The index is a good predictor of whether a company will raise a round, says Konstantin Vinogradov, a general partner at Runa. Around a third of all the companies listed in the index since its launch in 2020 have raised subsequent rounds within the next 12 months, he says.
Over time, metrics can invalidate themselves, says Stuart Geiger, an assistant professor at UC San Diego. He says two “laws” attributed to social scientists sum up why: The more a metric is used in decisionmaking, the more it will be manipulated (Campbell’s law), and a metric that becomes a target ceases to be useful (Goodhart’s law).
The line between smart strategy and cheating can be blurry. “If a company becomes number one on Product Hunt, they put it on their website, then maybe it will increase their conversion rate for customers,” says Vinogradov. “Is it just winning the game? Or is it a business-driven, reasonable strategy?”
Kevin Zhang, a former venture investor now building his own startup, says Github stars have seemed to become a target for entrepreneurs looking to impress. “I started noticing that founders were putting more star growth on their decks,” he says. “That always gives you a little bit of suspicion right? Oh, maybe it’s a little bit gamed.”
But Zhang and other investors say that while gaming a metric like stars might help a startup get a first meeting with VCs, it’s unlikely to get them a second. Investor perspectives on GitHub metrics have changed in recent years as a result of gamification and an increased understanding of the open source market, Zhang says. Good GitHub engagement is one promising signal, but it’s not a bulletproof sign of success, Zhang, Vinogradov, and Aiyagari all say, with information on the founding team, market, and many other data points all considered before making an investment.
Baddhi Shop, an online store offering inauthentic metrics, rolled out its GitHub services earlier this year. It also sells Product Hunt upvotes, as well as upvotes, followers, and views on Kaggle. When WIRED sent messages to the LinkedIn account of the site’s founder, Naga Durgarao Baddhi, responses came back claiming the business was aboveboard.
When an order comes in for GitHub stars or another metric, a team of 11 get clicking, “from different cloud devices,” Baddhi said, adding that this wasn’t spam because the shop respects each website’s terms of service. GitHub is not the most popular metric-cheating offering, Baddhi added. Discord, a chat room service popular with crypto projects, gets daily purchases, and metrics for 10 other services are also popular, Baddhi says. Kellyn Slone, a spokesperson for Discord, says creating or selling fake accounts violates its terms of service, and it takes action in response, including removing users from the service.