A closer look at MotherDuck's unique monetization of DuckDB

Zach DeWitt
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MotherDuck has recently made waves in the technology world with its innovative serverless data analytics platform. Built on the open-source DuckDB, it offers a new approach to handling modern data challenges.

This year, MotherDuck was named on the Enterprise Tech 30 list as one of the world’s most promising technology companies by a panel of 100+ prominent VCs. 

The company certainly has plenty of momentum. MotherDuck recently announced a $52.5 million Series B led by Felicis, bringing the company’s total fundraising amount to $100 million, to deliver a serverless easy-to-use data analytics platform for small and large data.

It’s safe to say that MotherDuck is one of the hottest infrastructure companies in the world right now — and they also happen to have a lock on one of the best startup names in the industry.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with MotherDuck Co-founder and VP of Produck (🦆) Tino Tereshko about the company’s PLG strategy and how they’re monetizing open-source software in new ways.

DuckDB is everywhere!

There’s a lot of hype around DuckDB as an open-source project in analytics, and there are a number of reasons for all the buzz. 

DuckDB is uniquely embeddable, so it can live almost anywhere, including Python notebooks, R scripts, cloud functions, in the browser or simply on a cloud VM. Virtually any computing resource can create beautiful analytics in beautiful SQL using DuckDB.

DuckDB is also easy to use. In Python, users just pip install and import duckdb to get a fully-fledged analytics database faster than a pricey modern cloud data warehouse. Tino continues:

“The open-source community has embraced DuckDB in a big way. Virtually every modern BI platform embeds DuckDB. Okta uses it to perform analytics at the edge. Vector similarity is now possible. Even ETL tools and AI communities are jumping aboard. DuckDB is a database that can walk, swim and fly, and the variety of real-world use cases is indicative of its amazing versatility.”

MotherDuck is managed DuckDB for organizations

DuckDB doesn’t do everything, however — and that’s by design. 

For example, DuckDB doesn’t have IAM or sharing, it doesn’t have a great multi-tenant story and it doesn’t provide an operational service layer required by organizations. 

DuckDB focuses on a best-in-class single-player experience.

MotherDuck: A serverless cloud service with DuckDB in the middle

That’s where MotherDuck comes in.

MotherDuck is building a new type of serverless data warehouse on top of DuckDB, which fills the gaps left by solo DuckDB. 

The company manages DuckDB for users, and has invested in all the pieces enterprises need to adopt DuckDB, such as sharing, auditing, administration, serverless ops and persistence. They’re also ensuring all the modern data tools are well-supported with MotherDuck.

The Modern Duck Stack, supported by MotherDuck

A new way to monetize open-source

DuckDB Labs, the organization behind DuckDB (which is a separate company from MotherDuck), works on the DuckDB open-source project. They’ve purposefully stayed away from monetizing DuckDB by building a cloud service.

Instead, DuckDB exclusively partners with MotherDuck to build a modern serverless cloud analytics platform based on DuckDB. When I asked him about this partnership, Tino said:

“In this model, everybody wins: DuckDB Labs retains its freedom and independence, MotherDuck gets help, and both parties share in the upside. This is a unique and novel model for taking open source to market.”

Open-source companies these days are going open-core, increasingly hiding capabilities behind their closed-source services. Open-core is often a necessity, but it can upset open-source purists. MotherDuck’s relationship with DuckDB is clean in this regard — DuckDB is forever open, while MotherDuck builds closed-source service infrastructure components. 

DuckDB drives the top of the PLG funnel

DuckDB’s broad awareness and positive sentiment benefits MotherDuck. Users who are jazzed about DuckDB are gaining awareness of MotherDuck and are excited about the prospects of a cloud service that complements and enhances their DuckDB experience. 

MotherDuck knows how difficult it is to get the PLG flywheel going and they’re grateful to DuckDB for this additional benefit, as well as the amazing puns that come from their partnership. Tino says:

“We’ve greased the skids on the DuckDB-to-MotherDuck pattern in a major way. Virtually any DuckDB anywhere can connect to MotherDuck with one single command: “open motherduck:”. Under the hood, the MotherDuck extension gets loaded, and suddenly your DuckDB instance is supercharged by MotherDuck. We thus enable a slew of additional capabilities, plus something we’re calling hybrid execution — a different kind of distributed system is created, in which your DuckDB and our cloud-hosted DuckDB work in concert to execute analytics workloads.”

MotherDuck is still early in their journey. They just went Beta in June, and opened the doors to all users in September. They don’t yet have billing, but did announce a compelling pricing model. Tino recognizes that his team has lots of work to do before their PLG flywheel is spinning at full speed — but they’re on our way.

Deep adoption, powered by customer love

MotherDuck has found that deeply engaging with customers, being present in their projects, and continuously soliciting product feedback is a great way to rapidly mature their product. 

They launched a design partner program to work closely with a small number of highly motivated customers with good technical fit and problems MotherDuck believes they can solve. 

The idea is to encourage customers to love MotherDuck, so the company can build repeatable patterns, which in turn will drive scalable go-to-market. At this stage of the company, their goal is happy customers, not revenue. Tino says:

“We learned that a specific subset of users is especially underserved by the data landscape — application developers building data-intensive B2B applications. Data applications don’t work in OLTP databases, they don’t work in OLAP databases and data warehouses and they kinda work in purpose-built databases. We have some novel ideas here, and we’re getting gobs of traction among this particular user type.” 

What’s next for Motherduck

Since opening its doors just a few months ago, MotherDuck has added several thousand sign-ups. A number of organizations are using MotherDuck in production, and many others are headed that way quickly.

At this point, the team is rapidly driving towards General Availability — a major milestone signaling maturity and readiness to their customer base.

When I asked Tino about the plans for future growth using PLG, he said:

“We really like PLG, as it incentivizes polish and ease of use, and our product reflects this philosophy. However, we recognize that organizations of all sizes and maturities need help. Whether we have an enterprise sales motion to complement PLG will be dictated by the customer, and our job is to stay humble and flexible. Time will tell!”

MotherDuck's pioneering data platform

The launch of MotherDuck's serverless data analytics platform marks a significant advancement in data processing. 

MotherDuck provides an effective solution for complex modern data challenges — and Tino’s team has found an interesting new way to monetize on an open-source DuckDB foundation and leverage PLG for growth.

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