5 Questions for Matt Heitzenroder of Orchestrate.io

Kris’ note: Orchestrate was acquired by CenturyLink in April 2015.

This week’s blog post is an interview with Matt Heitzenroder, COO of Orchestrate.io.  Orchestrate is an API interface to databases aiming to allow developers to concentrate on building their products. Their private beta has been gaining traction amongst the developer community, and Matt generously took a few minutes out of his busy schedule to share his experiences with being part of PIE (Portland Incubator Experiment), the origins of their product and adapting to life in Portland.

1. Of all the incubators and accelerators out there, how’d Orchestrate end up at PIE?

We were actually accepted to a few of different accelerators, so we had to think about what we really wanted out of the experience. We chose PIE because of its location, and who and what we had access to. We definitely wanted to be in and support our HQ location – Portland – so that was key. Since we had already raised our seed round back in May, we weren’t looking for investors so that wasn’t a factor. We chose PIE because we wanted to be connected to Portland and because of the access to Wieden+Kennedy. This ended up being a major win for us in many ways we expected, and in even more ways we never would have expected.

2. Orchestrate was seen as sort of the outlier of the PIE group, as you guys closed a round of funding prior to walking in the door. What have you learned from co-working in a space with very early stage start-ups?

A TON.  Seriously.  While we might have been further along in raising money, we weren’t necessarily so far along in building a company, customer-base, or product that being around other early-stage companies didn’t help. Specifically, we learned more of the nuances of marketing a SaaS business from our peers. I think it was a good combination of people, and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to work next to them.

3. The three of you came from Basho, developers of Riak – what made you all decide to take the plunge and develop Orchestrate, was there one defining event?

There wasn’t a single defining event. At Basho, we believed that databases meant installing, running, and maintaining database software. We knew that Riak was an awesome Key/Value database, but depending on the use case, we were the first to tell a prospective user that there might have been a better tool for the job. It turned out that many times, it required multiple tools (aka databases) for the job.  We were repeatedly helping users build systems with multiple types of databases.  The first few times it was novel, but deeply and painfully coupled to application code. It wasn’t elegant, that’s for sure. After building these data systems several more times, we had learned a lot. At Orchestrate, the solution was obvious; the only way to simplify databases was to make it an abstract service. The way developers are consuming services now, it meant for Orchestrate that *now* is the time. I love Riak – the engineering is amazing. It’s truly a rock solid database and there was a time when all I could ever imagine working on was Riak, but now, with the vision of Orchestrate, I couldn’t imagine building anything else.

4. What’s Orchestrate’s strategy for getting companies to adopt the product? Most seem committed to their favorite “stack” these days.

I think people are far less wedded to a stack than they might have been ten, or even five, years ago. Nowadays it is really a lot more about pragmatism. Users select Amazon or a hosted service, NoSQL or RDBMS, Ruby or Java, based on the need at the moment. We are just part of that trend. If we can make something easier, make something ship faster, or allow users to add a feature much more quickly, then we get put into the mix.  Our strategy for now is to be put a lot of focus here in our back yard, in Portland, where we find a lot of users with a very pragmatic attitude. Portland is home to a ton of design and development firms, and creative agencies – these are perfect early users and a great test bed. We want to provide them with lots of education (docs, docs, and more docs) and proactive support.

5. Portland. All of you are transplants (like myself). How has assimilation to “Portland lifestyle” been? Anything notable or odd you find in your new home city?

I really love Portland. I moved here in June of this year, sight unseen, from London. And I love London, but for totally different reasons. Portland is a great place to start a business right now – I find the communities in the city are very design-centric or development infrastructure-centric, and startups are booming.  On a personal note, I’ve spent a lot of time outside of Portland since we’ve moved here. I’ve gone hiking and backpacking around Mt. Hood and the Columbia Gorge, as well as to the Pacific coast.  I am in awe of the of the temperate rainforests here. I absolutely love all the green.  Even inside of Portland, it’s so incredibly green, and that is a very important aspect to have in my life. Portland also has a great foodie scene and we’ve made lots of great friends so far.

You can check out more of what they’re up to and sign up for Orchestrate’s private beta here: http://orchestrate.io

Follow the team on twitter @orchestrateIO

And, if you really like what they’re up to, they’re hiring!

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