RethinkDB: why we failed

And our users clearly thought of us as an open-source developer tools company, because that’s what we really were. Which turned out to be very unfortunate, because the open-source developer tools market is one of the worst markets one could possibly end up in. Thousands of people used RethinkDB, often in business contexts, but most were willing to pay less for the lifetime of usage than the price of a single Starbucks coffee (which is to say, they weren’t willing to pay anything at all).

This wasn’t because the product was so good people didn’t need to pay for support, or because developers don’t control budgets, or because of failure of capitalism. The answer is basic microeconomics. Developers love building developer tools, often for free. So while there is massive demand, the supply vastly outstrips it. This drives the number of alternatives up, and the prices down to zero.


I think you cut off the most important phrase from this paragraph:

… you’re not in the market you think you’re in – you’re in the market your users think you’re in.


It is kinda sad but also educational to see how the folks tried to do everything right from the technical point of view… starting with using List (or whatever flavour they are using), enforcing strict CS abstracts and whatnot… and they lost to a mess of a project which delivered crappy code, but fast and fitting to the users’ goals.

Screw CS.

I agree that’s a very important point. I found the article full of gems; just wanted to highlight what I did as many technical founders start by thinking they will make their riches off a developer tool.

I wish I had the quotation handy, but someone said something like “if you target a problem not experienced by 20-something white guys in San Francisco you cut your potential competition by 80%.”


A courageous and excellent article!

It is astonishingly difficult to fully understand the customer’ problem and needs.
Corollary: it’s all too easy to think that you do.

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