September 14, 2022

How Cockroach Labs leveraged open source to find product-market fit

Wei Lien Dang
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How Cockroach Labs leveraged open source to find product-market fitHow Cockroach Labs leveraged open source to find product-market fit
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Editor's note: 

Join our virtual fireside chat with Peter Mattis, CTO and Co-founder of Cockroach Labs, on September 28, 2022

Reimagining the database

Databases have always fascinated us. First, there’s sheer technical complexity required to architect these systems. Second, they’ve continued to evolve since the early days of computing to serve the needs of ever-demanding applications. 

In recent years, one of the database companies we’ve most admired is Cockroach Labs. Founded in 2015, the company is the creator of CockroachDB, a leading cloud-native, distributed SQL database used by hundreds of companies, and was last valued at $5 billion. The Cockroach founders started with an ambitious vision: to reimagine the transactional database for a cloud-native world. But how did they get started and turn that vision into reality?

Open from the start

One of the most pivotal decisions the Cockroach founders decided early on was to pursue an open source-based business model. At the time, many people were skeptical as to whether open-source companies could generate significant commercial revenue. It would still be several more years before a number of open-source companies went public, solidifying market confidence that going open source could indeed be a highly valuable choice. 

The tactics that the Cockroach founders employed to successfully leverage their burgeoning open-source project — building a vibrant developer community, ensuring technical documentation and educational content were top-notch to drive self-service user adoption, and iterating on early monetization models — were also not as well-established as they are now. Today, there are more than 500 open-source contributors to CockroachDB and tens of thousands of CockroachDB clusters running across the world.

Peter Mattis, Co-founder and CTO of Cockroach Labs

Join our September 28 fireside chat about Cockroach’s open-source journey

Dive into the details of Cockroach’s story with us. We’re hosting a virtual fireside chat with Peter Mattis, co-founder and CTO, on September 28 at 9am PDT. Sign up here while spots are available.

We’ll cover these topics and more in the conversation:

  • What made the Cockroach founders decide to build their company around open source? What were the key advantages of open source they considered that outweighed other tradeoffs?
  • What were the early tactics that the founders employed to expand adoption from early users such as hobbyists to a broader user base made up of engineers within enterprises?
  • Why did the founders start thinking about potential monetization models early and how did this impact their product strategy/priorities?
  • What were some guiding principles that the founders used to determine what features should be available in open source vs. their commercial versions?
  • How has Cockroach’s licensing strategy evolved over time and what are some best practices for founders starting open source companies today?

When you join the event, we’ll send you a full Cockroach Labs case study covering the company’s open-source roots, its path to product-market fit, and a Q&A with Peter Mattis.

If you are a founder committed to building an open-source company, we’d love to chat with you — email me at In the meantime, here are some resources we hope you find helpful:

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