July 12, 2017

New CEO, Same Strategy for Couchbase

Alex Woodie

When a CEO is replaced, it’s often because a major shift in business strategy is required. But when Matt Cain took over the top job at Couchbase this spring, Cain committed to the same general plan followed by his predecessor, Bob Wiederhold.

“This isn’t about a major shift by any means,” the new Couchbase CEO tells Datanami regarding his hiring in April and his plans to grow the company. “It’s about a major reinforcement on what’s worked so well to get us here, and continuing to work on the foundation.”

Essentially, Cain – who was previously president of Veritas, and was instrumental in helping spin that company out of Symantec and defining its new strategy — wants to double down on the plan established under Wielderhold, which centers on digital transformation. No other enterprise database vendor – NoSQL or otherwise — is pursuing this strategy, Cain says, which gives Couchbase an advantage.

Digital Transformation

Whether it’s a retailer seeking to create a new in-store experience, or an airline trying to stand out to business travelers, nearly every company in every industry in every region around the world sees digital transformation as a priority, according to Cain.

“The thing that I find fascinating,” Cain says, “is the degree to which that market is being transformed. I go around the world and talk to business leaders, CEOs, CIOs – people who are making decisions on behalf of their companies. And one constant is every one of those leaders is focused on driving digital transformation.”

Relational databases, with their strict adherence to structured data types, are ill-equipped to deal with the new ways that customers interact with corporations, Cain says. But Couchbase, with its flexible document-based approach, is well positioned to be the platform to execute those strategies.

“If you look at the way the transactional databases have been built, they were not optimized for these engagements. But it’s these engagements that are the heart of this digital transformation,” the CEO says. “That’s why we’re so excited what we’re doing at Couchbase, because we have the world’s only enterprise-grade data platform for digital transformation focused on these engagements.”

While Couchbase can serve as the data store for transactions or analytics, its strongest use case is storing data for customer engagement. It’s largely the same strategy that Couchbase’s founders established when it was founded in 2009.

“It continues to be our focus going forward,” Cain says. “The way we’re articulating that is we’re the engagement database.”

Competitive Positioning

Couchbase is considered to be one of the top three vendors in the NoSQL database market, along with MongoDB, which like Couchbase also develops an open source document-store database, and Datastax, which sells a commercial version of the wide-column store Apache Cassandra. MarkLogic and Basho also develop general-purpose NoSQL data stores, while there are a variety of more specialized stores, such as Neo4j, Aerospike, MapR Technologies, Elasticsearch, Memcached, and Riak, swimming the increasingly crowded NoSQL waters.

As CEO, Wiederhold was a very vocal proponent of Couchbase’s position relative to the other players – in particular MongoDB. On numerous occasions, Wiederhold said Couchbase was taking market share from MongoDB, which he said had trouble scaling due to its considerable complexity. For the record, MongoDB remains the most popular NoSQL database, according to db-engines.com, and the fifth most popular of any database type. Cassandra is the eighth most popular database in the world, while Couchbase is number 23.

It doesn’t sound as if Cain will resort to lobbing verbal salvos at his NoSQL competitors, and generally stirring the pot the way that Wiederhold did. Rather, Cain sounds more likely to remain laser-focused on the matter at hand, which is growing the business.

“We’re focused on building a very durable world-class company, and so when the leadership team is together, it’s about continuing to do more and continuing to grow our employee base and our presence around the world, adding services to help consume our technology,” Cain says.

Cain and his top lieutenants – including former Veritas alum Scott Anderson, who is Couchbase’s new as senior VP of product management and business operations — continue to work with Wiederhold, who remains involved with the company as executive chairman.

“Bob and I continue to work very closely together,” Cain says. “We spend a lot of time together understanding what’s great about the company and what our mutual objectives are going forward.”

IPO in the Plans

An IPO has long been a consideration for the Mountain View, California company, and still is. If it were to announce an IPO now, Couchbase would be the first among the major NoSQL database vendors to make the move, which perhaps would draw undue attention to itself.

“We’re focused on building a sustainable, world class company,” Cain says. “As is often the case, an IPO is often part of the process. It’s not the ultimate goal. Creating value for customer on a continual basis is. But in terms of core financial to the company and the trajectories that we’re on, yes that’s part of our planning process. Obviously I won’t comment on the specific timing of that, but we see that as a step along the way, not the ultimate destination.”

Couchbase, which has raised $146 million in venture funding over eight rounds, would not be the first company to change out CEOs in preparation for an IPO. In Cain, Couchbase has an established IT industry veteran who plays his cards close to the vest, and is committed to serving customers and growing the company.

“If anything,” Cain says, “what keeps us up at night is continuing to fulfill our customers’ needs doing that as quickly as possible in the most innovative and efficient ways. That’s really what we get up every day excited about — trying to run as fast as we can to help our customer be successful.”

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