CXO

Danielle Morrill: Mattermark CEO. Early riser. Boredom killer.

Mattermark founder and CEO, Danielle Morrill, spoke with TechRepublic about her career, thoughts on the startup landscape, and her healthy disdain for boredom.

Much of Danielle Morrill's success in her entrepreneurial journey can be traced back to her hatred of one thing — boredom.

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Image: Danielle Morrill
As far back as she can remember, Morrill hasn't been able to deal with doing things she didn't want to do. It's why she stopped going to class in high school, despite the fact that she got good grades. In her words, she "just can't deal with the establishment."

Morrill is the co-founder and CEO of Mattermark, a premier database that rates startups and private companies. The company has attracted quite a bit of attention from media and investors alike, raising capital from VC firms such as Andreessen Horowitz, NEA, and the Foundry Group.

According to Morrill, too many people just accept the idea that their job is going to suck, or work is going be boring. It seems, she said, that the world wants people to fall in line and get a job just so they can make money to be able to go do something else that's actually enjoyable.

"If you're always living to do something else, then you're never going to really live," she said.

In high school, Morrill began seriously applying her natural skill with technology to real-world business problems. Her father was in business management and Morrill built software tools to help him do things like automate business processes.

After a brief, two quarter stint at community college, that boredom kicked in and she decided that it wasn't worth the cost to continue going. Instead, she took an internship with a Fortune 500 shipping company that was a customer of her family's business. That eventually turned into a full-time job where she worked as a business process analyst.

"You can kind of picture this 18-year-old/19-year-old girl going into these meetings and ripping apart the way that things got done and trying to make it more efficient," Morrill said. "You've got this very unique amount of ruthlessness that you have when you're really young and you don't know what you're doing."

Morrill continued to build software, but that wasn't the focus of the company and she began to get frustrated with it. As it became clearer that the future of software was on the web, not within organizations, she left the shipping company.

In 2007, Morrill went to work for a mobile startup in Seattle called Pelago that built a check-in app as a competitor to Foursquare. They struggled, but Morrill was exposed to the mechanics of working for a venture-backed company, which was beneficial.

Around the time the market crashed, she left Pelago with the idea that she would end up starting a consulting business. However, she ended up becoming the first employee at cloud communications startup Twilio and worked there for three and a half years. She built out the marketing department and helped acquire the first 100,000 customers.

Her time at Twilio ended in 2012 when she got into Y Combinator to build a company called Referly that focused on social referrals. That didn't really work out, so she started Mattermark to provide better insight into the world of startups and private companies. The company was started April 2013 and launched in June 2013. Her job is to constantly analyze the value and growth of startups, so Morrill has unique insight in the space.

Because more people are online than ever before, on the web and mobile, she said, people are able to build things that once would have been considered niche, but aren't anymore. For Morrill, technology is in everything.

"I can't wait until the dialogue stops being about tech — technology is everywhere," Morrill said. "It's kind of like when people say 'Oh, I don't want to eat that food, it has chemicals in it.' Food is made of chemicals, and the world is full of tech. A pencil is technology."

The high quality of founders also something that Morrill has noticed lately. She said that founders are able to scale their companies faster, and with less help. Additionally, there's a lot of capital available, which, in the short term, is great for founders.

Those kind of conversations about available capital often lead to the question of whether or not we're in a bubble. According to Morrill, the whole bubble conversation is a huge waste of time.

"People who are busy creating value don't care about that," she said. "If you're really building a valuable business it doesn't matter. The only people who need to worry about that are the people who, in a normal economy, would be crappy investors."

Morrill said that too many of the conversations are about technology tools and problems in tech, when they should be about real-world issues that people need to solve.

One of the real-world issues that is especially prominent today is that of women in technology. While she isn't fighting the same battles her mother fought, Morrill said, women still have a long way to go socially.

It's a complex issue and much more subtle than other bad behaviors, and thus harder to pin down, she said. The first thing that matters is that the conversation is happening, and she is glad it is. Unfortunately, she said, human resources isn't the focus of many companies because they are just trying to survive, but that might have to change.

"I don't know if that's going to continue to be acceptable because you just can't get the best people to work for you if you don't create a great environment for them. And, obviously, with some many women in the world, some large portion of the best people are going to be women."

In her own words...

What do you do to unplug?

"Our office is in North Beach, and our house is in Potrero Hill, so I tend to try to walk. It's about three and half miles, it takes about an hour and ten minutes. I try to walk and listen to music both ways. That's a lot, but I try.

"I read, constantly. We have a huge contingency of science fiction fans here at the office. So, we usually have a handful of decent book groups going. I try to read one or two books a week. I really try not to work at night. Honestly, I think that I do better work if it's very intense. So, I get up really early, like 5:30 or 6 [a.m.]. I usually start working at 7:30 [a.m.] and I usually wrap up the day at 6 [p.m.]. It's really not that bad.

"And then, at night, first of all I go to sleep at like 9 or 10 [p.m.]. The three hours that I have is usually cooking great food, hanging out with friends, and reading books."

What's the best thing you've read lately?

"There's a great book about Google called In the Plex. So, I have this weird hole in my memory because in 2004, when Google went public, I was one year out of high school. So, all of the Google story happened while I was too young to be aware of the company in any meaningful way. And, I was really curious what the early days of that company were like because we're building a different flavor of search engine, but we're building stuff with similar problems and we're having a lot of challenges.

"I was asking around and someone recommended this book, In the Plex, and one of the best things about it is that it really covered, in detail, the first 18 months of the company's life. I think, frankly, it's very relatable. You read it and this company becomes so human to you. As a founder, it's really inspiring."

What other profession would you love to try?

"The two areas that I'm interested in are international shipping and energy. I would love to rebuild, not Enron the bad part, but the vision of what it was supposed to be is pretty interesting. You could revisit that in a meaningful way. Either something in energy, or something around transportation at the international scale are both very interesting to me.

"There would be a technology component, but there's just a ton of problems to solve in those areas and they literally affect billions of people. I'm only interested in working in things, at this point, that affect billions of people because now that I've experienced that at Twilio, I can't go back. Once you experience the scale of impact of that, it's too exciting. I would need to pick things that had that opportunity."

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About Conner Forrest

Conner Forrest is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. He covers enterprise technology and is interested in the convergence of tech and culture.

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