MongoDB Chair Dwight Merriman Discusses Scaling Up, R&D, and Change

Rapid-fire plans are taking shape at open-source database company MongoDB.

Last week, New York-based MongoDB announced Dev Ittycheria would join the company as CEO in September, taking over from Max Schireson. Also this month, MongoDB gave New York Tech Meetup a glimpse of new software tools for managing clusters of servers.

With changes happening at the top, and with the company’s software, I caught up with Dwight Merriman, chairman and co-founder of MongoDB. He is also co-founder of Gilt Groupe and Business Insider. Before MongoDB, Merriman was chief technology officer and co-founder of DoubleClick.

Merriman spoke with me about how the database scene is evolving and touched on the rumors of a possible IPO for his company.

Xconomy: What does the road ahead look like for MongoDB?

Dwight Merriman: What we’re seeing right now in the database space is the data has changed and we’ve reached an inflection in the technology we have used over the past decades. It’s been one of the most stable spaces as far as what we use to build applications. There’s a lot of change happening right now. A big part of what we’re focused on is scaling up. We’ve got a lot of exciting new R&D and product development going on, including things like automation and much more finer-grained concurrency than past releases.

XC: What steers the direction of innovation at the company?

DM: There’s constant input from the [user] community. That drives a lot of what we do. The first day we started working on MongoDB from a blank piece of paper, we were going by what we thought tech people needed for writing applications of the future. No one knew what we were even doing at that point; it was brand new. At this point, there’s a massive user base. It’s primarily driven from that. A good example is the big database feature request system for the project, which is run at jira.mongodb.org. Anyone can post a [feature request] there, but they can also vote on them.

We sort by votes and see very quickly what, in aggregate, everyone wants. That’s very useful. The constraint is you can only do so many things so fast. We have to prioritize, but we’re very much driven by that.

XC: How have changes in technology influenced the evolution of the database market?

DM: Some of the big drivers are things like mobile, which affects basically all organizations. Everybody needs to be able to talk to their customers via mobile. Their customers then have expectations to interact with the company, whether it’s B-to-B or consumer, through that mechanism. There is a big need for new systems around that. MongoDB is typically used is on the server side of mobile apps.

Another is the requirement for real-time. In the past we used to get daily reports, nightly batch processing, and things like that. We’re now at a point where computers are fast enough to do real-time [processing]. Not only do I want to be able to interact with someone from my smartphone, I want to be able to do it in real time. I don’t want to see my bank balance as of close of business yesterday; I want to see it as of now.

If I’m an employee of a company and a customer is asking me for something, I want a real-time, 360 degree view of everything they do with us including from different departments. The question is, do you have those capabilities? The answer is, in general people are building them right now, they’re not done, and they need new tools to do that.

XC: Has the development of MongoDB been different or comparable to the ways DoubleClick grew?

DM: It’s different. At DoubleClick, all of the sudden there were a lot folks who needed ad serving capabilities. They had a website, they had traffic, they wanted to sell ads, and needed a way to deliver those ads—target them and report on them. It was a sudden need and there was a set of technology, like we were building [at DoubleClick] to solve that, but it was all new.

Here [at MongoDB], you’ve got a situation that is different because databases have existed for a long time. Relational theories have existed for 45 years. Databases go back a little further than that. It’s a really a new technology in an existing space.

Another contrast is the database market is big; it’s $30 billion market and growing. The opportunities are massive. The size of the marketplace we were operating in at DoubleClick was a lot smaller.

XC: Why did your company pick Dev Ittycheria to become the next CEO?

DM: He has a great background for us. He has a technology background; he’s managed large organizations before and is a good fit culturally. I’m looking forward to him starting.

XC: Does he have any particular marching orders awaiting him when he arrives?

DM: Not really. I’m at the company full-time and Eliot [Horowitz, co-founder and CTO] is too. We want Dev to help us execute the vision, which is to build this leading next generation, open-source database software that is widely used. That’s very ambitious. It’s going to take time. It’s going well so far, but it’s a big task. Basically help us grow fast and make sure we are executing well to do that.

XC: There has been some media speculation of an IPO in the offing for MongoDB. Can you comment on this?

DM: We’re really focused right now on building the company and growing it, not on financing per se. We have a good amount of capital on hand in the bank. But we do want to build something large.

XC: You are a prominent part of the New York tech community; are there any plans to expand more here?

DM: We’ve had good luck hiring in New York. It’s hard everywhere and we have offices worldwide at this point. It’s hard hiring for everything. It’s hard hiring engineers; it’s also hard hiring sales, marketing, business, anything. We’ve had good success finding awesome developers in New York. There’s a lot of supply in Silicon Valley, but there’s also a lot of demand. I’m really excited we’re in New York as a pure, horizontal technology company because that’s rare. There’s been technology companies in New York, but they’re finance tech, or ad tech, or things like that. You don’t see a lot of horizontal technologies in a Silicon Valley-origins sense.

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