Q&A: in conversation with Prashanth Chandrasekar, CEO of Stack Overflow

Edtech is a focus segment for Prosus and is a natural fit with the company’s mission to improve everyday life for billions of people. Edtech is also an area that sits at the heart of the Prosus investment philosophy – education presents an opportunity for a large societal shift that has not yet been fully disrupted or improved by technology.

Prosus was an early investor in Edtech, having entered the market in 2016. Prosus has invested more than US$3.5bn in the sector, positioning the group as one of the largest Edtech investors globally. 

Prosus acquired Stack Overflow in 2021 as the group increasingly focuses on the future of workplace learning. Stack Overflow serves more than 100 million people every month, making it one of the 50 most popular websites in the world. The company has a highly engaged and learning-focused global community, and both developers and technologists depend daily on its products and tools. In addition, Stack Overflow has expanded to include the company’s core SaaS collaboration product, Stack Overflow for Teams, a leading knowledge management and collaboration solution that thousands of the top enterprises around the world trust.

Larry Illg, CEO of Prosus Edtech recently spent some time talking through the Stack Overflow business with Prashanth Chandrasekar, CEO of Stack Overflow. To hear more, watch the video or take a look at the transcript below.


You've been CEO of Stack Overflow for two years now. Can you tell us how you got here now and what drew you to the company? 

“Very quickly on my background, I started out in India where I grew up until I was about 17 and then came to the states on a scholarship for a college in Maine, where I studied computer engineering. I started out as a software developer very early on. But over time, I realised that my passion was more about learning and leading. Learning about and leading companies in high-growth environments. That's where my journey took me from consulting to investment banking and then to operational roles at Rackspace. Across all of these roles, I've always been focused on technology. And then ultimately, I was approached about the CEO role at Stack in 2019. At the time, the company was thinking about bringing on an external CEO to help transform the company into a SaaS company and to build a more sustainable business on the foundation of this amazing community and public platform that had been built over the course of about ten years. I was super excited to even be considered for the role because all my teams at Rackspace were using Stack Overflow.

“What brought me to Stack can probably be summarised in two points. The first point is the impact that Stack Overflow has on the technologist and developer communities. We serve close to 100 million monthly visitors. It is probably a once in a lifetime opportunity to impact that many people. And the second point was the opportunity for me to bring my past experience, especially from Rackspace, to Stack. I helped to build one of the fastest-growing businesses there around cloud services on Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud, and bringing some of that experience here to Stack to help it build its own sustainable business. That is ultimately why I'm here.”

Part of the appeal of Stack Overflow and certainly why we found the company really compelling from a strategy standpoint was the public Q&A platform and the scale of the platform, attracting over 100 million monthly visitors. Tell us about how the communities evolved.

"Again, the company was founded in 2008, almost 13 years ago. Back then it started out as purely a Q&A platform in response to useful knowledge not being freely available for developers to help them get unstuck. I know that it can be highly frustrating trying to debug your code with limited resources available. Stack Overflow was really a big boon for developers, though, it has evolved in a couple of ways in terms of the user base and in terms of the content.

To summarise, initially, the user base was a great group of core users who ultimately morphed into something called the meta user base. They were power users and mostly professional developers. The user base has now evolved and grown to 100 million people, which includes a good mix of people from not only the U.S. but internationally, who are not only professional developers, but also novice programmers.

The website started out as purely Q&A about basic programming languages. The innovation in the programming space has been massive. There have been so many new scripting languages created over the years trying to correct for inefficiencies in the previous popular language and so on. The site has expanded in terms of this level of content, but also in terms of the types of technology topics websites covers has also broadened. For example, cloud Amazon Web Services has 250,000 questions and answers on our public website, there are cybersecurity topics, or more recently blockchain has seen a huge uptick in terms of content from a developer perspective.

In summary, both our user base and the content has evolved to keep up with the times and really will lead the times in many ways because people go to Stack Overflow first to get their answers."

You are known for your public website, which is free to people who use it. How does Stack Overflow make money?

"We make money through two business lines. First is through our SaaS business called Stack Overflow for Teams, which is effectively a private version of what I just explained. Where you've got all these questions and answers in the public community. But, after a lot of research and a lot of inbound from customers saying a lot of what they wanted to share is proprietary to their organisations. Companies like Microsoft, which has over 50,000 users on our Stack Overflow for Teams SaaS product, wanted to share knowledge very freely as they onboarded new developers into the company. Also, as people moved around they wanted to have an evergreen source of truth in terms of knowledge that could be shared very collaboratively within the company. That is ultimately why Stack Overflow for Teams was created.

Stack Overflow for Teams was formed back in 2017 and it has been growing very, very rapidly over the past few years. Over the past few years given the need to collaborate more asynchronously, collaboration tools like Slack or Stack Overflow for Teams have been a huge benefit for organisations.

The second business line is our advertising business line, which consists of many advertising products. The first type is more traditional advertising, including banners ads, direct-to-developers (sponsored technical content), sponsoring a particular Stack Exchange or even sponsored tags – advertising capabilities for companies to promote and build awareness of their products.

The second type of advertising is employer branding, which allows companies who are looking to hire developers to be able to showcase their company and why they're a desirable employer on multiple dimensions.

Very recently, we launched something called Collectives on Stack Overflow, which is a very exciting new product that allows tech companies to build communities on top of Stack Overflow. Companies like Google Cloud and even open source communities like Go Language have a semi-private space on Stack Overflow, where they can engage very deeply with the developer community and developers can engage with these companies about their products."

We've seen a number of the companies we invest in grow as more people are working from home. How have you seen the collaboration tool Stack Overflow for Teams grow over the last year and a half? 

"It has been really fantastic to see Stack Overflow for teams grow very rapidly since it was launched in 2017. It is solving a very important problem. The old way of doing knowledge management was with wikis, where many say knowledge goes to die.  There is very low trust in wiki content within companies. With people working more remotely and in a hybrid world, there is a need for new asynchronous ways to collaborate. Stack Overflow for Teams is really the new way of doing it, where you're sharing up-to-date, relevant content and knowledge within organisations at the right place, at the right time when people are having issues so that they can get unstuck. We now say that knowledge goes to thrive at Stack Overflow for Teams, versus die. Product and engineering teams within companies are delighted to know that there's a private version of our platform because they use it literally every day in the public context.

We are now seeing Stack Overflow for Teams expand beyond technologist teams, including customer success teams, data science teams and even in some cases, marketing and go-to-market teams, sales, legal, HR and more."

We are obviously aligned around the broader vision around the company and how the sector will evolve. Stack Overflow's community-driven approach to helping each other with questions and problem-solving is really what attracted us to the company. I think it’d be interesting for people to hear the other side. How did you know that Prosus was the right fit for Stack? 

“What really got my attention was the mission statement of Prosus - building leading companies that empower people and enrich communities. It was music to my ears because that's exactly what we care about. The concrete reasons we were very thrilled to partner with Prosus were, first, you're obviously a massive international powerhouse. It's amazing to see the size and scale that Prosus has along with Naspers. And then, of course, the second reason is the Edtech focus, because a lot of what we are doing in the public community is to enable people to learn. EdTech as an extension of what we do to drive more value for our users is very powerful. Having the opportunity to work with Prosus and your portfolio is a big draw. The third reason was around the long-term approach and the ability to think big. We really believe Stack Overflow is an institution that's going to be around for a long time and the impact will be massive. We were thrilled that Prosus has a very long-term lens and very reassuring to us that this long-term approach will be a huge thing for our community.”

What do you see as the biggest opportunities ahead in terms of collaborating with some of our other portfolio companies within Prosus?

"We have already started collaborating very deeply with the Prosus Edtech portfolio especially because we serve so many different types of companies with that. We are looking forward to being the platform that the portfolio uses to advertise or we hope they can leverage our Stack Overflow for Teams product.

But more broadly, the Edtech focus at Prosus will yield some value-added partnerships where our platform can go to the next level. Professional developers or technologists all the way to novice developers and technologists getting an instantaneous answer to a question that they may be encountering is good. If we can then also support their learning even more deeply by presenting a course from one of the Prosus portfolio companies at the right place and the right time for them to continue to learn and get better, it is a win-win scenario for both of us. 

We are also very excited about the reach that Prosus has. We have a disproportionately U.S. focused business, so that gives us a big opportunity to expand internationally as well."

About Prosus

Prosus is a global consumer internet group and one of the largest technology investors in the world. Operating and investing globally in markets with long-term growth potential, Prosus builds leading consumer internet companies that empower people and enrich communities.

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About Prosus:

Prosus is a global consumer internet group and one of the largest technology investors in the world. Operating and investing globally in markets with long-term growth potential, Prosus builds leading consumer internet companies that empower people and enrich communities.

The group is focused on building meaningful businesses in the online classifieds, food delivery, payments and fintech, and education technology sectors in markets including India and Brazil. Through its ventures team, Prosus invests in areas including health, logistics, blockchain, and social commerce. Prosus actively seeks new opportunities to partner with exceptional entrepreneurs who are using technology to improve people’s everyday lives.

Every day, billions of customers use the products and services of companies that Prosus has invested in, acquired or built, including 99minutos,  Airmeet, Aruna, AutoTrader, Autovit.ro, Azos, BandLab, Bibit, Bilt, Biome Makers, Borneo, Brainly, BUX, BYJU'S, Bykea, Captain Fresh, Codecademy, Collective Benefits, Creditas, DappRadar, DeHaat, Detect Technologies, dott, EduMe, ElasticRun, eMAG, Endowus, Eruditus, EVERY, Facily, Flink, Foodics, Good Glamm Group, GoodHabitz, GoStudent, Honor, iFood, Imovirtual, Klar, Kovi, LazyPay, letgo, Luno, Mensa Brands, Meesho, merXu, Movile, Oda, OLX, Otodom, OTOMOTO, PaySense, PayU, Pharmeasy, Platzi, Property24, Quick Ride, Red Dot Payment, Republic, Sharebite, Shipper, ShopUp, SoloLearn, Stack Overflow, Standvirtual, Superside, Swiggy, Thndr, Tonik, Ula, Urban Company, Vegrow, watchTowr, and Wayflyer.

Hundreds of millions of people have made the platforms of Prosus’s associates a part of their daily lives. For listed companies where we have an interest, please see: Tencent, Delivery Hero, Remitly, Trip.com, Udemy, Skillsoft, Sinch, and SimilarWeb.

Today, Prosus companies and associates help improve the lives of more than two billion people around the world.

Prosus has a primary listing on Euronext Amsterdam (AEX:PRX) and secondary listings on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (XJSE:PRX) and a2X Markets (PRX.AJ). Prosus is majority-owned by Naspers.

For more information, please visit www.prosus.com.