Community-Led Growth is the Future of B2B SaaS

Emil Eifrem and Thomas Sjöberg
Photo: Pierre Ekman

Community-led growth is the GTM strategy used by some of the world’s fastest-growing SaaS companies. One of those companies is Neo4j, which reached the coveted $100 ARR in 2021. 

At SaaSiest 2022, Emil Eifrem, CEO & Co-founder of Neo4j, walked us through how they built, maintained, and capitalized on a strong community from the inception of their journey.

What made you choose a community-led approach from the start?

“Our users are developers and data scientists, and so are we, the founders. So for us, it was very obvious to take a community-like approach. Because going back to ourselves, we knew that was how we always choose and evaluate software. We were part of the open-source community, and the community-led approach was a very natural way for us to go to market. We didn’t even think of it as a GTM strategy. We just figured it was the way to do things.”

So, how did you get started from the very beginning? How did you get people to find your product?

We did a lot of things in the beginning. We advocated in forums, went to conferences, and wrote tons of blog posts. This led to early adopters picking it up. Back then, in 2007, there was a lot of interest among developers in alternatives to traditional databases. Primarily in Silicon Valley, but also worldwide.

Neo4j is an enterprise solution. So an interesting question is how you went from talking to developers in the open-source community to selling an expensive product to the world’s largest corporations?

Yes, that is interesting. 95% of our revenue comes from enterprise. And by enterprise, we mean a billion and above in revenue, so basically the biggest companies on the planet. 

At first, it seemed tricky, but it was actually pretty straightforward in hindsight. There are two components of adopting our product: adopting and using it on the one hand and paying for it on the other. And those were not the same groups of people.

Data scientists and developers were adopting and finding it through our community, often playing around with it after work hours. Experiencing the product would lead them to see it as a solution to problems they were facing in their day jobs at large enterprises like Ikea, Volvo, or Bank of America. And that’s when our sales cycle starts, and that’s the first step to unlocking budgets of hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

What about your customer support, is that side also handled by the community?

There are two sides to that; what happens before and after a sale. 80% of top-of-funnel awareness building and “pre-sales” support is handled by the community. That’s when people are chatting on forums, slack groups, stack overflow, and similar platforms.

But once a company becomes a customer, 100% of support is handled by our commercial department and support teams. When you’re running a Volvo factory and face a problem, you don’t want to be looking for help in Stack Overflow.

Emils’s advice to SaaS companies interested in community-led growth:

Be authentic. It has to come naturally and be a genuine part of how you view your business.Foster champions. Find people who are willing to advocate for your message and product.Create scalable content. Never answer things once in a forum; always write a blog or wiki article and link back to it.