Mastodon creator Eugen Rochko talks funding and how to build the anti-Twitter

Mastodon creator Eugen Rochko talks funding and how to build the anti-Twitter

Eugen Rochko Mastodon was created six years ago by a developer who had previously been interested in and working with open source software. He was an open-source developer and had been working with open-source software for some time. He got the idea for Mastodon by federating a forum he created in high school.

This project was successful. It was called Zeon Federated and is no longer active. He also created and sold a platform that managed escrow for artists involved in commissions.

Mastodon’s success has taken its creator somewhat by surprise. Rochko did not enter this project as a social media guru, nor is he one to share much about himself. He dialed into our videochat from an unknown location when we spoke. He has never used Instagram. Rochko seems to be the exact opposite of growth hackers who view building audience or revenue as an end all in themselves.

We spoke to Rochko this week about Mastodon’s early days, its recent surge of users, and how advertising might or may not play into its future.

TechCrunch: You have probably seen significant growth over the past six weeks. Is the growth rate steady, increasing or decreasing since Elon Musk’s handover? What number of users and servers do your servers now?

Eugen Rochko: The graph shows that there was a significant spike in activity around the news that Elon Musk had bought Twitter. Another spike occurred when Musk fired most of Twitter’s employees. Although it has slowed down, the rate is still much higher than before October. There are now 2.5 million active users per month across Mastodon’s 8,600 servers.

We don’t track the growth rate of app downloads, but at the moment, they are approximately 4,000 per day on Android and iOS. We had 149,000 Android downloads and 235,000 iOS. This was the highest spike we could see after Musk fired employees. The iOS app has been downloaded 1.8 million times in the last 90 days. Android gives different numbers, but in October the installed audience for Android app was 53,000 devices. It now stands at 907,000 devices.

I don’t know if mobile is more popular than desktop so I can’t tell you. We haven’t created dashboards for this.

“Moderation work cannot be automated. Simple cases are so easy that even if someone is doing it, it only takes a few seconds. When it’s more complicated, no automation can help. It takes a human being to understand the context and make the call. Eugen Rochko

TC: You say “we”, but how many people are there at Mastodon?

Rochko: I am the only full-time employee. Five other people are contractors at the moment. I am looking to expand the full time team and have been working on job listings. It’s a slow process. I wish I could do it much faster. It’s a new frontier for an organization that has been a one-person enterprise for six years. It’s been great so far, but we need more people.

TC: Is Patreon your only method of funding it?

Rochko: Patreon is the main one. To save money on Patreon fees, we also created a custom sponsorship platform. The European Commission also gave us a grant to help with some of the features. It’s Patreon, though.

TC: The bulk of it comes from around 8,500 backers…

Rochko: That’s $31,000 per month. This number has increased dramatically in the past month, it was $7,000 last month. This is the only reason we can even consider hiring new employees.

This is the most frightening part of managing a nonprofit that relies on donations. If the donations dry up, I’m responsible for my own well-being. But if you hire people and the donations stop, you suddenly become responsible for the livelihoods of others. This has been the biggest obstacle to getting other people as employees.

I believe there is a buffer so we want to get more people involved.

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