Category Archives: Startups

Why You Should Short Dropbox and Box

I recently got a new computer. As I set up my new machine, I decided that this time, I would save myself the hassle of storing anything locally by setting up a Dropbox account and storing all my documents in the cloud.

In principle this seemed like a great idea! In practice? My documents are in Google Drive. My email is Gmail. My photos? Well, I publish them on Facebook. Wait, what am I storing on my computer anyway?

The problem with Dropbox (and it’s major competitor, Box) is that their business model is centered around the core assumption that consumers have files. As we move towards cloud-based services, consumers create fewer files. The need to store files – either locally or in the cloud – becomes unnecessary.

Couple that with the explosion in use of mobile devices and tablets. How many files do you save on your iPad? Instead, consumers are becoming accustomed to interacting with apps, and that is extending to their laptop experience with machines like the Chromebook.

The final remnants of local storage will be photos and music. But even these are moving in the direction of “as-a-service.” Companies like Spotify and Pandora are changing the way that we consume music. And photos are instantly shared and stored on online services like Facebook, Flickr and Instagram.

If you believe, as I do, that in the future consumers access everything via the web or apps, what becomes of Dropbox and Box?

On MongoDB Raising $150 Million

On Friday, MongoDB announced that we’d raised $150 million dollars in funding. It’s an exciting and humbling experience to be part of such an innovative company at the forefront of the New York City technology community.

When I joined MongoDB nearly four years ago, we were eight people with no customers sharing office space with another startup. Many people ask me if or how the company has changed in that time. Of course it’s bigger, more functionalized, and is now a global organization. But much has remained the same. We’re still building innovative technology that developers love, we’re still obsessive about customer success, and we’re still committed to fostering community. And because our customer and user base is growing rapidly, there are still many challenging problems to solve, all at rapid pace.

As our CEO Max Schireson explained in his post on the funding round, relational database technology has a huge head start on us. Relational technologies have been in development for decades and there is a large, robust ecosystem around them. This money will be used to close that gap.

For me the round is particularly exciting because I spent my first 3+ years at the company talking to developers and getting them to adopt a new technology. Now, working on the team that makes MongoDB Management Service, we have a different challenge: building the tools and services that allow people to easily operate MongoDB at scale. This round enables continued development of MongoDB, but also of MMS with the goal of making MongoDB as friendly for operations as it already is during development.

I’m looking forward to continuing the adventure. If you want to join for the ride, we’re hiring.

Open Source Community and Corporate Culture – Are they any different?

As 10gen has grown as a company, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about our corporate culture and the parallels between building great community and building great corporate culture. A healthy corporate culture will share a few of the key qualities of a vibrant open source community.

1) Transparent

Open sources communities are definitionally transparent by making source code available for review and modification. Similarly, a positive corporate culture thrives with open discussion and debate, within the limits of reasonableness. Obviously there will always be certain things, such as sensitive / confidential customer information, that cannot be shared across the company, but the overall vision and goals for the team should be as clear to everyone as the project roadmap is in an open source project.

2) Collaborative across geography and cultures

Open source contributors and users are often distributed geographically and comunicate using a variety of tools such as forums, IRC channels, bug trackers, and wikis. Similarly, a healthy corporate culture encourages the exchange of ideas and methodologies, discourages departments from working in silos, and encourages employees to create internal knowledge sharing tools.

3) Developing talent

A healthy open source project will put in place mechanisms to encourage users to become contributors and ways to acknowledge key contributors. Existing, active contributors often take a mentoring role with new users and contributors. Great companies recognize talent, nurture people, get them training, and help people develop in their careers. While a large portion of this culture has to come from management since they will approve budgets and headcount, the employees can contribute to the culture as well by recognizing the strengths of their peers, mentoring teammates, and maintaining a positive work environment.

What can you do?

Here are a few concrete ways that you can develop a transparent, collaborative culture that develops talent.

  • Organize tech talks, lunch and learn series, or hackathons that bring different departments together to learn what others in the organization are working on, or to work together and collaborate on projects.
  • Host “cultural exchanges” where certain employees work from different offices for an extended period of time. For example, at 10gen, we have support engineers from our Dublin and Australia office do month-long stints in NYC so they can sit with the core server team.
  • Build collaborative knowledge-sharing tools, such as wikis, where staff are encouraged to share information.
  • Set up forums for discussion on important company topics, such as town halls, mailing lists, or all company meetings.
  • Embrace video conferencing! We have a virtual “water cooler” at 10gen that points a camera at each of our international offices.

What other ways can you make your company more like an open source community? Feel free to add suggestions in the comments.

Doers and Strategizers

In a recent BetaBeat article, Kevin Ryan talked about the challenges of hiring a new CEO at Gilt Groupe:

Another factor in Ms. Peluso’s appointment was her experience with different sized companies. “Here’s a hard thing when you look for someone in this spot. You want someone who has entrepreneurial energy and focus and moves quickly. At the same time, we’re not a 20-person company, we’re a 1,000-person company and with global operations. So you need to have that big company structure and thought process, but not slow you down–and that’s a weird hybrid,” he said. “I’ve interviewed people from big companies and I’m like: Oh my god, they’re going to be a disaster here. They’re gonna wanna take too long on everything. And yet people can be too sloppy if they just come from startups.”

While I’ve never had to hire a CEO, I can relate to the challenge that Kevin faces in hiring at a fast-growing startup. Finding the right mix of strategy and execution is a major challenge when you are recruiting.

For example, right now I’m actively trying to find someone to head our demand generation efforts. Ideally we will find someone who has the creativity to come up with ideas for campaigns to drive new leads and the analytical mindset to figure out which programs are the most successful. That requires a strategic person, who probably has many years of experience and can see the big picture.

At the same time, we’re still a small team. This person will also need to know how to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty, setting up programs in our marketing automation tool (Marketo), running reports to see which campaigns were successful, and all of the other details that go along with bootstrapping our enterprise marketing programs.

Personally, I love both aspects of my job and it’s one of the things that makes working at a startup so rewarding. Hopefully I can find someone that is up to the challenge!

Every startup employee is an entrepreneur

At a startup, every employee needs to think of themselves as an entrepreneur in their business area. With constant growth, an individual’s role may morph over time as the work increases in both volume and complexity, and every employee must be prepared to think about how they will scale out their portion of the business. In my case, I made the transition from an individual contributor (and only marketing employee) to Director of Community Marketing. Every day I am learning new things about building marketing programs, and I’ve found that having an entrepreneurial mindset is one of the critical ingredients for success.

When I joined 10gen in December 2009, I was a “doer” completely focused on tactical activities. For almost a year, I managed all of our marketing programs by myself, including interacting with community members, coordinating meetups, mailing swag to contributors, organizing conferences, facilitating technical posts on the blog, running our newsletter, managing our CRM tools, and more.

As the company has grown, it’s become impossible for me to continue to do everything myself. Not only has the volume of activities exploded, but the standards of quality have risen and complexity increased. A simple example of this is our newsletter. Two and a half years ago when I started the newsletter, it was a single list with a few thousand names, all of which received the same email blast. Today, we have tens of thousands of subscribers, we issue over a dozen versions of the newsletter segmented by geography and interest, and we translate it into several languages.

Moving from a tactical to a more strategic role means that I spend a lot of my time thinking about how to scale our activities by creating processes and systems. Given the complexity of the newsletter and the number of subscribers, we couldn’t rely on an ad hoc mailing every month. We had to build and document a process for developing content and rules for segmenting lists, all while staying on a strict schedule to ensure that we have sufficient lead time to translate content and run tests. Similarly, for our MongoDB conferences, we built extensive documentation, checklists, budgeting templates, and speaker feedback processes to start to “templatize” our events. While each MongoDB conference brings a unique set of speakers and attendees together, from a logistical standpoint the process is repeatable so that we can execute dozens of these events every year.

I recently finished a book called The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It, which strongly resonated with me. The book explains that many small businesses fail because each business owner has three competing personalities: the Technician, the Entrepreneur, and the Manager. The Technician is the skilled individual contributor, such as a software engineer or baker or in my case, marketer. The Entrepreneur is the person who becomes excited by new ideas, who sees what might be possible. The Manager strives to find order in the chaos, to maintain the status quo. When I joined 10gen, I was the quintessential Technician. In order to build a successful marketing team, I had to balance the Technician inside of me with an Entrepreneur, who could see the possibilities of an organized, well-run marketing machine, and a Manager that could maintain structure and process.

In the E-Myth book, the author explains that in order to build a successful business, you need to stop thinking about the item that you are producing – for example, the newsletter or a MongoDB conference – and start thinking about the overall process. With a structured process, your customers get a consistent, positive experience. Once you’ve documented the process you become freed from the tactical work and can focus on the next innovative strategy.

We don’t have systems for everything, but it’s something that (I hope!) I can motivate the whole team to build. In this way, everyone on my team gets to be an entrepreneur building a certain aspect of the business: Melia building our conferences, Meg building our email marketing and online events, Francesca and James building our user groups, Justin building our web infrastructure, Katie building our design / branding, and so on. This is challenging work but it’s what makes working at a startup so much fun!

Special thanks to Andrew Erlichson for recommending the E-Myth book!

Mayor Mike Bloomberg Visits 10gen

Today 10gen hosted New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg for a meet-and-greet with the staff. He arrived around noon, where our founders, Dwight and Eliot, greeted him at the elevator. Our President’s three kids were at the office and gave the Mayor a high five as he entered the office.

The founders walked the mayor around the office, explaining the importance of MongoDB as a technology and discussing 10gen’s expansion in New York City and beyond. The founders chatted with the mayor in a conference room while the rest of the staff gathered in the center of the office. We had our “virtual water cooler” running during the visit so that staff in our Palo Alto, London, Dublin, and Sydney offices could participate.

With a MongoDB coffee mug in his hand, the mayor emerged from his meeting with the founders to address the staff, talking about his experiences as an entrepreneur building technology for financial services companies. He spoke candidly for 10-15 minutes and then answered questions from the 10gen team for another 30 minutes on everything from politics to technology to his favorite restaurant in New York City!

Taking on an entrenched competitor like Oracle is a big challenge, and many are surprised that 10gen is doing it from New York City. My colleague Gary asked the mayor how 10gen fit into the city’s initiatives to support technology in the city, and the mayor responded by saying that “business begets business.” I hope that as other entrepreneurs see 10gen building a successful company here, New York City will be perceived as a viable place for starting pure technology companies.

To wrap up, here are some of my favorite tweets from the event:

The mayor has been incredibly supportive of the technology community in New York City, and I’m extremely grateful that he made the time to visit our team. The energy in the startup community is amazing, and outreach like today’s visit helps build on that momentum.

Thanks again to Mayor Mike Bloomberg for visiting, and for the team at the mayor’s office that helped arrange this amazing event!

Open Source Business Part 1: Benefits of Open Source

MongoDB users frequently ask me how 10gen and other open source companies make money. I thought that I’d share a bit about how open source businesses work in a series of blog posts. The series will be broken into roughly three parts:

  1. Benefits of the open source model
  2. Ways to monetize open source
  3. How to build an effective sales and marketing machine

In this post, I’ll address the benefits of building a company around open source software.


Making your product free is an excellent marketing strategy. In many ways, the open source model is a version of the “freemium” model that companies such as LinkedIn have embraced. Most people use LinkedIn as a free professional networking tool, but recruiters and sales reps pay a premium to get access to additional features and services. Making LinkedIn a free service enabled the network to gain critical mass so that paid versions would provide significant value to recruiters and sales professionals.

Similarly, at 10gen, most of our customers started using MongoDB because of an independent decision by a developer. The developer builds a prototype, and once it’s working the management team asks how its built. At that point, the management team sees a working app and starts asking about support and services for the underlying technology. In this way, open source technology enters large enterprise through the “back door” via an internal advocate on the development team.

Shorter sales cycle and lower cost of customer acquisition

Because open source software tends to be introduced by developers, by the time companies start talking to an open source vendor, they’ve already decided to use the software. The conversations with the sales team are about the services the vendor offers, rather than the software itself. Hence, sales cycles can be quite short — typically weeks or months.

For proprietary software companies, the first interaction with a prospect is usually much earlier in the decision cycle. A sales rep would approach someone in the management hierarchy about doing a proof of concept using the software product. In this scenario, the selection of software is a top-down decision that can take several quarters or even years to close. These long sales cycles expose vendors to a high degree of risk. They are time consuming and if the deal doesn’t close, the costs are sunk.

Open source sales reps manage many smaller prospective customers across a high-volume of transactions. At open source companies, inbound interest comprises the majority of the sales leads (i.e. people completing a “contact us” form requesting information about pricing). Sales and marketing must focus on scoring and prioritizing a high volume of leads over cold calling or outbound prospecting.

It’s true that many users will continue to use the open source software without paying for services. In that case, the sales rep can quickly and easily move on to the next prospect.

Feedback and Contribution

Open source businesses also have reduced R&D costs. Providing feedback is an important part of the social contract in open source. The user community is extremely willing to provide feedback on features, report bugs, and even contribute fixes. While many users may never pay a vendor for services, the majority of users will contribute to the overall ecosystem and create value for both the vendor and the overall community.


For any software startup, a key to success is building partnerships with software vendors and systems integrators. Partners help you reach new audiences and deliver services more effectively. Integration with other vendor technologies enables long-term traction.

Partners are much more likely to invest technology with a large community of users, regardless of whether those users pay. Offering your software for free makes it much easier to create a critical mass of users, and, in turn, attract partners who can further proliferate your software.

Free software disrupts entrenched players

When established vendors dominate a market, an open source company has an opportunity to disrupt the market by offering a high-value alternative at a lower price point. Vendors like 10gen can afford to charge lower prices because they benefit from shorter sales cycles and reduced R&D costs through community feedback. Closed source companies cannot afford to lower their pricing as their whole business model depends on charging customer licensing fees. (For more on this topic, you should read Max Schireson’s excellent blog on the value-based pricing trap.)

As I mentioned above, open source software is usually introduced at enterprises through an internal developer champion. In companies accustomed to paying expensive licensing fees, demonstrated cost savings from using open source on a single project can be very powerful. That project becomes the beachhead from which the open source vendor can start to penetrate other groups within the company, and ultimately replace entrenched closed source vendors.

In my next post, I’ll outline monetization strategies across several open source companies.

How to Find a Job at a New York City Startup

There is a lot of buzz around New York City’s emergence as a new hub for technology companies and innovation. The job opportunities are out there, if you know where to look and take the right approach.

Where to look

Lots of companies are hiring, but it can be hard to know where to start. Here are some great resources for finding a job in the New York City startup community.

Job Boards

Startuply, Startupers, and Hackruiter are job boards specifically for startups, and are good places to begin the search. and SimplyHired aggregate all job listings, so most startup positions will also be published there. You will, however, have to sort through lots of noise to find the startups.

The NY Tech Meetup maintains a list of companies based in New York City that includes links to many companies’ job boards. The city also maintains an interactive map of NYC startups with job listings.

You should also investigate local venture capital firms, as many of them have job boards aggregating positions in their portfolio companies. For example, the Union Square Ventures job board is excellent.

Participate in Events and Meetups

There is a vibrant community in New York City, which means lots and lots of events. This is exemplified by the NY Tech Meetup, which is the largest meetup in the world. Every month NYC startups demo their apps at NY Tech Meetup. In addition, there is at least one meetup group for every programming language, as well as meetups for entrepreneurs, community managers, startups, and more.

Even if you aren’t a programmer, consider attending some of the tech meetups to get a flavor of the community. Many growing startups host these meetups to show off their space and raise their profile in the community, so it can be educational to attend.

In addition to the meetup scene, there are lots of events organized specifically to highlight hiring startups in NYC. For example, at WalkAboutNYC, dozens of startups opened their doors to the community in a citywide open house. The Silicon Alley Talent Fair brings many of the hiring startups in one place for a giant, NYC-focused career fair.

Get Educated

Look to expand your skill set with many inexpensive courses available. You can sign up for a community developed course using NYC-based service SkillShare, or check out the educational offerings at General Assembly.

Event Aggregators and Mailing Lists

With so many events, meetups, talent fairs, and more going on, it can be hard to keep track. There are a few mailing lists that have been very beneficial to me in keeping up with NYC tech:

  • Venture Capitalist Charlie O’Donnell runs a mailing list with upcoming tech events and happenings in NY
  • Startup Digest is a free, weekly email digest of startup and tech events
  • Gary’s Guide aggregates events in New York City
  • LinkedList NYC is a weekly newsletter of cool things for engineers to do in New York

Stay Informed

Startups are constantly forming, growing, consolidating, and pivoting. You can stay up to date by reading publications such as Business Insider’s Silicon Alley Insider or BetaBeat, which specifically cover New York Tech.

How to Apply — My Unsolicited Advice

As a hiring manager, I am much more likely to respond to a personal referral, an in-person meeting at a technology event, or a targeted connection on social media. In many cases, I already have candidates in mind — from my network or my colleagues’ network — before I post a job online. And in some cases, a job listing isn’t even posted.

So how do you apply for a job that you don’t even know exists? You need to spend time networking and following companies and entrepreneurs that inspire you. A few, targeted contacts to specific companies will pay off much better than submitting a generic resume to every startup in the city.

A Real World Story: How I Hired Francesca

Mashable recently profiled my colleague, Francesca Krihely, in an article about how Generation Y uses social media to find jobs. Last year, Francesca was interning at a New York City startup, but ready for full time work. She started following several companies that she found particularly interesting — including 10gen. She  began tweeting at me about community management and open source. We agreed to meet over coffee, and she came with a notebook and a list of questions about the company and about being a community manager.

I immediately wanted to hire her, even though that wasn’t what the meeting was explicitly about. She demonstrated that she was smart, social media savvy, knowledgeable about the company, and interested in community management. As we finished our coffee, I gave her a copy of The Little MongoDB Book and asked her, “So, how do I hire someone like you?” The next day, I got this email:

Hi Meghan,

I keep thinking about our conversation from yesterday regarding a new community manager for 10gen, and I’d like to let you know that I might have a good candidate for you: it’s me. Before we had coffee, I got an offer that I was really excited about – but last night I read through the Little MongoDB book. I could not believe that someone from your community wrote that for you under creative commons. That’s the type of community I would love to help nurture and build.

Additionally, I was really energized by our meeting and I keep wondering what it would be like to work at 10gen instead. I don’t want to think back on this opportunity and wonder “what if”

So I guess it’s now or never to ask if my skill set would work for this position.

I really would love to talk with you about this – I think mongo is amazing and it would be so great to work with and learn from you.

Thanks – let me know next steps – hope this email isn’t too forward!

My resume is attached for reference.

All my best,


A few weeks later she was on the team.

Another Real World Story: How I Hired Justin

Even if you don’t get the job at the startup that you dream of, if you connect with a few startups as Francesca did, you will, at a minimum, gain contacts and advocates. Here is another real world story.

About six months ago, I met an amazing candidate we’ll call B. Like Francesca, B knew and loved MongoDB. At the time, we didn’t really have a role that matched his skill set but I thought he would be an asset to some of the other startups in my network. I posted his LinkedIn profile to a private forum for Union Square Ventures companies. Within an hour, the CEO of Shapeways emailed me for an intro, and shortly thereafter B had a new job.

A few months later, another candidate, Justin, was interviewing at Shapeways. As a “maker” Shapeways seemed like an obvious option, but there wasn’t a position for him at the time. Upon speaking with Justin, B remembered that 10gen was hiring and referred him over. I was thrilled to meet Justin — he was a Wharton grad, a hobbyist programmer, interested in working at a startup, and he came strongly referred. We hired him. I wonder if he would have even known to apply to 10gen if he hadn’t started talking to Shapeways.

Targeted Networking

As you can see from the examples above, networking in a targeted way is critical. You should use the tools described above – job boards, mailing lists, meetups, etc. – to find out who is hiring, and make connections to those companies. The best gigs might not even be listed on their sites.

Get Recruited

Even better than seeking out employment is having employers seeking you out! Get your name out there:

  • Complete your profile on LinkedIn, using relevant keywords and listing skills and expertise.
  • If you are a programmer, post your code on Github and contribute to open source projects.
  • Maintain a blog and post on topics that demonstrate your expertise and ideas.

Closing with a shameless plug

If you want to work at an awesome New York City startup that is building the next revolution in database software, get in touch with me about careers at 10gen. We’re hiring developers who are passionate about open source, account managers to work with our growing customer base, marketing professionals to build the open source community, and more.

5in5NYC: The MongoDB Episode

5in5NYC is a new online show that features different New York City-based startups every week. The startups pitch their companies and ask one another questions about their businesses. It’s a great concept for building community across startups in New York City, so I was thrilled when Eric Skiff, one of the founders, reached out to us:

I’m a big Mongo fan and have used it in a few projects, and didn’t realize until now that you were in NYC!

Would you be interested in joining us for a taping soon?

I immediately responded and suggested that we put together a “MongoDB show” to highlight some of the interesting companies that are using MongoDB. The show featured Roman Shtylman of bitfloor, Buck Heroux of Next Big Sound, Kareem Kouddous of Crowdtap, Daniel Doubrovkine of Artsy, and me, representing 10gen.

Interestingly, each of the startups in this group exemplified some of the unique characteristics of New York City. Roman applied his background in finance and high frequency trading to bitfloor, the professional bitcoin exchange that he founded. Buck and the rest of Next Big Sound relocated to New York City from Colorado to get better access to record labels, musicians, and the music industry. Crowdtap spun out of an agency and works with big brands to identify and manage their influential consumers. aspires to give the rest of the world access to amazing art — something that New Yorkers definitely take for granted!

In retrospect, 10gen appeared to be the outlier in this group. We’re one of the only pure technology startups in New York City, and definitely the biggest. Many might be skeptical of building a database software company anywhere other than the Valley. I hope that we are paving the way for future software startups here in New York.

Each of the people who spoke on 5in5NYC have been really supportive of MongoDB, blogging, speaking, and generally evangelizing. Thanks again Roman, Buck, Kareem, and dB!

The show is now posted on the 5in5NYC site, so check it out and let me know what you think.

Scaling community by nurturing your power users

When I joined 10gen, the MongoDB community was relatively small. We had a passionate following of users and contributors comprised of early adopters, startuppers, and open source enthusiasts. My first, tactical task at 10gen was to send thank you gifts to all of the contributors (coffee mugs, of course!). It was a fun and informative introduction to some of the early contributors. I enjoyed building relationships with users and seeing their excitement about this new database technology.

As we built out the product and the community, adoption accelerated. It became harder and harder for me to build and maintain personal relationships with everyone in the community. And up until about a year ago, the community and marketing team was tiny (three people, myself included, who also handled finance, sales operations, random admin, and HR). It became apparent that the MongoDB community needed some mechanism to scale effectively.

We needed to develop advocates and leaders who could be the go-to person in certain subsets of the community, whether it was geography or programming language or spoken language. Some leaders emerged organically: Nathen Harvey as the organizer of the DC MongoDB User Group, Rick Copeland in the Python community, Takahiro Inoue with Japanese speakers, and several others. But we needed a way to encourage and support other new leaders.

From this need we developed the MongoDB User Group program and the MongoDB Masters.

We provide financial and logistical support to MongoDB User Groups (MUGs) around the world. My colleague, Francesca, spends time with each MUG organizer helping them find space to host events, connect with speakers, and promote their meetups through the MongoDB community. We’ve developed and documented best practices for MUGs and have a mailing list for the organizers. Francesca also worked closely with the team at to establish a global account on to manage the groups.

The MongoDB Masters is a program to recognize leaders in the MongoDB community, and facilitate communication between those leaders and 10gen. It’s a meta community: we’re organizing the organizers, and building a community of leaders. It started out simple, with a mailing list for discussion of new features and releases, community events, and more. We brought the group together for the first Masters Summit at MongoSV at the end of last year. We’re planning to do more regional and online events in the future.

These programs have not been without their challenges. For example, I was taken by surprise when the Masters program inadvertently became a recruiting pipeline (we ended up hiring several people who attended the Masters Summit). This means that we have to work harder to continue to recruit nominations for new members. And the success of the MUGs has been inconsistent across groups and takes constant effort to sustain.

I'm Speaking at OSCON 2012 (size 300 X 250)

At OSCON, SCALE 10x, and several other forums, I have spoken about how 10gen built the community around MongoDB. During those talks, I touched on how we work with community leaders. I’m looking forward to going into greater depth on this topic at Open Source Bridge on June 26-29, and OSCON on July 18. I’ll talk about organizing the organizers and the challenges and rewards that go along with that. I’m looking forward to getting lots of feedback on the sessions and to learn what others have done successfully. I hope to see you there!

For those of you interested in attending OSCON this year, you can register using the discount code GILL10GEN for a 20% discount on any package.

I will be sure to post my slides after the conferences.