10gen CTO Eliot Horowitz on the Rise of MongoDB, Partnering with Red Hat, and Hiring in a Talent Crunch

Mr. Horowitz

Earlier this week, 10gen, the promising AlleyCorp startup launched by DoubleClick cofounder Dwight Merriman, announced a new partnership with an eye toward helping developers who work with big data and cloud technologies. The boost in market share probably doesn’t hurt either.

10gen both develops and sponsors the open source NoSQL database MongoDB, which is used by companies as diverse as Foursquare, SecondMarket, and Bit.ly on up to MTV, Intuit, and Disney.

On Monday, 10gen revealed that Mongo will be partnering with Red Hat, a software provider focused on larger enterprise clients that crossed the billion dollar revenue mark—the first for an open source company—in March. As Seeking Alpha notes today, the Mongo connection puts Red Hat “on a collision course with the toughest guys in tech, Oracle.”

Betabeat recently talked to 10gen CTO and cofounder Eliot Horowitz, who’s been known to freestyle on tech topics for eager 10gen staffers, about the Red Hat partnership, how Mongo started attracting big name clients, and 10gen’s plans to hire 100 people this year, announced shortly after the company picked up $20 million from Sequoia and Union Square Ventures.

If you’re not familiar with MongoDB, Mr. Horowitz offered the following analogy: traditional relational databases like MySQL or Oracle (ahem!) function sort of like an Excel spreadsheet. “Let’s say you’re trying to store information about people,” said Horowitz. In an Excel file, you might have one sheet with the person’s first and last name, one sheet with their home address, one sheet with their work phone. If you want to access all the information about a person, you might end up having to pull 20 to 30 sheets.

Mongo, on the other hand, stores everything together. “So you say, ‘Give me everything you know about Nitasha,’ and it gives you one document,” he said. “It’s better for user profiles and other things because it’s a much more natural data model for the types of data you’re storing. It pulls up faster because instead of loading up lots of things, you’re loading up one thing.” On the performance side, he added, it helps with development time, scalability, and ease of use.

The new partnership with Red Hat will help optimize the process of running a MongoDB database on Red Hat’s operating systems and middleware, such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), by sharing blueprint and best practices. The announcement stressed the growing need for developers to be able to quickly and flexibly deploy apps that deal with large amounts of data in the cloud.

But the Red Hat deal also seems in line with a trend Mr. Horowitz noted of larger, enterprise clients adopting MongoDB, which started last year. (As an open source software, not all MongoDB users are 10gen clients.) From 2009 to 2010, he said, Mongo was getting traction from a lot of startups and small companies. “Shutterfly started using it very early. But it was really last year when a large companies started moving a lot of things over. Disney moved a massive amount of data on Mongo in December. MTV has moved a large portion of their website over, so Comedy Central and Spike are running on Mongo.”

“The interesting thing about Mongo,” he noted, “Is that the data model fits most types of applications pretty well so the use cases are actually very broad.”

Those enterprise clients are likely to be better served with the Red Hat partnership. For example, although the core Mongo database has the same functionality, Mr. Horowitz noted that the addition of Redhat Enterprise Linux provides features like security, backup/restore, disk optimization, and monitoring.

In 2011, 10gen hired about 75 to 80 people. This year, as they’ve boldly stated, 10gen is trying to top that. Indeed, the bulk of the $20 million in financing is being used to build out the tech team and grow the product. In terms of recruiting, the fact that 10gen is one of New York’s few pure tech companies in a sea of consumer-facing apps gives it an advantage. The company hit an inflection point around the end of 2010, he said. “Something changed where everyone really seemed to know about Mongo and it became easier to hire people,” said Mr. Horowitz. “When you go to startup fair at MIT and 19 out of 20 startups are based in Mongo, that’s a pretty big deal.”

10gen tends to hire from two groups of candidates: recent college graduates who know they want to work in a startup or those deciding between the financial sector and Startupland. Mr. Horowitz said he’s seeing more and more of the first category coming to New York. It also helps that MongoDB is written in C++, a popular language at banks, high frequency trading companies and outfits like Bloomberg. “You have a large community of that in New York, so it’s stronger than it is in Silicon Valley,” he said.

Because 10gen looks for systems engineers and not just application engineers, Mr. Horowitz added, “I think its bringing an entirely different type of engineer to New York, and its good for the overall ecosystem. Long-term it makes the engineering talent pool much wider and deeper.”

That said, the competition is still fierce. “Most people that we hire end up having offers from a number of other startups in New York,” he said. “It’s either Foursquare or Etsy or Tumblr or Google.”

In fact, Foursquare isn’t just a 10gen client and competitor, it’s also their neighbor. 10gen’s Soho offices are located at 568 Broadway, the same building inhabited by Foursquare and Zocdoc. (Tumblr was trying to move into the same spot as well.) Proximity allows for a communal atmosphere. MongoDB holds meetups in ZocDoc’s public space, for example. “And I just ran into a Foursquare engineer in the kitchen,” Mr. Horowitz said. “He popped over to ask a question.”

Does that mean we’ll see more of a startup exodus from Union Square to Soho? “It’s hard to imagine there could be any more,” he said. “We have a ton of clients within a five-block radius of here. Actually getting some real density is good because you can go out to lunch and see a lot of startups you know, which is definitely a change from other neighborhoods in New York ten years ago.”

Mr. Horowitz said he had seen a bunch of familiar faces during lunch hour at Lombardi’s recently. Then, of course, there’s the Tom & Jerry’s crowd after work. But you’re not likely to run into Mr. Horowitz there. “I have two small children,” he said with a laugh.

MongoNYC is hosting an all day conference on May 23rd focusing on MongoDB. According to the site, “The conference will feature over 40 sessions from MongoDB developers at 10gen, MongoDB users from the community, and technology partners, with presentations for both the novice and expert.” 10gen CTO Eliot Horowitz on the Rise of MongoDB, Partnering with Red Hat, and Hiring in a Talent Crunch