Eliot Horowitz: MongoDB (Entrepreneurship Lecture Series)

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2016 Talks
John Meehan
no group
March 29, 2016, 2:25 p.m.

Information Technology Entrepreneurship Lecture Series
Inaugural Lecture

Eliot Horowitz
CTO and Co-Founder, mongoDB
Thursday, March 24, 2016 at 4 PM
Room 368 (CIT - 3rd floor)

What is it like to start an information technology company in an era of pervasive computing and constantly-evolving technology? Brown CS is launching a new series of lectures to benefit aspiring entrepreneurs and anyone interested in a unique look at the IT industry from the perspective of its thought leaders.

In 2008, fed up with the boilerplate infrastructure that seemed to accompany every project he'd worked on since college, Eliot and his co-founder Dwight Merriman started 10Gen, a platform-as-a-service 10 years before its time. He and Dwight had worked together before, founding ShopWiki together in 2005, a comparison shopping search engine that used still unmatched technology for crawling the web and extracting offers.

Before that, Eliot had worked on Dwight's research team while Dwight was still CTO of DoubleClick, and before that, Eliot and interned for Dwight on that same team. It's good to have a co-founder you know well.

Within 2 years it was clear that 10Gen was a decade early, but the data storage engine for 10Gen was a winner all by itself. So MongoDB was born, and the company mission refined down to two things -- 1) eliminate the impedance mismatch between coding application logic and data interaction, and 2) presume horizontal and geographical scale is the destiny of all projects.

In its first years, MongoDB was essentially an experiment to determine if the world wanted a product that did those two things, but quickly it became clear the answer was “yes!” In order to bring the new, leaner vision to fruition, and with limited resources, MongoDB had to execute a balancing act -- short-term and long term goals had to be carefully traded off, so MongoDB could deliver crucial missing features that were relevant to its existing user base, while maintaining an overall trajectory towards its goal -- to become the default database for any modern application.

Here are some takeaways:

* Most entrepreneurs should join an established but smallish startup to get a feel for what works and what doesn't. Most of the time your idea can wait a year or so while you cut your teeth and prove to other people you can deliver.

* In other circumstances, it might be right to get right to it. The iron might be particularly hot right then, and you might have an exceptional amount of groundwork already laid.

* But taking a job isn't a badge of shame, it's smart. You can earn runway and build your network.

* Entrepreneurship relies on innovation, but the more you don't innovate, the fewer unproven theories you have to validate. Usually you should only innovate one thing at a time, unless you have proof of synergy between multiple innovations.

Eliot is one of the core MongoDB kernel committers. Previously, he was Co-Founder and CTO of ShopWiki. Eliot developed the crawling and data extraction algorithm that is the core of its innovative technology. He has quickly become one of Silicon Alley's up and coming entrepreneurs and was selected as one of BusinessWeek's Top 25 Entrepreneurs Under Age 25 nationwide in 2006. Earlier, Eliot was a software developer in the R&D group at DoubleClick (acquired by Google for $3.1 billion). Eliot received a BS in Computer Science from Brown University.

Host: Professor Ugur Cetintemel