Robby (Cowboy VC) & Tim (Essence VC)
Data Tooling

Episode 3: Building & Scaling MongoDB

AUTHOR: Robby (Cowboy VC) & Tim (Essence VC)

Max Schireson, prev. CEO, MongoDB

1:20: Max started his career at Oracle where he became frustrated with the limitations of relational databases. He then moved to MarkLogic where he discovered XML databases and the flexibility of that format got him excited about the potential for new databases. From there, he moved to MongoDB as CEO just as NoSQL started to take off. There, he was exposed to the distribution potential of open-source. With an open-source business, people used your product well before you sold it to them. The company was very early when he joined. There were 20 employees and $10Ks - $100Ks of revenue. However, they already had a fair amount of open-source adoption.

7:40: Technical support became incredibly challenging at MongoDB since users were so sophisticated.

11:50: The transition away from support as a business model was necessary as users were finding fewer issues with the product. Max walks through the shift towards an open core model bifurcating free and paid functionality.

13:40: Deciding between paid and unpaid features was challenging. They discovered that paid features were good for operating at scale, and while they could have made more money by charging for additional support, they felt that having the best free open-source product on the market should take priority.

17:50: They didn't focus on stars as a core metric as it is only a rough measure of momentum. Instead, they focused on things like Google Trends (how often people searched for MongoDB), how often someone would put MongoDB on their LinkedIn as a skill, and if MongoDB was posted on Indeed in job recs.

22:20: Marketing and community came in the form of grassroots efforts and informal presentations. These included 'Mongo Days' where they organized engineering events across the country. Developers liked the honest and genuine nature of how MongoDB was sold to them with the sales team using phrases like “people use Mongo because the alternatives suck”.

25:30: MongoDB used an incremental approach to monetization (support then additional product functionality). They could have prioritized monetizing more sooner but instead focused efforts on the open-source.

27:15: A piece of advice from Max to open-source founders: focus on production workflows for monetization where you'll see real volume.

29:50: Open-source works best in a cloud delivery model. If someone downloads your open-source and uses it on-prem, it’s hard to track and fix issues since you don’t know who all is using the software (in a cloud model, you can fix issues for everyone at the same time).

32:05: Open-source can be seen as just a distribution method, but cloud products can have other great distribution methods.

36:15: A common mistake when building an open-source company is focusing on open-source adoption OR monetization instead of both.

38:20: Open-source licenses are important to protect your IP. MongoDB had a specific license that restricted how developers could use the product, which was risky since it added friction, but it didn’t end up hurting adoption for them.

43:10: At MongoDB, the greatest ‘growth hack’ was having a great product experience from the get-go; implementation was quick and users saw value very early.

Full episode here

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