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A quote from the blog post about The Loop stated:

As our community has grown, our research needs have become more complex. With 50 million people coming to the site every month – all with unique needs and backgrounds – our team and its research approach have evolved to keep up with this ever-growing complexity. We’ve added folks to the team with specialized research skills, like UX researchers and data scientists, while people like product managers, designers, community managers, marketers, and developers contribute research as well.

Together, we conduct mixed-methods research that helps us create a holistic picture of how we’re doing. This collective research seeks to answer questions like:

  • What do users need?
  • What do customers need?
  • Are our ideas and decisions on the right track?
  • How are our products and features performing?

[...more...]

I am assuming that those first two refer to "our users" and "our customers". This is the only time the word "customers" occurs in the entire blog post.

  • Is this the same group of people?
  • If not, then who are the customers?
  • 17
    Customers are the users that use SO for Teams or SO Enterprise Edition. – rene Dec 12 '19 at 13:02
  • 3
    @rene, you could add talent and advertising customers as well. – Luuklag Dec 12 '19 at 13:23
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    I'd say in short: Customers are those who pay. Users are everyone else. – user377035 Dec 12 '19 at 16:52
69

This answer is going to go places, because seeing the whole picture is necessary to answer the question you're asking.

There are four customers right now:
1. People that buy the Teams product (SaaS or Enterprise)
2. People that buy Ads.
3. People that buy Job Ads.
4. Venture Capitalists (VCs), i.e. investors.

So where does that leave us? We're not customers, we're users (or in some cases, the product).

Public Q & A serves two business purposes (from the outside):

  1. Marketing and Brand Recognition
  2. A funnel for the Teams product

There's a third that I'll mention (so people don't reply that I forgot about it): 3. Revenue generation from Ad Sales and Job Ads (Stack Overflow Only)

I'm going to make a critical assumption here about Public Q & A as a 'product':

  • Job ads and Ad Sales don't provide the 'exit/IPO' opportunity that Stack Overflow necessarily needs due to taking on VC.

The reason I say this is two-fold:

  1. Job Sales and Ads only have significant amounts of revenue on Stack Overflow. The other sites are essentially subsidized by the revenue Stack Overflow (the site) generates).
  2. Stack Overflow (even though it's a top 50 site!) doesn't have the broad appeal necessary for an IPO without some sort of recurring revenue generation like Teams.

What this means is that while people who use Stack Overflow and the other Q & A sites are users, they aren't necessarily customers.

Stack Overflow as a company would have to reduce its headcount by quite a bit to be profitable off of Ads alone -- this at least would have been true before the "network ads" experience; I assume it's still true because they wouldn't have tried Network Ads if they were doing just fine with Public Q & A revenue generation before.

SaaS products have a notorious adoption and revenue curve for VCs, and they have a slog to becoming profitable (to the sense of sustaining the team that built them).

To put another way: Public Q & A ads and Job sales fund the Teams product; and at this point it's possible the teams' product is self-sustaining financially.

Keep in mind that 'break even' is not good enough. They've raised (by some accounts) $68 Million in VC. They made $70 Million last year. Those multiples (2-3x) aren't enough to make back the money the investors have put into the company.

Stack Exchange either needs a breakout year with their revenue, or they need to have an exit, as the VCs are probably getting antsy at this point.

To be self-sustaining and profitable, I would imagine Stack Exchange would need to be able to buy-out its VCs, which from my back-of-the-napkin calculation would take around 300M-400M in capital. (Modeling it off of a recent acquisition -- Gimlet media, which took 30M in funding and at exit sold for 230M). Otherwise its VCs would just say, "No, stay the course for acquistion."

We don't want Stack Exchange to be acquired in most cases (Microsoft is a notable exception). Though with the current leadership's coldness towards the community, I'm not sure if the present situation is what we want anymore either.

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    VCs are considered customers because they need to either provide a return to those VCs (to make them happy), or they need more money from the VCs to make that return; so very simply, the VCs are in the driver's seat and have the focus of the company at this point. This is partially due to the stage of the company (Series D is getting pretty late), and partially due to how long some investors have been investing in the company. They need to free that money up and make a return for their funds. – George Stocker Dec 12 '19 at 13:40
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    Why do you say that "...Microsoft is a notable exception..." about acquisition? – Mithical Dec 12 '19 at 15:12
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    @Mithical I believe that Microsoft is a company that understands developers and has been trying to have a successful Q&A for its developers for years (and still fails on that). They also have a history of treating acquisitions better than other companies (though shutting down Wunderlist gives me a little pause). Out of all the potential suitors out there, Microsoft is the best aligned. Atlassian wouldn't be a terrible choice either. – George Stocker Dec 12 '19 at 15:15
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    What does VC stand for? – dustytrash Dec 12 '19 at 15:47
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    @dustytrash "Venture Capital" or "Venture Capitalists" -- people who invest in startups in hopes of making a lot of money from their exit. Here's a primer on it hbr.org/1998/11/how-venture-capital-works and another startupinstitute.com/blog/2015-8-14-how-venture-capital-works – George Stocker Dec 12 '19 at 15:49
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    Very clear answer. I wish these kinds of explanations were also included in the blog posts, for clarity. – Gloweye Dec 12 '19 at 20:01
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    I still celebrate the day they decided that the content license is some sort of CC and that regular data dumps are a good idea. It may have attracted the right kind of community that made them great in the beginning but it also may be the reason that the mission will continue, whatever happens to the company. Whatever else happens, someone, somewhere will hopefully continue to build a library of programming knowledge, with one business model or another. – Trilarion Dec 13 '19 at 12:04

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