Photograph by Justin Sullivan—Getty Images
By Cyrus Sanati
October 6, 2015

Big Data darling MapR remains committed to going public, but it wants to get a little bigger before taking the plunge. The company just hired former Oracle executive Matt Mills to beef up the Hadoop data management company’s sales force, Fortune has learned. Mills was a member of Oracle’s Executive Committee, where he led an 8,000-person selling juggernaut, widely regarded as one of the most aggressive and successful sales teams in Silicon Valley. Mills will take the role as president and COO of the tech “unicorn,” and will report to the company’s co-founder and CEO, John Schroeder.

Fortune caught up with Mills and Schroeder on the sidelines of this year’s Hadoop World Conference in New York to talk everything from the company’s new aggressive sales strategy to the chances of a MapR IPO in 2016. The following interview has been condensed and edited for publication.

Fortune: Why quit Oracle to go work at a startup?

Mills: I never lost the aspiration to manage a company, or be a contributing partner if you will, in running a company. So, there was a really good stepping off point for me at Oracle about a year ago, and I decided it was time to get off the train. We had accomplished what we set out to do in North America. The stock was at a really high point.

Well, if you wanted to run a company, I guess Oracle was a dead end. Is Larry Ellison [founder and CEO of Oracle] ever going to retire?

I don’t think Larry’s going anywhere any time soon. As for my time at Oracle, I’m nothing but grateful for all of the things and the opportunities.

Except in size, do you see any similarities between what Oracle does and what MapR is trying to accomplish?

When I joined Oracle, we were going through this whole evolution of moving to that next generation of platform. And it strikes me that MapR is at a similar point in time in its evolution. Those are the things that I hope to be able to bring to the team. The fact that I feel like I’ve done this dance. I am not coming in to fix anything in particular, the company has had a great run this far. I’m coming in to try to help bring some of my experiences that we had at Oracle to MapR. I have experience in scaling a business in very competitive markets. And that’s really the main thing I am bringing to the table.

Let me turn to John Schroeder now, who is the co-founder and CEO of MapR. John, I guess it is pretty safe to say you brought Matt over to try and scale the business, most likely as a stepping stone to going public. But how can MapR really differentiate itself from other big data companies if it runs on Hadoop, which is an open source platform used by lots of your rivals in this space.

Schroeder: The only way you’re going to gain adoption for a new platform is to go open source. That’s where you get innovation. Customers today want a standards-based technology and are not interested in getting locked into one company’s proprietary platform. So as much value as companies like Oracle, VMware, and others have brought to the market, some of the customers feel like they were too locked into those platforms over time.

So how can MapR stand out from the crowd?

Our strategy is to really contribute heavily to the open source, so that we can really drive the ubiquity of the Hadoop platform, but then do that on our own patented storage platform. Our storage solution converts Hadoop from being something that was appropriate for web 2.0 to do batch analytics processing into something enterprise grade, with real-time capabilities that can be used at a global scale in IoT [Internet of Things] applications.

So how successful have you been here?

We were named as the best Hadoop distribution and SQL solution by Forrester … so we have good recognition for having the best product.

How about on the business side of things, is the company making money?

Unlike most of our competition, we’re selling software licenses as opposed to low-margin professional services. We’re growing at 100% annually, so we’re fueling a high growth model, but we’re doing it with a high gross margin product. We’ve had less than 1% churn, meaning customers that did not renew. So our customers are very happy, very sticky customers. We have a little over 140% annual dollar-based expansion, so our customers don’t just renew, they buy more.

So you’re saying that customers actually like the subscription model?

I think the market has come around to subscription licensing. It hits their books differently. It’s an expense item instead of a capital asset that they have to depreciate, so they like that accounting treatment.

You spoke with Fortune’s Heather Clancy earlier this year about the possibility of MapR going public by the end of 2015. It doesn’t look like you’re going to hit that date, so where are you in the IPO timeline? Do you still even want to go public?

Yeah, we’re kind of on track there. We’re looking at a potential IPO in the next few quarters. But there’s also a lot of capital available, private capital, that is available at pretty good valuation. So, like all companies right now, you also review when you take some additional private capital and run the company and build a little bit more scale before IPO.

Why would anyone want to go public given the abundance of cheap private capital out there. It just doesn’t seem like it’s worth the headache.

Well, that’s why you’re seeing so few tech company IPOs right now. I mean, Dan Atler [MapR’s CFO] and I do two to three investor relations conferences a week. In fact, Dan was at a Goldman Sachs conference last week. And so, the public markets are getting very hungry for high quality IPOs. So, that pressure on the market is doing a couple of things. One is it’s letting some of those traditional public companies investors cross over and fund companies while they’re still private. To get access to that growth curve prior to the IPO. And it’s also going to drive the valuations of companies that do go public, because there’s a scarcity out there. So that’s kind of a balancing act. If you look at why, I think you get a tremendous amount of marketing out of an IPO, you definitely get, you can get some liquidity out of private financing and secondary market trading, but you get more liquidity, easier liquidity out of being a public company. Ultimately that’s where we’ll be. It’s a matter of, will we be there in 2016 or 2017?

Well, it also depends on where the market goes from here, right?

It’s hard to time the market when it comes to an IPO. You can adjust by a few quarters but, really, what you have to do is build a fundamentally sound company. And then, you’re going to do well whatever the markets are.

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