How Airbyte launched their Cloud product with simple and predictable pricing

“With Orb, we have a transparent, accurate and scalable system for billing and engineering is no longer a bottleneck.” - Natalie Kwong, Growth Product Manager at Airbyte

Airbyte, an open-source data integration platform, is used by over 30,000 companies to cover all their data pipeline needs. At Airbyte, things move quickly—the development of their product, the evolution of their pricing models, and the growth of their team. They take a highly sophisticated approach to strategic decisions and focus on delivering the best products for their customers. 

That focus on product excellence shows in how they’ve tackled billing and pricing, as well as their approach to building vs. buying solutions. 

For example, Airbyte Cloud’s pricing model is currently based around usage-based credits that get consumed based on the amount of data a user runs through Airbyte. When they launched Airbyte Cloud, they knew their fair and flexible pricing model was right, but their in-house billing infrastructure didn’t work with the rate at which they were scaling—or with the engineering team’s priorities. “Even before our product was in beta, we were hitting walls with our internally-built billing system,” explains Natalie. “We knew we didn’t want to build it all ourselves.”

Instead, they wanted to focus engineering resources on the product. Since none of them are billing experts, it didn’t make sense to take on their billing infrastructure in-house.

Otto Yeung, the company’s Head of Finance, agreed. “I believe engineering should focus on our key product instead of building out systems to handle back-office operations,” he says. 

Not only were they launching new products and features quickly, but they knew their pricing model would also evolve quickly. They set out to find a solution to support their billing journey—here’s a look at how they found, chose, and implemented Orb. 

Finding a billing partner, not just a vendor 

Going into the vendor selection and integration process, the team wanted to find a system to be the source of truth for customer usage and credits at Airbyte. Their ideal solution would handle all business logic so that all Airbyte would have to do is push data to the system and the system would accurately keep track of prepaid credit balances.

“Finding a partner to do that is really important,” explains Lake Mossman, a Senior Software Engineer who led the search for a billing vendor. “If it’s half-baked, it makes it that much harder to try out new pricing models, and it limits your flexibility to make changes as your business evolves.” 

But the more they talked to legacy billing infrastructure providers, the less they felt reassured. They wondered if vendors would be able to support Airbyte’s business model needs. “I worried that many of them didn’t support usage-based billing in a way that would grow and change with us,” says Natalie. 

Choosing Orb

The team was looking for a billing solution that would provide native support for Airbyte’s credit-based billing system: “We wanted to provide a transparent process for users whereby they would buy credits and then see credits deducted based on their usage,” says Lake. They also wanted the flexibility to change their pricing model. Because they were pre-launch and anticipated iterating on pricing over time, the ability to make changes was critical for the billing infrastructure they chose. 

The solution they chose would have to be able to handle a massive number of events; they never wanted volume to be an issue. It also needed to be self-serve, so that the team could make changes themselves, giving autonomy and data accessibility to folks across finance, engineering, and other teams involved.

For Ericksson Abad, Airbyte’s Assistant Controller, freely accessing data was critical so that he and his team could reliably—and rapidly—run revenue recognition and close the books every month. An ideal solution would cut down on the hours‚ sometimes days, that it would take his team to turn complex usage-based data into accounting journal entries. 

Ideally, they hoped their chosen vendor would also act as a system of record and source of truth for credits and involve minimum work on Airbyte’s end. “All we wanted to have to do was push metadata about usage events and not have to worry about doing calculations before or maintaining an ongoing balance,” says Lake. Finally, they wanted flexibility on the calculations done on usage events. “We didn’t want to have to change any logic on our side or redeploy code to make a change to our calculations,” Lake explains. 

When the team met Orb, they learned that it would cater to each of these needs—and more. The ability to define general SQL calculations on top of usage events—and doing that calculation on every event in real time rather than in batch over the billing period—attracted them to Orb in the first place. As they learned about the product and got to know the team, they saw an opportunity for a partnership regarding their billing vendor. “We felt there was a great relationship with the team from day one—instead of being salesy, we felt understood and listened to, like Orb was our partner,” says Natalie. 

They implemented Orb quickly, de-risking the project by running their existing billing system and Orb in parallel to build confidence. Once the data had been validated, they felt confident enough to stop updating their own database and only push to Orb. Orb became their source of truth, and they no longer had to worry about billing. 

“If you don’t want to worry about billing, find a system that can be that source of truth for you—Orb is that for Airbyte.” - Lake Mossman, Senior Software Engineer, Airbyte

Saving time, delivering flexibility, and achieving goals with Orb

Now, once a customer has checked out on Airbyte’s website and their payment method is validated, Orb takes over, managing the entire usage-based billing process as Airbyte’s credit system. Orb handles all credit tracking for Airbyte Cloud, and provides revenue recognition reporting for Airbyte’s monthly accounting process.

Ericksson and the finance team depend on the revenue recognition reports generated by Orb, which are calculated and presented in a format that allows them to efficiently facilitate the month-close process. 

“Orb’s reports tell us our deferred revenue and revenue recognition for a particular period, which is crucial because it removes the manual task of calculating all of the bookings and activities for the period,” he says. “It would be extremely difficult for us to run all of the calculations Orb does for us in order to deliver the reporting we rely upon,” says Ericksson. In fact, he estimates that without Orb, generating those reports would take one to two days. With Orb, the reports are available automatically and on an ongoing basis during the month.

Over time, as Airbyte has grown and evolved its business model, Orb has powered several top-priority monetization initiatives for its go-to-market teams. With minimal effort on the part of Airbyte’s engineers, they’ve been able to implement price changes, adjust the definitions of billing metrics, and launch their Free Connector Program.

Using Orb for billing has provided several benefits to Airbyte, including: 

  • Engineering time saved | Thanks to Orb, the Engineering team fields fewer requests regarding billing. “Billing used to siphon away engineering energy and time from our core product to build something that we're not experts in—Orb prevents that from happening anymore,” says Natalie. 
  • Removed the engineering bottleneck | One thing Lake hoped for in a billing solution was the ability for non-engineers at Airbyte to correct things if necessary: “We [engineers] basically never want to be blockers to our product or customer-facing teams,” he says. “We wanted other teams to self-serve, and Orb has empowered them to do so.” The result is a transparent system for billing that prevents engineering from becoming a bottleneck in the system or process. 
  • Saved headcount | Using Orb has saved the team from hiring two to three additional employees to build and maintain their billing system, according to Otto’s estimates. “The headcount required just to build out and maintain an internal billing system would have been a massive investment given our growth stage,” he says. 
  • Visibility and autonomy | Orb has provided an understanding of how billing works, including adding credits and extending trials, for anyone across the company, helping all teams feel empowered by Airbyte’s billing system. “It’s powerful because it isn’t a black box—to see how many people interact with Orb (with the right guard rails, of course) shows us how many folks have adopted it and feel empowered to use the information it provides,” Natalie says.
  • Flexibility with raw data | Orb allows Airbyte to continue evolving its pricing by making data available to experiment with. “With Orb, we can use the raw usage events to recalculate using new billing models and see what it would look like if we wanted to change that calculation,” says Lake.
  • Meeting the needs of multiple teams | “It can be a challenge to meet the needs of both engineering and finance teams—Orb’s willingness to work with us and support both sides of our revenue operations is really unique and critical to our success,” explains Ericksson. Providing for the needs of multiple teams helps Airbyte streamline cross-functional processes and encourage collaboration.
  • Finance team time saved | According to Ericksson, “It used to take us a full day or two to run the month-end close process and make our data easily digestible for our executive team—and was a very painful process.” Now, closing the books is much easier with Orb’s comprehensive, user-friendly, and automatically-generated reports.
  • Achieving finance goals faster with the help of Orb’s product velocity | From Otto’s experience working with other billing vendors, it can take months to see new features, slowing a Finance team’s progress. “A billing vendor is just one piece of the finance operations puzzle, and without a flexible and innovative solution, it can be hard to move forward and complete projects,” he says. “Using Orb has helped us reach our finance OKRs faster by allowing us to stay flexible and building out many of the features we need.” 
“Thanks to Orb, there are a ton of other things I’m able to work on from our priority pipeline—I simply don’t have to worry about billing at all because Orb takes care of it.” - Ericksson Abad, Assistant Controller

“At Airbyte’s current stage, we move fast and are constantly evolving our product and how we sell it,” explains Otto. “Orb mirrors our intensity and drive towards execution and pace, making it a great partner for us.” As Airbyte continues to move quickly and constantly evolve both its products and how it sells them, it will do so without worrying about billing.

Curious about how Orb might support your business's growth needs? Schedule time with our team to discuss.

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