In June 2021, Andrew Davidson, VP of cloud products at MongoDB, talked with Alan Shimel about MongoDB and the fifth anniversary of launching Atlas, the company’s database-as-a-service offering. The video is below, followed by a transcript of the conversation.
Announcer: This is Digital Anarchist.
Alan Shimel: Hi, everyone. Welcome to another segment here on TechStrong TV. Our guest for this segment is Andrew Davidson. Andrew, welcome to TechStrong TV.
Andrew Davidson: Thanks, Alan. Good to be here.
Shimel: It’s great to have you on. Andrew, I purposely didn’t say a lot about – I just said Andrew Davidson. I didn’t give your company, your title, or anything. I’m gonna let you do that, if you don’t mind.
Davidson: Well, thank you very much. Yeah, so I’m Andrew Davidson. I’m VP of cloud products here at MongoDB. I’ve been here nearly nine years. I’m a Silicon Valley native originally, but I moved to New York City and found this amazing opportunity here. MongoDB, for those who don’t know, is actually headquartered in New York City. And it’s been an amazing journey since that time, just seeing this incredible explosive growth out there over this time.
Shimel: Absolutely. Y’know, if you couldn’t tell from my funny French accent, I’m from New York originally. So I got into tech around 1995, 1996. And at the time, I think the mayor of New York was Mayor David Dinkins, and he had started a project that they were calling Silicon Alley. Right?
Davidson: There you go.
Shimel: It was downtown. And I actually had an office – first company I sold – on John Street, 55 John Street. But it was shortly after that – eh, shortly; it was probably seven or eight years after that at least, I bet, that Mongo started in that Silicon Alley, New York kind of cauldron of tech stuff.
Davidson: That’s exactly right.
Shimel: Yeah. Oh, I remember. I was in New York then. And it was a point of pride, actually, right? I mean, it wasn’t Oracle. We didn’t wanna be Oracle, right? It was the new guys, the new sequel guys, and they made a name for themselves and did well, right? And so I’m glad to hear you made that move from Silicon Valley –
Shimel: – to New York, and it’s a pretty cool thing. Of course that, as I said, was 15, 17 years ago, right? We’re here to celebrate a birthday/anniversary today, too, and that’s the – If I’m wrong, Andrew, correct me. It’s the fifth anniversary of Atlas from MongoDB, right?
Davidson: That’s exactly right. We launched MongoDB Atlas, which is our global cloud database service, five years ago this month, and we’re just so excited. We’ve come so far. We’ve reached the psychological milestone this same month of 51 percent of our company revenue growing more than 70 percent year over year. We all know that this is the future of the platform. This is the foundation on which we can deliver really the world’s preeminent application data platform. And the value –
Compared to where we were, y’know, when you mentioned when MongoDB was coming out of Silicon Alley so many years ago, it’s just a completely different universe today. At that time when MondoDB was first created, I think it was largely about timing. There was this combination of factors, giving developers this document model that was totally native for them, and also democratizing a distributed system right at the time in which cloud was democratizing commodity hardware.
That combination led MongoDB to explode. But this idea of self-managing databases that we realized six, seven years ago, that was gonna go away. People are gonna move up a whole level of abstraction. It’s gonna be all declarative. An end-point in the cloud you can read and write from, and build wonderful applications – that’s what MongoDB Atlas was all about. And five years in, over 25,000 customers, over 100,000 developers signing up every month, it’s just unbelievable.
Shimel: It really is. Y’know, I mean, look. Again, having been there, the original attraction with MongoDB was “no SQL,” right? It was a no sequel database. Everybody was using SQL scripts, and whether you were using MySQL or MS SQL, it was – And then the idea of no SQL was really huge. But why was it huge? I think you hit it, Andrew. Number one, it was easier for developers to do what they wanted to do, how they wanted to do it. Number two, it was just lighter and easier and more fungible, if you will, especially as we were moving to cloud in 2005 and 2006, right?
Cloud burst on the scene. And it lent itself. It lent itself to multi-nodes and all of these things much better than relational SQL database.
Shimel: But of course Atlas comes in as a service.
Shimel: And I think that – it’s more than just a service. A database is a service, or data is a service. But fundamentally I think that is the next leap forward, right? We went from like 2001: An Odyssey, right? Someone _____ to throw a rock, and that was a big leap forward. But it was the next leap forward with fire, that defined it.
Davidson: That’s right. The obelisk, I suppose you could say.
Shimel: Right, the obelisk, no, totally.
Davidson: ‘Cause I mean, like you were saying a second ago, why is it so important for developers to have a data model that’s so native for them? Well, it’s because every company today has that incredible sense of urgency that they must be come software companies. In every vertical, every part of the world, everyone’s either fighting to keep what they’ve got or being challenged by upstarts. And you can’t buy this off the shelf any longer.
You have to bring that DNA in house and really reflect your company’s unique value propositions and users and internal logistics and all of the above for software, and data is the heart and soul of software. It’s always been the hardest part of, frankly, building software. We change how we build software. We layer in microservice as next-gen frameworks, et cetera. But if the data model hasn’t kept up, and if the data model continues to be this sort of tabular model that goes back to the ’70s, a time in which storage was the key bottleneck in computing because it was expensive to have storage then –
We flash forward to today. The bottleneck is actually our technical people’s ability to understand and build that software. And so MongoDB flips this whole thing on its head and allows those people to be kind of these artisans of the business today, unlocking their ability to really make those businesses competitive. And that’s why I think the strategic value of this is rising. And then when you deliver it in a service, you get so far away from this kind of plumbing of dealing with infrastructure management, operating systems –
Who wants to be talking about that stuff? It’s non-differentiating, right? You have to move to your custom software, and you have to be able to utilize the best-in-class capabilities. Best in class database as a service globally on the Big Three public cloud, like MongoDB Atlas. Use that with best-in-class other capabilities, and really weave together your unique business, your unique company. That’s what’s happening out there.
Shimel: Agreed. You said something earlier, too, that wasn’t lost on me, and I wanna make sure it wasn’t lost on the audience. Here on the first anniversary of MongoDB Atlas, it now accounts for more than 50 percent of revenue for the company, which means it’s the dominant revenue-maker for the company. And how long are you working on the Atlas project now, Andrew?
Davidson: Since the beginning. I mean, really five, six years on Atlas, but at MongoDB almost nine.
Shimel: Yep. So I guess the question is, and be honest –
Shimel: – don’t fudge it – did you imagine five years ago that this would be the dominant revenue source for Mongo? Or did you always think it was?
Davidson: That’s a great question. I think part of me thought, “Y’know, it’s gonna be so hard to get to the point where you can be trusted to power the back end of these mission-critical applications all over the world. This is gonna be such a massive mountain to climb!” I think I had doubts at times, but on the flip side I knew: this is the future of databases. The only way we’re really gonna get to that next level, the only way we truly can disrupt this massive database market, is if we nail it with this service.
So we knew, and I think we had pretty solid buy-in at every level of the company, that we had to make Atlas successful. In the early days, y’know, as is always difficult, we were kind of a start-up in the company, a whole new go-to-market model, largely self-service led, credit card customers coming in, long tail. We weren’t ready yet to go out to the enterprises on year one. And kind of earning that right, getting battle tested, getting all the security controls, the regulatory capabilities, the sort of the reference wins.
Y’know, those early customers like 7-11, and Liberty Mutual, and NBCUniversal. Doing great big things on the platform, really showing that you could do it at scale, you could do it safely and securely. And just validating the value prop that we always knew was gonna be there – it just got easier and easier. The flywheel starts moving, and you started feeling like, “Y’know, we really have a shot, here.” And we started doing more and more deals – SMB, corporate, kind of mid-market segment.
And then probably year three, we started really going big in the enterprise, and you just kinda knew, “It’s gonna happen. We’re gonna do this.” The growth rate was so high. And now, boom. Yeah, you get to that point. The 50 percent chasm is crossed, growing twice as fast as the traditional software, and it’s like, “What a feeling!” I talked to so many customers, even, who are transitioning from kind of being open-source software companies to SAS companies.
It is a very hard DNA shift to go through. You go from really just writing software that other people run on their own, to being responsible for the business of your customer. And it’s a whole different trust dynamic that’s really important.
Shimel: Absolutely. Look, congratulations to you and to the whole team with that. It’s an accomplishment, for sure, right? ‘Cause it’s easy to go from zero to one; it’s easy to go from one to two. Two to four is harder. Four to eight is harder. Eight to 16 is yet harder. When you’re talking about 50 percent of the revenue of a company like Mongo, it’s not a zero to one, right? Five years ago, Mongo was already – I guess it was public. Was it public five – ? I don’t know. How long – ?
Davidson: I think we went public more – no, I think it was more like three and a half years ago, if I’m not mistaken.
Shimel: It was still a sizeable amount of revenue, right? It wasn’t just _____, y’know –[Crosstalk]
Davidson: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, yeah, totally. Yeah, yeah.
Shimel: So that is a mountain to climb. All right. I’m gonna ask you – We’re running low on time. I got a few other things. I’m gonna ask you to put on your visionary goggles now.
Shimel: Here we are, Andrew, talking to Alan five years from now. I hope not. I hope I’m somewhere in Maui or something. But five years from now we’re talking, celebrating the tenth year of Atlas. It’s now 80 percent of Mongo’s revenue, unless something new came up to disrupt it – who knows?
Shimel: But what does Atlas look like five years from now?
Davidson: Yeah, look. I mean, the whole philosophy of our platform in many ways is it’s fundamentally about user experience. It’s about making it possible for these application developers and operators and enterprises and start-ups, everyone in between – make it easier for them to build modern applications on a modern application data platform. And what we think makes us really unique is, it all starts with this document data model. The document data model is very much the superset data model.
You can express key value inside a document. That’s just, y’know, a document with a single index. You can express relational inside a document; it’s essentially a flat document. Y’know, spatial, graph – it’s all expressible in this unified interface. So you can do all these data models and all these use cases, which makes it very widely applicable, very multimodal. But then the important step beyond that is to drive multiple workloads behind the scenes.
The workloads are kind of how you store the data behind the scenes, the algorithms you use to analyze it. Our philosophy is, behind that same unified, elegant interface, you should be able to express all of the wide array of workloads that power modern applications – operational, transactional, the most mission-critical applications; search, which is about human-powered experiences; mobile experiences on iOS and Android devices, synchronizing data back up and down from the cloud to the mobile device –
real-time analytics; data-like use cases, with object storage economics. All of that should be accessible at your fingertips through this superset data model. And when we think about kind of wrapping all of that up, continuing to deliver it at scale, secure, highly available, highly scalable, multi-cloud service on the Big Three public cloud, we’re just gonna keep taking this vision to the next level. Be laser focused on the user and on delivering what they need to build the next-generation applications of tomorrow.
Shimel: I love it, man. Good stuff. Andrew, we’re about out of time. For people who wanna get more information on MongoDB Atlas, where do they go?
Davidson: Well, you can absolutely go to mongodb.com, but you should also check out our upcoming developer conference, mongodb.live, on July 13. Look forward to seeing you there.
Shimel: Is that virtual only?
Davidson: Virtual. Absolutely. Virtual conference this year. Next year I’m hopeful, very hopeful, we’ll be back with the real deal, what we used to call MongoDB World, in New York City.
Shimel: Absolutely. I’ve been there, been there more than a few times.
Davidson: There you go.
Shimel: I’m looking forward to it.
Shimel: Y’know, I’m gonna be in New York that week of July 13th. I wish you guys were doing it in person. But –
Davidson: Well –
Shimel: Next year. We’ll wait.
Davidson: Yeah, yeah. Look forward to seeing you _____.[Crosstalk]
Shimel: Andrew, congrat – Absolutely. Andrew, congratulations on your fifth anniversary with Atlas, and great work. It’s something to be proud of, man.
Davidson: Thank you, Alan.
Shimel: It’s good stuff. Big stuff.
Davidson: My final comment is, this community’s growing like crazy. Like I said, 100,000 people sign up for Atlas every month. You should sign up today if you haven’t experienced a free forever sandbox cluster, build your Hello World application. We’ve got courses for you to learn from, documentation up the wazoo, because this is big tent community. Thank you, Alan.
Shimel: Absolutely. Talk to you soon, Andrew. A pleasure. Andrew Davidson, MongoDB. Fifth year anniversary of Atlas – check it out. We’re gonna take a break here on TechStrong TV, and we’re gonna be right back with another guest.[End of Audio]