Docker makes comeback with over $50M in ARR two years into restructuring

It’s surely been a turbulent couple of years for Docker, the open source containerization company that launched in 2013, but it seems to have found its financial footing again. Today, it announced that over the last fiscal year, annual recurring revenue (ARR) has jumped 4x to over $50 million.

That’s quite a comeback for a company that faced great turmoil starting in 2019, when then-CEO Steve Singh stepped down and was replaced briefly by Rob Bearden. Shortly thereafter, it sold its enterprise business, its primary source of revenue, before eventually promoting longtime exec Scott Johnston to CEO.

At that time, it also took on new funding going back almost to square one, actually taking on the investment as a Series A company. It simultaneously implemented a new developer-centered strategy while dropping from 400 employees down to just 60. A few months later, the first wave of the pandemic hit. It was not an easy time, according to Johnston, who had to steer the company through this instability.

“November 2019 was a time [fraught] with risk and uncertainty but we believed in the tailwinds of the market, we believed in the developers’ love of our product, and that we could come together as a team, focus on the developer, deliver great products and build a legitimate business,” Johnston told me.

Docker had a couple of things going for it, even with that uncertainty. It had widespread brand recognition among developers and was synonymous with containerization, a way to package and deliver software as individual services in the cloud, rather than one monolithic application.

It also has a bunch of open source pieces that can act as the top of the funnel for eventual sales activity, with the goal of turning some of the users of the free products into paying customers. That appears to have happened with increasing frequency over the last year, judging from the company’s ARR growth over that period.

The goal in the early days of the restructuring was to capture that developer momentum around the brand and deliver them the free open source products, then expand into the paid products over time for a certain percentage of them. This was a very different approach from what they took when they were selling Docker Enterprise and were generally selling to IT, rather than developers or their managers.

That product-led growth approach worked from a commercial perspective when the managers began buying related commercial tools. “So when the developer has a great experience using the free product, and as they and their organizations scale their use of the products, then there’s features that managers value that they are willing to pay for.”

He added, “What you’re seeing with the financial performance that we described in our blog post that’s driven purely from those large organizations that realize these productivity benefits … and are willing to pay for the management security tools to enable organization-wide adoption.”

Docker was founded in 2013 before restructuring in 2019. At the time it sold its enterprise business to Mirantis, the company took on a $35 million Series A investment from Benchmark Capital and Insight Partners. They also nabbed a $23 million Series B last March.

At the time of the restructuring, I wrote: “Whether this approach can work is still unclear, but Johnston sees this as the way forward. Time will tell if the strategy is successful or not.”

With over $50 million in ARR, the jury may still be out, but it’s certainly headed in the right direction with results I reckon most investors would be happy with. Now they have to continue building on this momentum.