How to Market & Sell Open Source Software ft. Timescale & Red Hat
*Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with any of the companies discussed in this post
There’s a timeless phenomenon in business where strong product teams struggle to market and sell their awesome goods. It’s a travesty, really.
In a perfect world sales and marketing would not exist. People would be instantly matched with the products they need. Creators would instantly get their product in the hands of ideal customers.
However… that’s not the world that we live in.
Not only is it hard to find the solutions we need, but often we don’t know what we want or need in the first place.
Thus, sales and marketing are an essential and complimentary counterpart to product teams.
Which brings us to the main topic of discussion in today’s bite-sized marketing case study.
I’d like to break down a company called Timescale. It’s a good example of how a product-first company can improve their go-to-market at the Series A stage.
Caveat. I am not a developer so a lot of these product details are frankly over my head.
What I do know, is how to market and sell products.
And it’s very obvious that this company is product and tech first at the expense of marketing. Just look at their top level navigation on their website:
- Get Started
I mean, Github is in their main navigation!
No shade to their core mission, but we build businesses to sell products, and I think we can do one better here.
Really, I’d like Timescale to take a page from Red Hat’s book.
It’s a nice comparision because both companies sell and implement open source software to enterprise.
Here’s the main navigation you see on Red Hat’s website:
- Services & Support
- Open Source
The difference is huge.
Now, what I love about Timescale is that their core value is simple, and communicated well. It’s a better way to run a database that uses time-series data. Boom. There we go.
There are also a ton of high profile logos featured prominently on Timescale. This is also good.
So where do we go from here?
Here’s what I’d like to see on Timescale.
First of all, Red Hat asks users to set up an account before they get access to anything. This is super important for lead generation for an in-house sales team. And, in helping users understand how best to utilize their new technology.
And I especially want to highlight that “driving leads” to a “salesforce” doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It’s important to have a conversation with all users to nurture even freemium relationships. This is how marketers and sales teams educate users and open up the possibility of a sale. And after the close, this is how we can ensure continued success, expansion revenue, and referrals down the line.
In software, onboarding is super important as a poor implementation can kill the deal. I’d bet $100 that is the case with Timescale as well. Perhaps even more so than “typical” SaaS companies.
Moving on, I’d like to see Timescale package their product into more of a “solutions” forward approach. Red Hat does this well.
It’s presented on Timescale’s home page as well, but sort of buried down the page. Not optimal.
The key thing with showing solutions and not just technology is that these categories reflect the different buyer personas that are a good fit for Timescale’s technology.
This shows people at a glance if they should be interested in the company and hooks them before they bounce.
Finally, let’s talk about service offerings.
To my understanding, a big part of how companies like Red Hat make money in an open source environment is through services revenue. This follows the tradition of predecessor companies like Oracle. A great (read: high margin) business model, even if Oracle doesn’t get a lot of love for it.
Now, let’s talk a bit about growth channels.
It’s obvious that these guys are selling to developers. And I don’t think it makes sense to try to market to any other job function. You simply need a certain level of technical knowledge to know that you need this tool.
So, the name of the game for growth is to get this product in the hands of as many developers as possible who need to process time-series data.
There is going to be a subset of the market that has a pressing issue with this problem and knows they need a solution. For those people, a few obvious channels come to mind.
Google, of course. Both for Ads and organic search. There is a big play to be made here with content marketing. I like that they’re already running a blog that’s driving half the traffic to their website. Good moves.
Youtube, as well. Especially for people looking for visual walkthroughs of code. Given their strong product team and technical talent, it makes sense to take an educational approach to video content that leverages the expertise of their team. It’s a low commitment to create content, and easy to keep up a frequent publishing schedule.
Next up: Stack Overflow. I think they could command a strong organic presence here. But, I also discovered as I was looking into this, that SO offers advertising. Seems like a no-brainer channel to me.
Also, Quora. For queries into time-series data, seems great. Needs a little bit of digging into search volume here but could be viable.
For other channels that are not so bottom-of-the-funnel…
LinkedIn. Developers in their target audience are for sure on this channel. Especially at bigger enterprise companies where a professional profile is expected. The tricky thing will be creating the right content, offers, and hooks to put in front of this channel as LinkedIn can be very expensive. Further, the LTV of their enterprise product has to support these high aquisition costs. If they are only making $500 LTV per sale, for example, LinkedIn might not be the best channel to focus on without a bigger war chest.
Next up, conferences and events in the development space. Open source conferences for sure. Particularly any conference that might have enterprise-level attendees there. I’m certain there are dozens and dozens of events that have the right audience for their product. They should blitz event marketing as much as possible.
Finally, sponsorship of coding courses related to PostgreSQL. Since this seems to be their core technology, it would pay to get into the core stack of developers early in their career. Later, when they go on to work for other companies, they’ll take their tool stack with them and sell into other organizations from the bottom up. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve recommended clients tools like HubSpot, Unbounce, Shopify, Klaviyo, X Theme, and more. It’s just how technical operators work.
Overall, we want to do some fundamental things with this technology as a freemium and open source tool.
First, get in the hands of as many users as possible as their go-to tool for time-series data.
Second, find awesome applications in enterprise organizations, and shout those logos and case studies from the rooftops.
Finally, find cool projects using Timescale and spread the word to anyone in the development community.
I’ll close with this — congratulations to these guys for closing their Series A round and for successes so far! With a bit stronger of a marketing team to compliment their product chops, I think they’ll see a lot of success in the next few years.
Originally published at AndrewIshimaru.com.