How MongoDB transformed from a traditional sales-led business to a product-led GTM machine
Insight from MongoDB’s Chief Product Officer, Sahir Azam, on how MongoDB launched their Atlas cloud product and built a juggernaut bottoms-up business.
Making the shift from open-source enterprise software to a consumption-based cloud model is a rare feat. Aside from building a product that meets the needs of a self-serve user, there is an enormous organizational change that needs to take place in order for it to be successful. Teams need to operate differently, be goaled differently, and work together in new ways to meet their customer in the buying and product journey they prefer.
But for leaders like Sahir Azam, CPO at MongoDB, it was the exact reason he was brought on as he kickstarted their Atlas cloud product. Sahir leads Product Management, Product Design, and Industry Solutions. He joined MongoDB in 2016 as SVP, Cloud Products & GTM to lead MongoDB's Cloud Products and Go-to-Market Strategy ahead of the launch of MongoDB Atlas.
Open-source is about driving developer adoption, but enterprise sales is only going to monetize a fraction of those users. Product-led monetization fills the gap.
How did you end up at MongoDB?
My goal at the time was to become as knowledgeable about SaaS business models as possible, and I had built some conviction that for open-source companies, SaaS is the right model. MongoDB was an open-source phenomenon and they brought me on to make the transition from an open-source to a consumption model.
When you joined to launch the Atlas cloud product, what was the status quo in the company?
Open-source is about driving developer adoption globally. However, monetization was a traditional enterprise model. We had a huge user base, but we were only monetizing a subset of that. When you’re giving away IP, people will only pay for the highest value applications. So we were only able to monetize the very last stage of the product lifecycle. For GTM, this meant we had a strong enterprise sales team that was upselling into existing accounts.
"Atlas wasn’t just another SKU for sales at MongoDB, it was an opportunity to diversify and transform our GTM strategy more broadly by building a direct to developer monetization muscle."
What did early success mean for Atlas?
Atlas was a way to transform and diversify our GTM strategy. The first goal was to build the self service monetization engine direct to the developer. The two years were focused on the bottoms up motion, conversion via self-service, and upselling those accounts with sales. But we didn’t know it would actually work at the time. We had to figure out the business model and it definitely wasn’t the DNA of the company.
MongoDB had to learn the product-led business model. It wasn’t the DNA of the company, and it required us to learn new skills and hire new people.
How did the org structure evolve over time for Atlas?
We had a cloud engineering and product team, but we made the decision to not treat it as a completely separate side project. Instead, we positioned Atlas to influence MongoDB in building a team with a SaaS background. That was complex to manage cross-functionally, but it meant everyone was bought into the transformation.
About 18 months in, we doubled down on the product-led motion and built a unified growth team that included analytics, product marketing, performance marketing, growth product and engineers. The most important thing was measuring that team with the same degree of rigor that we treat sales. Now, the engine is larger and we have a split function but they think as one team regardless of where they sit on the org chart.
PRO TIP 💡
It’s important not to treat product-led as an entirely different BU. Instead of creating a side project, create a mechanism to transform every function into a consumption based SaaS business.
How much pressure was there on revenue growth early on?
It was definitely a goal of the company to show revenue traction, but over time we realized the north star for the self-service GTM is the volume of customers we’re bringing in. Most people think about acquiring customers, we think about acquiring workloads.
Growth teams should be measured on what needs product inputs to create a healthy GTM engine. For MongoDB, this was capturing workloads and driving habitual usage.
What are the stack ordered business metrics?
The number of free and paid users we’re converting and the holistic ARR. The growth team’s operating rhythm was based on the customer success inputs to get to that, e.g. users and workloads going to habitual usage. The inputs are based on good usage, the output are the business metrics that indicate health like total users and conversion.
PRO TIP 💡
Holistic ARR is an attribution metric that combines revenue sourced from self-serve and revenue that has transitioned to sales for complete coverage.
How do you leverage the community investment into the rest of the business model?
Nurturing a developer community, regardless of which product they are using, is a must do. Open-source is the outer ring of our funnel which has millions of users that are building on MongoDB. Our goal is for those users to also have a cloud account and connect those two motions, both as part of a freemium strategy to drive overall developer adoption.
What does the interface between product and sales look like?
There’s a strong relationship between product and GTM leadership, including the CMO and CRO. Our goal is to match the buyer behavior to the GTM motion, bottoms up or outbound enterprise selling. We’re always transforming and optimizing what we have, but it starts with strong alignment and collaboration at the top of the organization.
"Open source is the outer ring of our funnel which has millions of users that are building on MongoDB. Our goal is for those users to also have a cloud account and connect those two motions, both as part of a freemium strategy to drive overall developer adoption."
You have to tune your org, metrics, and shared goals as you scale as a business and realize new needs. This means constant tuning and iteration across all functions and how they collaborate.
How do you deal with channel conflict?
Initially sales was measured on committed revenue. Over time, we learned and tweaked our comp model to only pay commissions on revenue above the organic self-serve run rate. That naturally protects against cannibalization because reps will only go where there’s opportunity.
Now, we work back from a healthy P&L and then think about how we should use different teams to drive those outcomes, while collecting feedback to ensure we’re moving in the right direction.
PRO TIP 💡
An omni-channel GTM really means providing optionality for customers to buy in a way that works for them whether online with a credit card or on a golf course.
What does your week look like and how do you manage your exec team in a complex matrix organization?
On a weekly basis we have our executive staff meeting to stay on top of our big rocks for the business. The growth team (a mix of marketing, product, sales) meets multiple times a week to test and iterate on different GTM motions. We also pull together teams to do off-site in-person workshops to do things like journey mapping to lock people into a room and drive consensus. A seller that’s interacting with customers in a high touch model is going to have a much different point of view than a product manager looking at data in a spreadsheet and we want to bring all of that on the table.
Follow Sahir Azam for more of his insights! A huge thank you again to Sahir for his time, insight, and wisdom.
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