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Building an Open Source Software Company Around Cassandra, Seed-Funded by RackSpace: Jonathan Ellis and Matt Pfeil, Founders of DataStax (Part 7)

Posted on Thursday, Jan 16th 2014

Sramana Mitra: What would you say are the key milestones that you have accomplished, based on almost four years of being in business?

Matt Pfeil: From my perspective, I think that open source as a business is really hard because you create something as an open source project that you don’t own. You throw up things that you could sell. So we have a clear-cut strategy on what our products will look like. I think we figured out how to sell it and we now have 20 of the Fortune 100 as customers. So the customer list backs that up.
Sramana Mitra: When you say you have 20 of the Fortune 100, is there a segment in that? Are you talking about online retailers? What is the kind of companies buying your product?

Matt Pfeil: It’s 20 of the Fortune 100 or 20% of the top 100 companies in the world. And in terms of segments, it’s a true platform play.

Jonathan Ellis: 20% of the Fortune 100 are DataStax customers and most, if not all, of the rest are using Cassandra open source project. Since it is open source, it is free to use and you don’t have to get a license from us to just deploy the open source part of Cassandra. It’s a general purpose tool.

Sramana Mitra: I see. So where Cassandra shines and where you shine consequently are in these very large user-based kind of scenarios. I’m just trying to understand why would all of Fortune 100 respond to that scenario because many of the Fortune 100 don’t operate in that manner. It’s more in online retail or media kinds of spaces where you see millions of users, hundreds of millions of users.

Jonathan Ellis: That’s true. But in the Fortune 100, you’ll see a lot of healthcare companies too. They’re not necessarily presenting a web application to people, but they’re definitely tracking data on a lot of users and customers. I’m trying to think of a category that actually doesn’t generate a lot of data in one form or another.

Sramana Mitra: Just generating a lot of data. My understanding based on what you’ve told me and maybe I didn’t understand it right is that you need data on a large number of customers. Oil and gas, for instance, does not have millions and millions of customers. There’s a lot of data being collected but it’s a different style of data organization, isn’t it?

Jonathan Ellis: I must have explained that poorly because Oil and Gas is a good example of a sector that creates a lot of machine-generated data.

Sramana Mitra: It does.

Jonathan Ellis: Sensors from their exploration for instance. That kind of application is a good fit for Cassandra as well.

Sramana Mitra: So, large data volume is where you are playing.

Jonathan Ellis: Yes. The distinction I’m trying to make here is that you can manage large data volumes with Hadoop-based solutions, but that’s not where we are competing. We want to solve problems where you need to do hundreds of thousands of operations per second or as with Hadoop you have terabytes of data but you’re doing 4 or 5 queries per hour against this large data set. It’s more of a data mining tool whereas with Cassandra we’re actually running the application that’s generating that data and needs to serve it back up to some consumer somewhere.

Sramana Mitra: Right. It’s a more real-time environment.

Jonathan Ellis: Right.

Sramana Mitra: Yes. Which again raises a big question mark around why all of Fortune 100 would be customers for that?

Matt Pfeil: Well, think about it. Like Logistics or Energy. If you’re an energy company and you have sensors on a plant, you need to process the settings on the temperatures of various machines, etc in real-time. So if there’s a mistake, an adjustment has to be made, and it has to be made in real time.

Sramana Mitra: It’s real-time machine-generated data.

Matt Pfeil: Yes, exactly. So virtually everyone in the Fortune 500 has a use-case for that.

Sramana Mitra: What would you highlight in terms of your metrics at this point?

Matt Pfeil: I would say that we have 20% of the Fortune 100 as paying customers. I like Jonathan’s point that most of the rest of the Fortune is using Cassandra, so they are all prospects.

Sramana Mitra: What’s the revenue range?

Jonathan Ellis: It is over $5 million.

Sramana Mitra: It was great talking to you. Thank you very much.

This segment is part 7 in the series : Building an Open Source Software Company Around Cassandra, Seed-Funded by RackSpace: Jonathan Ellis and Matt Pfeil, Founders of DataStax
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