Why we invested in Mermaid Chart

Published: Oct 10, 2022
By: Erica Lindberg

Mermaid Chart is changing how we communicate. Creating dynamic text-based diagrams removes the clumsy design layer and improves collaboration.

Knut Sveidqvist was with his kids in the family room when he sat down and started writing Mermaid. “They were watching The Little Mermaid,” said Knut about naming the project. “I did not for one moment guess what would happen.” 

Like many open source software projects, Knut created Mermaid to address a problem he was experiencing: bad documentation. During nights and weekends, he worked on making diagrams more fun and efficient to create. Fast forward, and the text-based diagramming tool now has 50,000+ stars and is used by over 12,000 repositories on GitHub. It was named “the most exciting use of technology” by JS Open Source Awards in 2019. 

As of September 2022, Knut is the founder and CTO of Mermaid Chart, an open core company based on the open source project, Mermaid.  The digital visualization tool that uses Markdown-like text definitions to create and modify diagrams and charts dynamically. With OCV’s investment and support, Knut is now focusing on building Mermaid Chart full-time.

“Mermaid has had great traction for a while now. It has been hard to keep up with the momentum using only hours in the evenings and weekends,” said Knut. “It is hard to understate the importance of the boost the open source project is receiving. Founding a company has been something I always have wanted to do and, thanks to OCV, it is finally time.” 

At OCV, we identify open source software projects with potential and start companies around them. We recruit founders from the open source community, pay them a salary at or above market rate from the start, and launch the business together. Our belief is that this will lower the barrier to entry to starting a venture-backed company and sustain open source long term. Mermaid Chart is an example of an open source project that already had product-market fit and just needed a boost to realize its full potential. 

“Mermaid is an excellent example of an open source project that clearly serves a need,” said Betty Ma, COO at OCV. “As more work moves digital, a real-time, intuitive, diagramming tool will effortlessly facilitate brainstorming sessions and help us simplify the communication and digestion of complex ideas and processes. We’re excited to support Knut in building Mermaid Chart to serve more users and use cases.” 

With this investment, Knut will be able to focus on developing a product roadmap and hiring engineers to make his vision come alive. Mermaid Chart already improves diagrams by removing the clumsy design layer of drawing boxes and lines and intelligently creates complex diagrams based on markdown text. In the future, Mermaid Chart will become the collaboration platform for diagrams, process design, and certification. 

“I’m looking forward to doing more development of Mermaid,” said Knut. “Development in the Mermaid project has a little different flavor than most other development. It has interesting challenges that range from trigonometry to language grammar and the results are direct and visual.” 

The Digital Diagramming Frontier 

While Knut’s original vision was to improve the technical documentation process, diagrams have endless applications. Diagrams can convey information more efficiently than words and they help us remember. They save cognitive processing time and aid in brainstorming and planning. Text paired with graphics is more persuasive and impactful. Diagrams are a superior method for conveying complicated processes and certifications, introducing systems, and communicating new ideas. 

However, creating and collaborating on diagrams is still clumsy. Whether trying to draw and line up boxes with a mouse or collaborate with others, there’s virtually no mechanism for version control. For this reason, collaborators must be invited to make a change, it’s hard to see the difference when a change is made, and it’s easy to change the diagram’s structure when moving information around accidentally. 

Mermaid Chart changes this. “By generating text-based diagramming software, Mermaid Chart gives you the best of both worlds,” said Sid Sijbrandij, General Partner at OCV. “It gives you clean diagrams plus all the flexibility and control you get from Markdown.” 

Mermaid currently supports a wide range of charts from flowcharts and pie charts to sequencing diagrams, user journeys, gantt, and more. With the creation of Mermaid Chart, more diagram types will become available. Mermaid Chart’s collaboration platform will become a central hub for certifications and design activities. It will include an improved editing experience via a dedicated editor and collaborative editing capabilities. We imagine a future where it’s easy for teams to view and review diagrams and workflows, see what’s changed, make suggestions, and edit collaboratively.