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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 3)

Posted on Sunday, Jan 12th 2014

Sramana Mitra: Had you already moved to Silicon Valley before raising the money? This is another key question that a lot of entrepreneurs are wrestling with and making decisions on.

Jonathan Ellis: Yes. It actually wasn’t an explicit condition of the funding and we actually took another 3 months or so before moving the headquarters. They suggested it and we recognized the value of having our sales and marketing presence particularly in the Bay Area. When we were starting out, probably 80% of our customers for that first 6 months were Bay Area companies. That area is more used to taking a little bit of a risk on a new technology in the hopes of getting a big pay-off in terms of solving the scalability and performance problem. So Matt moved out as CEO and I stayed in Texas and continued building an engineering team out here which had a number of cost benefits.

Sramana Mitra: And are you still in Texas?

Jonathan Ellis: I am.

Sramana Mitra: Okay. So you operate in a ‘headquarters for marketing and sales in Silicon Valley’, engineering team in Austin, Texas mode?

Jonathan Ellis: Since we grew out of an open source project, we were very comfortable from the beginning on hiring engineers remotely. So even though I’m in Austin, and we have probably 15 to even 20 engineers in Austin now, on any given day, you’ll probably have 4 or 5 of them in the office and everyone else working from home. We have a distributed team working with the broader Cassandra community. So we had a VP of Marketing come and visit us in Austin and she’s kind of laughing at us saying, “You guys are such nerds even when you’re talking to each other. You’re just typing on HipChat instead of talking.” But the reason for that is that we have colleagues who are not in the room with us, so we want to be able to keep them on the loop as well. So using IST or HipChat or Bugzilla ticket tracker lets them be part of the conversation even though they’re not in the room with us.

Sramana Mitra: Yes. So this is also a very contemporary trend of having distributed teams and virtual teams working together. It’s a pretty sizeable company that’s being built with this model right now.

Jonathan Ellis: Yes. I feel like it’s the future of software development because it means that we’re not locked into competing for talent in a fixed geographic area but we can hire people from wherever they want to live.

Sramana Mitra: Yes. I think the future of the enterprise in a way is going to be a lot more distributed. People are going to be working from home a lot more and not interested in commuting and sitting in traffic for 2 hours. All of these trends are very active right now.

Jonathan Ellis: Coming from a valley perspective, another trend is that people are worried about age in the valley and say, “Hey, why are all these startups just people with young college graduates? Where are all the middle-aged engineers?” Well, the middle-aged engineers left Silicon Valley because you can’t afford to raise a family there. I’m going to have five kids in March, there’s no way I could afford to live in a good school system in Silicon Valley with the kind of expenses I’ve been looking at for housing.

Sramana Mitra: Yes.

Jonathan Ellis: So by having a distributed team, we also get more advantage and more perspective than just the young, fresh out-of-college graduate.

Sramana Mitra: Very true. When you’re doing work in core technology, which you are, I think the maturity in the engineering talent really helps.

Jonathan Ellis: Yes. That’s also true.


This segment is part 3 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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