This week, open-source guru and former MongoDB CEO Max Schireson—who famously announced a year ago that he was leaving that job partly to attain better work/life balance—joins Battery Ventures as an executive in residence.
At Battery, Schireson will advise Battery’s cloud and big-data portfolio companies on key strategic and tactical issues, including drumming up grassroots adoption for open-source businesses; effectively making money from these business models; and creating winning products in a crowded market. He will also help Battery identify promising big-data and open-source projects from industry and academia, and help incubate relevant companies at Battery. He started at Battery Sept. 1.
Powered by Battery recently sat down for a chat with Schireson and Battery General Partner Dharmesh Thakker, who previously backed MongoDB as an investor at Intel Capital.
Powered by Battery: Dharmesh, you and Max go back a few years. Tell us how you met and came to work together.
Dharmesh Thakker: I first met Max in 2012; I was leading the cloud and big-data practice at Intel Capital, the venture arm of Intel, and exploring possible investments in next-generation data infrastructure. I met Max through a personal connection and was really impressed by his deep domain expertise in the database market—he spent nine years at Oracle and seven years at MarkLogic, another database company. And MongoDB, which he was running at the time, was obviously turning into an extremely prominent, next-generation NoSQL database.
I was also impressed by his broader knowledge of open-source business models, and the way he was able to cultivate a robust open-source community of developers at Mongo (over three million developers are using the platform) while also building a commercial revenue stream. I was lucky enough to invest in Max and Mongo in 2012. By the time Max finished his tenure there, he had grown sales from $1 million to $50 million in just four years.
PBB: Max, how did you reconnect with Dharmesh once he joined Battery earlier this year?
Max Schireson: Dharmesh was very supportive in the transition and wanted to keep in touch and work together again. I took a number of months to decompress and spend time with family and hobbies, but in the spring we started to talk about various ways to work together.
PBB: What was appealing about the EIR job Dharmesh outlined for you?
Schireson: There were a number things that came together to make the opportunity compelling. I love variety and intellectual challenge, so the idea of working across a number of exciting startups was appealing. I wanted to continue to have a balanced life and this was an opportunity to engage with great companies without committing to an intense, CEO-like management role. All of these things made an EIR job feel like a good fit.
As far as why Battery–besides liking the team and Battery’s strong reputation and track record of partnering with category-defining companies–the firm felt big enough to have an impact but not so big that it would be hard to get stuff done. I also liked the fact that Battery invests across the whole life cycle, so I would see companies at all stages. Finally, I think that enterprise infrastructure is in the midst of a huge disruption by open source and cloud technologies. Certainly that is happening in the database space as I have seen close up, but really there is a whole new mindset coming to enterprise IT. That creates massive opportunity but also requires new approaches to building a company.
Thakker: I think that’s a really important point. These Web-scale market leaders—Google, Facebook and Yahoo—have really disrupted the traditional enterprise-software model by contributing new core, database technologies to the open-source community: Hadoop from Yahoo, Cassandra from Facebook, etc. So it’s critical for us as investors to understand how to gain adoption of a new technology at the grassroots level, with developers, yet maintain enough value to generate commercial value as well. Open-source businesses are everywhere today, but even those that get big don’t always make money. They often need help with sales, marketing and product-development. I think Max will be able to help Battery and our companies work through those issues.
PBB: Max, do you have any particular areas of open-source or big data you’ll be looking at first?
Schireson: I think the whole stack is in flux. Certainly I’ve seen big changes on the database side which are well in progress. I think storage will see big changes. Analytics has seen a lot of change but I don’t think the solution has stabilized yet. The whole cloud operations picture is very complex and in flux.
PBB: And how are you dealing with your work-life balance, a year after your blog post on the topic went viral? Were you surprised by the reaction to your original piece?
Schireson: Certainly my decision got much more attention than I expected; I think I hit a nerve around work-life balance and gender roles. I absolutely feel like I made the right decision, both from a work-life balance perspective and because as MongoDB continued to grow, the job became less of a match for my skills and interests. The challenge for me personally is to find a way to be intellectually engaged and to contribute without being drawn into something overwhelming. I am excited about finding that at Battery, as well as with some non-tech activities. Here’s a link to a blog post about my life a year later for those who are interested in the personal side of my transition.
PBB: Dharmesh, in closing, why don’t you tell us more about how Max and his new focus fit into Battery’s larger investment strategy.
Dharmesh: Sure. Cloud computing and big data are very large areas of focus for us going forward; we think there has never been a more exciting time to build an enterprise-software company. This is mostly because of the convergence of macro trends like the rise of mobile apps, cloud services and big data, which together could potentially disrupt over $150 billion in annual enterprise-IT spend and $1 trillion in market cap.
In big data specifically, I feel we are at an inflection point where the technology building blocks to capture massive amounts of data—open-source technologies like Hadoop, Cassandra, and MongoDB—are in place, and we’re finally poised to capitalize on the value of all that data for specific business markets. The opportunity is huge, and we know former enterprise-IT operators have invaluable insights to help current executives build great new companies. So we look forward to leveraging Max’s guidance to support our portfolio companies with open-source community development and go-to-market strategies, and to continue our tradition of partnering with entrepreneurs to build market-leading software companies.