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Behind the funding: MongoDB founder Dwight Merriman reveals the secrets to startup success

Dwight Merriman knows a thing or two about tech startups. A leading figure in New York City's Silicon Alley scene, Merriman is perhaps best known for co-founding DoubleClick, which sold to Hellman and Friedman for $1.1 billion (£685m) in 2005 before being acquired by Google three years later to the cool tune of $3.1 billion (£1.9bn).

More recently, Merriman co-founded MongoDB, a New York startup that is fast cementing itself as the leading NoSQL database following an unprecedented $150 million (£93m) Series F funding round.

Naturally, we jumped at the opportunity to catch up with Dwight at Web Summit 2013. Given his stellar record with startups, we were particularly keen to hear his thoughts on entrepreneurship, as well as probing his considerable knowledge of the data industry.

"Entrepreneurism is hard," he admitted as we sat down in the press lounge at Web Summit.

"Lots of things don't work. There's two ways a startup can fail – the thesis was wrong [and] nobody wants whatever you're making. If that's the case, no matter how well you execute, you can't fix that. The only thing you can potentially do is pivot. It's important to try lots of things if things aren't sticking. The other thing that can go wrong is execution. If your thesis holds and then your execution is great? Those are the prerequisites for things to go well."

He added: "On the execution side, the number one thing is hiring a great team and people - spending time on recruiting. That's the key."

So just what was the key to MongoDB securing its recent cash injection, the largest ever in the database market? According to Merriman, its success is due in part to the changing nature of the data industry - a seismic shift not seen in some 25 years, and one that has seen open source positioned at the heart of contemporary demand.

"The level of usage is going to be huge. Big data as a trend and NoSQL as a trend are clearly happening. It's a big deal," he continued.

"We're seeing the largest change in the data layer that we've seen in 25 years. We've seen a lot of incremental innovation over time, but there's a lot of big changes now. Our goal is to create something general purpose for building applications - not a niche. It's a big opportunity to help people build apps, hopefully [in a] better and more elegant way. Why were investors willing to invest so much? The database market is large [and] there's the potential to create a large company."

After such a substantial investment, the future looks quite rosy for MongoDB, but how does the firm plan to spend its recently acquired kitty? Its co-founder, who still writes code as well as carrying out his executive duties, told us that his priority was investing in research and development - another lesson, perhaps, for startups looking to step out of garage-mode and develop a more mature business model.

"We really want to do a lot of R&D [and] engineering around the products and the project, both on the core software – improving it – and also on tools for easier operation and management of large clusters. A database [is] a large-scope project, especially if it has a lot of features. It takes time for those to mature. {Early] products started hitting around 1980 but it took 15 years after that for them to fully mature - that long."

Sage advice indeed. As startup scenes around the world boom and buzz like the zombie apocalypse rolled out yesterday, patience it seems is still a virtue for the early-stage venture.