatwoot.com/features/channels

We have a base version of CRM at the moment, we are building more on top of it.

This may be out of your depth but I'd love to see a provider that supports Discord.

eg. Tagging a bot in a #support channel for help, being able to reply from it, and being able to cross post announcements from such a bot alongside twitter/facebook.

I didn't completely understand the use case.

Do you wish to

1. Reply to the support messages from Discord


2. Manage discord community over some other tool?

The first one is an integration similar to what we have with Slack right now.

First one is definitely the primary use case.

We are using Discord for managing our community. We have already thought about this. There was not enough requests to build the integration.

Anyway I have created an issue at the repo, so that this can be tracked. https://github.com/chatwoot/chatwoot/issues/1941

Another open source alternative: https://github.com/minimalchat/client

Nice to know!

Product looks awesome! So for my understanding - to add email channel you have to forward an email to single monitored inbox, correct? What email protocols do you support?

That is correct. Our email channel is an implementation build on top of Rails Action mail box.

It support ingresses for Mailgun, Mandrill, Postmark, and SendGrid. You can also handle inbound mails directly via the Exim, Postfix, and Qmail ingresses

ref: https://guides.rubyonrails.org/action_mailbox_basics.html

Please consider adding Sparkpost support too.

We will definitely take a look if there is enough community interest. Feel free to raise issues on our Github if you have feature requests.


I'm starting to feel some sorta way about open-core model as more of a marketing mechanism for lead gen. I can't put my finger on it and I'm not saying it's bad. It just kind of feels like it's like a free-trial that appeals to engineers, that helps jumpstart your marketing funnel top-end.

I'd love to hear Richard Stallman rant about this...he'd probably find a way to articulate, more elegantly, what I'm feeling.

In our case, open-sourcing Chatwoot was pretty accidental.

You could read the story behind how we ended up doing that over here


I like to think of open source as solving a real problem for people and saving them a lot of time for free, otherwise they wouldn't use it. This often does have the effect of creating demand for complementary services that solve even more problems and save even more time, or even opening up whole new markets like Docker did with LXC.

Anyone considering the addition of open source to their stack should also consider the downsides such as cost of fork and technological lock-in in addition to the benefits, and based on the rapid adoption of open source over the past decade I'd say it's a pretty good trade-off in a lot of cases.

We use Intercom for support and sales, but also for email (drip style), mass emails like product updates and in-app notifications.

Any plans for that?

Right now Chatwoot is suited primarily for support and sales use cases where its one on one conversations with the customer.

But we do have our eyes on marketing use cases(campaigns) in our future roadmap.

Well done and I hope this pivot plays out well!

Thanks a lot !!!

Congrats! As a small bootstrapped startup I could see us switching from the company we currently use to something like this.

Do let us know if you need any help in setting up Chatwoot.

Congrats on the launch :)

thanks a lot :)

No phone support though? That’s why we have to use zendesk...

We have had requests for phone support. At the moment, our primary focus is on text based messaging. We will get to the phone/video part in the future.

We want to make the software simple and easy to use. Setting up Asterisk and using it with Chatwoot was too much to handle. So we deferred that work for now. We will come back to it later.

Nice with Twilio a lot of use cases like callcenter are possible.

Good choice!

Any plans for a customer journey builder?

Does Chatwoot try to replace Front as well?

Yes. Chatwoot can be a viable alternative to frontapp. You can read more about channels - https://www.chatwoot.com/features/channels

Great pivot, guys. We are leaving intercom to work with it :)

happy to have you onboard. Feel free to reach out if you need any help :)

thx. really didnt like paying hundreds of dollars for something so trivial. let me know how to donate please

You could sponsor us on https://github.com/sponsors/chatwoot

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