May 10, 2022
I couldn’t be more excited to welcome Chandra Rangan, Neo4j’s new Chief Marketing Officer, to our company and community. This role is essential as we continue to evolve globally and expand across industries. With graph technology exploding – and Neo4j on the frontlines of that growth – an experienced leader in emerging technologies is exactly what we need to drive our marketing efforts forward.
Chandra is the ideal executive to take on this huge role and help shape the future of Neo4j. We’ve only scratched the surface of how graph technology can change the world, and we’re thrilled to have him on board as we continue on our mission to do so. I invite you to check out the conversation we had below. I am confident you’ll walk away galvanized by his mission to usher Neo4j into the future.
You just joined Neo4j as our Chief Marketing Officer. What drew you to Neo4j in the first place?
Chandra Rangan: It was an interesting journey, Emil, for you and me, as we went through the hiring process. For me specifically, there were a couple of “Aha” moments as part of my journey in making the decision. The first one was just about graphs themselves. As a former database admin who tried to figure out what fourth normal and fifth normal forms are, just the notion of modeling information, not just through entities and things but capturing the relationships between things – graphs are so incredibly intuitive. So that was my first “Aha” moment. But the second one, I would argue, was even bigger. There’s this notion about a bunch of graphy problems that you can solve incredibly well with a graph database. But if I really started thinking about it, all problems are graph problems, right?
Fundamentally, if you think about making sense of data and information in the world, just understanding the characteristics of something is such a small part of what makes something a thing. Me as a person – who I am, my name, where I live. Those are all properties of who I am. But what really makes me me, are the relationships I have and built over time. And so the notion that almost every problem has data that you can really make sense of with graphs – that is the larger “Aha” moment. The last thing I’ll say is that the people I work with and the culture of respect is really important to me. The organization is super important to me.
Even in the all-hands call that you introduced me on – if you remember a couple of weeks before I officially joined, as a preview with the leadership team – you were warmly welcoming folks joining Neo4j. But right after that, you celebrated the folks who were moving on to do other things away from Neo4j. And that is just incredible to see, and showed such a cultural of respect not just for employees, but employees as human beings, which attracted me a lot to Neo4j.
Emil Eifrem: Yeah. And it’s funny, that last one, right? Because it’s something that we’ve always just done intuitively. Because of course, what else is the option? You email someone internally and their email bounces, and that’s how you find out? I just find that to be weird. But newcomers at the company have not always, but frequently, called that out as being an amazing thing. But for me, it was always just the intuitive and natural thing to do.
Chandra: But we should not take it for granted. And I definitely did not take it for granted as I was coming in, because I have seen different cultures and different ways of engaging people. But I think it’s my time to ask you a question.
This is something I’ve been wondering about. You had so many options. The company is on the cusp of just incredible growth. Probably – as a couple of folks actually told me – the most sought after late-stage startup job in Silicon Valley. So, here’s the question…
What made you certain (hopefully you were certain) that I was the right CMO for Neo4j at this point in time?
Emil: Yeah, it was a couple of different things. Maybe I’ll split it into left brain/right brain. Or, head versus heart. On the head side, which is maybe the rational thing – if you look at your background – you have real depth in enterprise software marketing. And of course, that’s where we grew up, right? Most of the Fortune 100 now run several mission-critical applications on top of Neo4j. The Global 2000 – that’s a huge market for us. And so that depth of experience in enterprise software marketing was one part. But then combine it with another spike, which is product-led growth – this is an area that’s becoming increasingly important for us.
There’s a ton of stuff we could talk about with Aura and the self-serve motion and Aura professional – the “swipe your credit card” and the longtail of companies and use cases. Finding that combination from a purist background, experience, and skillset ended up being very, very unusual.
And then I think on top of that, disagree with me if you do, but I always found you to be a first-principles thinker. You have a way of structuring your thinking that appeals to me, probably because I like to think of myself in the same way, as in coming back to the bare basics. What’s the root cause? Why is this actually working in that particular way? So that all came together on the left-brain side or the head category, in terms of just purely the CV, experience, and person.
And I think on the heart side or the EQ side – I mean, look, you mentioned culture and relationships and stuff like that. But man, we really hit it off in that interview cycle, right? It was just a very natural conversation. And I don’t want to make this too cute or whatever, but it was just a very intuitive, personal chemistry. If you look back through my history of how we’ve built the company, how we put the E-Staff team together, how we’ve hired – it really has to be that combo of amazingly accomplished and high-performing professionals on one axis. Then the other axis is just high-quality human beings, and both have to be there in order for us to get really excited. So those, I think, were the things that made it come together for me.
Chandra: You set the bar high for me. But on that point, the chemistry on my side was not just with you – which is of course super, super important – but it’s also with the rest of the E-Staff. My conversations with Lars [Nordwall, COO], how the E-Staff team has welcomed me, how Kristin [Thornby, Chief People Officer] has supported me as I’ve onboarded, how Philip [Rathle, SVP, Products] and Magnus [Vejlstrup, SVP, Engineering] have embraced not just learning from what I can bring, but also teaching me what’s going on with a product. It’s pretty incredible here.
Emil: I think that part has been very natural, which is amazing. All right. So the ping pong is back in my court.
Chandra: Back in your court.
Now that you’re on the team, what do you see as opportunities for increasing Neo4j’s momentum at this point?
Chandra: First of all, Neo4j already has pretty incredible momentum. And the interesting thing for me is that there’s momentum on existing vectors, but there are also new vectors creating additional momentum, additional revenue streams, and solving additional interesting problems. So the existing momentum we have is our core database and the accelerant is the move to the cloud.
Now again, super interesting for me, especially given my background and where I come from, is that our cloud offering is being built natively on Managed Kubernetes with the cloud vendors. Start off with Google, where I was before. I know the power that Managed Kubernetes GKE has at Google. And that’s what AuraDB Enterprise has been built on. So as that gets fleshed out, it’s such a huge accelerant to the business, because I think there’s a lot of pent-up demand that I’m already seeing in that space.
I think the second vector, which again, is super interesting for me – it’s related, but it’s a little bit different from a go-to-market perspective – is this entirely different market with a different set of needs where data scientists and data analysts are looking at AI/ML pipelines. And instead of trying to help their models learn using just properties of entities, now they have the richness of the relationships between entities that they can use to train their models, which you can argue is a pretty massive leap forward. Add to that the performance benefits that Neo4j specifically brings so that you can train models on the fly, and that just opens up a whole set of different opportunities.
But longer term, for the health of the business, what got me excited – and I think Emil, you just mentioned it – is the notion of product-led growth. As part of the shift to the cloud, it’s not just the enterprise piece, but it’s the developers who are getting excited, understanding that modeling with graphs is much more intuitive, and can accelerate the way they build and modify their applications and schemas on the go. And then growing with us through that process. So I think there’s work to be done on the product side, on the go-to-market side. But that is the third vector I’m super, super excited about.
Emil: I couldn’t agree more. Lots of amazing momentum. But man, there are a lot of fun things ahead of us as well.
Chandra: Lots of fun things. Lots of work to do, right? Which is super positive.
Emil: Yeah. And that as well.
Chandra: So in that vein, and I’m starting to get a sense of this, but I’d love for you to share a little bit on Neo4j’s developer community. You have such strong developer roots. You’ve been steeped in the open source movement for a couple of decades now, when you shared your personal story with me. So share a little bit about what makes our community and brand so unique in that space.
Emil: It’s a good question. And that’s with many things kind of “day one” oriented – a lot of it comes back to the background of the founders. And to your point, we all grew up in the open source community. I wrote my first lines of open source back in the mid-’90s, before it was called “open source.” It was called “free software” back in those days.
And I, of course, grew up as a developer. And so when we built this thing, we’re like, “Alright, how can we get the word out to the most people about the power of graphs?” And it’s like, “We could try to wallpaper all the airports in the world with ads.” But that was slightly above our marketing budget at the time, and probably now as well, sorry to say.
Or we can open source it and create this passionate word-of-mouth community. So already from day zero, that was how we thought about getting the word out there. And if you then combine that with category creation – which is another pillar of our go-to-market, where we coined and popularized the term “graph database” – if you add those things together, that created this very early, super passionate and enthusiastic community.
If you then layer the go-to-market on top of that, the commercialization and monetization model, we always had this model where we wouldn’t just sell top down to the CIO and the CIO would push it into the organization, so that the people who then use the software from eight-to-five would be forced to use it. We chose a bottom-up adoption model, where the people who use it day to day actually adopted it out of love, out of passion, out of enthusiasm. I think that ultimately builds a better company and has a more positive impact on the world.
Chandra: No question about that. Because the closeness of the community allows us to build better products in a way that we couldn’t if you’re going through a different go-to-market motion and going to enterprises top down. It also helps us go to market, and helps Lars and I do our jobs better because we’re engaging with customers. We’re not “marketing” to them. We are educating them. And then we’re using that passion and channeling it into actually providing them value in a way that they appreciate. So I love this marketing motion. I’ve seen the power of that in my past jobs as well.
Emil: Yeah, you have. And it’s very coupled with the PLG motion as well.
Talk to us a little bit about your management style. What are some of your principles around that and how do you motivate your teams?
Chandra: This is an interesting question. I’ve had my own personal journey learning. “Manage,” I think, is the wrong word. The term “managing people” is something I’m not sure I really like, because personally I don’t want to be “managed” by Emil or “managed” by other folks, and in my experience, most people would feel the same. Each of us wants to do a fantastic job and we want to feel inspired and motivated. We want to have clarity of thinking.
We would love for leadership and our peers to support us by removing roadblocks. And so this belief fundamentally flipped around my management principle, which is: I believe folks are on the front lines. If you’re a field marketer sitting in New York, if you are a digital marketer trying to figure out how to handle nurture streams – you know your job better than I do and I ever will and I ever should. So if that’s the case, then what is my role?
My role is making sure there is clarity in a good organization to hire incredibly talented people, motivate them, show them what is possible, and then stepping back and removing hurdles. Escalations for me are a very important thing. I’ve told my team that “escalations” just means bringing up things that I can help with. Put me to work for you: That’s a core piece of my management principle. Surely there’s a lot more I can learn, but that’s the heart of what I believe.
Emil: Awesome. I think that’s very, very consistent with our culture. People talk about “servant leadership,” for example. All these buzzwords – you can interpret them in various different ways. But at the heart of that buzzword is exactly what you stated so eloquently.
Chandra: Well, I’m glad.
What are you most excited about for our future? Where do you see the next steps, not just for our partnership, but for Neo4j?
Emil: This is a horrible last question in the interest of time, because I’m excited about so many things that we’re doing. But at some high level, I feel like the previous decade was set up. We, together with our colleagues in the graph space, established the category. When we walked into the previous decade, graph databases were not a thing. Now Gartner is saying that 80 percent of all data and innovation by 2025 will be backed by graph technology, as one example.
When we coined the term, we were the only graph database vendor. Now there’s 10, 20, 30… and that’s a good thing! That’s what success looks like. So that is setting the stage. I think the 2020s is our decade to shine. We announced publicly that we crossed a hundred million ARR last year. And I think we truly have this amazing opportunity to take what we built, this massive community, to the next level.
Take it from this and beyond it: that means scaling on a bunch of different fronts. We only had a few employees in the APAC region walking into last year. I think it’s now 50 or 60 people. We’re growing really fast, investing in Latin America as well. In addition, of course, to North America and Europe, where we grew up. So scaling across regions, adding the product-led growth, the “swipe your credit card,” or a free tier or a professional tier – the entire notion of continuing to invest in our community – it’s just a fantastic time right now in terms of the potential and growth of the business.
Chandra: And I can’t be more thankful to be part of this journey over the next decade with you and the team, Emil. Absolutely.
Emil: We’ll have a ton of fun. Welcome!
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