Big Data

Why one big data CEO sees Gartner's Magic Quadrant as a blessing and a curse

Everyone wants into the Magic Quadrant, but Zoomdata's CEO sees lots to worry about in that it could bring the wrong type of customers your way.

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Image: iStockphoto/NicoElNino

Love them or hate them, you can't be a credible enterprise software company and ignore Gartner and its mystical Magic Quadrant (MQ). If you're a startup, it's even more difficult (and important) to carve out a home on the MQ, as an MQ presence often serves as a way enterprise buyers disqualify startups from competing with entrenched vendors. You might be hip with the developer crowd, in other words, but you're not getting into the purchasing system without Gartner.

All of which makes Zoomdata CEO Justin Langseth's concerns about his startup making it into a Gartner Magic Quadrant a little puzzling. In discussing it with Langseth, it turns out the MQ can be both blessing and curse.

Why wouldn't you want this?

First, the good. According to Langseth: "We had hundreds of people download the MQ through our site," and "Each one could be a good qualified lead for us." Not only the immediate leads, Langseth suggested, but Zoomdata's inclusion means the company will also find its way onto more would-be buyers' business intelligence shortlists.

Did I say that was good news? Actually, Langseth continued, it might be bad.

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After all, he told me, "It's easy to get distracted and go down bad revenue paths when the phones start ringing a lot more and you have Global 2000 buyers on the other end." No one wants to turn down a Global 2000, but that might be the precise right strategy if those buyers don't have the business gaps that Zoomdata was started to fill. As Langseth concluded, "Most customers in this profile don't really have these requirements, at least not painfully enough at this point."

More and faster

Have what? Have a deep-felt need to stream queries.

"No one else in the industry streams queries, they just issue them one at a time and wait for the results," Langseth said. "That is the fundamental difference that makes our approach better. As data becomes bigger and faster, the query-wait-response model breaks down."

Zoomdata understands that this need to stream will become more generalized over time, as enterprises upgrade how they manage their data. But, as Langseth hinted, not every customer is operating in such a way that they can yet take advantage of Zoomdata's approach. They'll get there, but in the meantime Langseth is trying to focus his team on enterprises that already "get it," and can make proper use of Zoomdata's unique value.

That value is going to become more obvious as we, consumers and individuals, become less inclined to focus on anything for prolonged periods of time: "Streaming micro-queries and data sharpening is how we bridge between infinite seconds to query infinite data and the soon-to-be-infinitesimal attention of a human being." That seems like a long-term winning strategy, given how fast big data must become, but there's a gap between where the future is headed and where we are today.

This leaves Zoomdata with the need for more marketing, even as the MQ puts the company on the radar of buyers who may not yet fully understand what Zoomdata can offer. "We need to talk about all of that more, talk more about our differences and how important they will be to the future," Langseth advised me, "But it's hard to do. We have patents here. We have a good five-year lead."

Now what?

Not that Langseth is resting on his laurels. As he said, "Now that we are there, we need to fight hard to improve our position, particularly up the ordinate (y) axis, [which is] the ability to execute." Specifically, "Getting higher up the chart will require us to solve our product gap issues, and have a strong focus on customer success, which is the biggest driver of that axis." In practice, this largely means, "We need to focus more on making all of our customers successful, getting them to buy and deploy more Zoomdata, be super happy, and to renew their contracts."

In other words, getting into the MQ was nice, but it could make it easy to lose focus and chase the wrong kind of deals. Most startups don't get this, believing that any customer is a good customer. As Langseth realizes, customer success is the primary driver of both startup success and Gartner Magic Quadrant success, and depends upon the company religiously focusing on serving the needs of its chosen customer personas. It's smart business, if somewhat rare among the startup set.

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About Matt Asay

Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.

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