We’ve shared key lessons on building community, ranging from global projects (like our very own Firefox browser) to nascent projects (like WebFWD Fellow OpenPhoto). Out in the marketplace, there’s an emerging ecosystem of companies that have pivoted, adapted and learned as they navigate the challenges of building a business atop an open source project.

10Gen is the company built to support the MongoDB project, an open source, non-relational document-oriented database. They make a great case study for open source entrepreneurs. In this session, Meghan Gill, MongoDB’s first non-technical employee, shares some of the challenges and tacks that MongoDB has taken to grow from zero to over 100,000 downloads per month.

Meghan walks us through the thinking behind MongoDB’s evolution, including:

  • Pivoting from being a Platform provider to being a database provider.
  • Getting people to “pay for free software” by developing revenue models around support, training and subscriptions, etc.
  • Treating support “as the most important marketing.”
  • Scaling their community by breaking it out geographically, achieving a multiplier effect: in Meghan’s words, “We see our community as a product manager.
  • Growing from zero sales reps to a position where they are now investing in their sales & marketing team over the past 1.5 years (12-15 sales reps worldwide today).
  • Managing and prioritizing large volume of users and lead flow that comes from being an open source project.

Meghan also suggests reading up on how JBoss grew its revenues from roughly $1M per year to $65M per year before its acquisition by RedHat.

Here’s a wealth of information on the ‘secret sauce’ that made this all happen. Be sure to watch Meghan herself: