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MongoDB CEO - ‘We rarely see other NoSQL vendors in deals anymore, they’re less relevant’

Derek du Preez Profile picture for user ddpreez June 28, 2018
MongoDB CEO Dev Ittycheria also told diginomica that the company is one of the few developer pure plays left - could well be of interest as an acquisition.

MongoDB CEO Dev Ittycheria
MongoDB CEO, Dev Ittycheria

MongoDB CEO Dev Ittycheria sat down with diginomica at the company’s annual user event in New York this week, where he candidly discussed the vendor’s future prospects, market positioning, and how he is convincing customers that its NoSQL database is the future alternative to ageing relational systems.

MongoDB went public in October last year, the first NoSQL vendor to IPO, and beat expectations with shares reaching $33 on the first day of trading. Shares have since reached over $50 a piece and the IPO has broadly been perceived as a success for the company.

Last time I spoke to Ittycheria, the company was still private, but he claimed that its database was winning the hearts of developers away from Oracle, because of its ease of use and community focus. This week MongoDB announced the inclusion of ACID transactions as a feature in its 4.0 release, which Ittycheria claims will convince enterprise buyers further that there’s no reason that the NoSQL vendor cannot be used in all use cases. Ittycheria explained:

It’s important to break down why ACID transactions have been important. In relational databases you’ve got to remember that data is spread across multiple tables. So, if I’m trying to update an employee database, with someone’s information because they’re moving from London to New York. I’d have to update the location, the department, some payroll code, etc. All that information can sit in very different tables. And if some information gets updated and some information doesn’t get updated, then you can have a corrupted state. Then you’ve got corruption in your data, and that’s a bad thing.

For relational databases, having full ACID support was non-negotiable. Because they couldn’t guarantee the integrity of the data. With MongoDB, all that information will sit within one document. But the problem that we ran into was that we didn’t have ACID support across the documents. Maybe that would be a 1% corner case where you needed it, but customers would worry they couldn’t use us because we didn’t have ACID. Even if they didn’t need it today, they worry they might need it in the future.

Even though it was a small percentage of use cases that customers were worried about, such as updating an inventory management system when an ecommerce transaction had been made (ACID support would be needed to decrement the inventory, across systems), Ittycheria said that the inclusion of ACID is largely a perception move. He said:

It was really, frankly, just taking an objection off the table. A big objection for some customers. If you’ve grown up with relational databases the last 30 years, ACID is almost table stakes. What that’s also done is make it very clear that we are a general purpose database. Not just some niche technology used for a niche set of use cases.

And MongoDB is already seeing the benefit of taking that objection off the table. Ittycheria said:

We are seeing a lot of traction since that announcement. A lot of senior stakeholders are very motivated. They also recognise that the relational database is pretty long in the tooth. You’ve got to remember that the first white paper for the relational database came back in 1970. So you’re talking about a technology that’s over 40 years old. The world has changed a lot in the last 40 years.

People are realising that the nature of the data, the speed at which they’ve got to make changes, the performance that users want - people need a more modern database. ACID support was just the tipping point to get people to say that they can be comfortable going after critical use cases using MongoDB.

The other big objection that’s been taken off the table, Ittycheria said, was MongoDB going public. He said that when Mongo was a private company, there wasn’t insight into how big it was, how much it had scaled, and that provided cause for concern for some. However, the insight into MongoDB’s financials has provided assurance. Ittycheria said:

When we went public, they have obviously seen the growth and scale, given you have to be very transparent with the numbers, that’s taken another objection off the table. And we’ve raised a lot of capital. We’ve raised in total north of three quarters of a billion dollars. So we are a very well capitalised company, in terms of being able to invest for the long-term. We’re not a tiny start-up. That gives customers comfort that we are going to be around for the long-term.

The market

It’s been an interesting few years for the NoSQL market. It’s been very competitive and we’ve been tracking it closely. On the one hand we’ve had the likes of MongoDB go public this year, due to its success, and on the other hand the much lauded Basho went into receivership after not being able to pay its creditors. How is this all going to play out? I was interested to get Ittycheria’s take. In terms of competition, he isn’t worried for Mongo. He said:

Candidly, I think four years ago when I got here, there was a lot of talk about how we were doing relative to the other NoSQL vendors - today we don’t talk about them. We frankly think that they’re becoming less and less relevant. I don’t say that out of hubris, I just say that because we are much bigger than them, we are growing faster than them, the size of our community is significantly larger.

Three or four years ago customers were a little bit skittish about who to bet on. Now, I think today, since we’ve gone public, it’s clear that we are the leader. We rarely see the other NoSQL vendors in deals anymore.

And what about being a potential acquisition target? There’s been plenty of speculation about whether or not one of the traditional database vendors will recognise the significance of NoSQL players and make a play to buy in the capability. Ittycheria wasn’t going to be drawn too far on the question - understandably - but he did hint that there has been strong interest in developer-focused vendors of late. He said:

MongoDB plays in an area that a lot of people find very attractive, which is developers. A couple of weeks ago GitHub was acquired by Microsoft for $7.5 billion. Couple of months before that, Salesforce bought Mulesoft for $6.5 billion. We are one of the few developer pure play stories left. Will someone say, that’s an asset we want to own? Who knows, that may be possible.

I don’t want to be quoted saying that we are going to be acquired. But there’s natural interest in the developer story. Why is the developer story important? Because they have increasing influence in how technology decisions are made and how technologies are ultimately adopted and monetised. The more you’re considered to be developer friendly, the more influence you have.

But what about the risks to Mongo? What concerns Ittycheria? He said that a lot of the risks he previously identified have been alleviated since he took the helm. But two remain - product and execution. Ittycheria said:

I break down risks into four core categories. There’s market, product, execution and financing risks. The financing risk is totally off the table, we are a very well financed company, that’s no longer an issue. Market is very strong, because the incumbents are vulnerable, the landscape is changing, this platform shift is happening.

I think it really comes down to product and execution. Are we building the right products? We think we have a good track record there, building products customers want. The second thing is execution, setting expectations, and then meeting or beating those expectations consistently quarter after quarter. It’s all about scaling the business.

My take

Confidence. That’s the word I’d use to describe my perception of MongoDB this week at it’s annual user event. The company and Ittycheria are extremely confidence about its position. And what’s interesting, is that when I was attending this event a couple of years ago, the customers I spoke to were developers. Now I’m talking to VPs and senior technology leaders about the significance of Mongo in their top level strategy decisions - that’s telling.

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