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“The first code for Neo4j and the property graph database was written in IIT Bombay”, said the chief Marketing Officer at Neo4j, Chandra Rangan.
In an exclusive interview with Analytics India Magazine, Rangan said that the first piece of code was sketched by Emil Eifrem — who is the founder and CEO of Neo4j — on a flight to Bombay, where he worked with an intern from IIT Bombay to develop the graph database platform.
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Rangan joined Neo4j as the chief marketing officer (CMO) on May 10, 2022. Prior to this, he worked at Google, running Google Cloud Platform product marketing and, more recently, product-led growth, strategy, and operations for Google Maps Platform. Rangan has over two decades of technology infrastructure experience across marketing leadership, strategy, and operations at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Gartner, Symantec, McKinsey, and IBM.
Founded in 2007, Neo4j has more than 700 employees globally. In June 2022, the company raised about $325 million in a Series F funding round led by Eurazeo, alongside participation from GV (formerly Google Ventures) and other existing investors like One Peak, Creandum, Greenbridge Partners, DTCP, and Lightrock.
This is one of the largest investments in a private database company. It raised Neo4j’s valuation to over $2 billion. In contrast, even bigger than MongoDB, which raised a total of $311 million, and post-IPO, it raised about $192 million in IPO, making it worth $1.2 billion.
Bets big on India
With its latest funding round, Neo4j is looking to invest in expanding its footprint globally, and India is one of its top choices, thanks to a larger developer ecosystem, alongside a burgeoning startup ecosystem and IT service providers using its platform to offer solutions to global customers.
Neo4j’s community edition, which is open source, is widely adopted by developers in the country. “We have an overall community of almost a quarter million users who are familiar with our platform”, said Rangan, explaining that it has one of the largest developers in the country. With the fresh infusion of funds, the company looks to tap into the market, expand its services, sales and support, and invest in the right strategies going forward.
As part of its expansion plans, Neo4j started hiring in sales leadership and country manager roles from last year onwards and would also continue that momentum this year. “This is a big bet for us in multiple ways”, added Rangan, pointing at its Indian root and all the innovations in the country.
Besides India, Neo4j has a strong presence in Silicon Valley and Sweden and has a huge developer ecosystem in the US, China, Europe, South East Asia and others.
Strategies for expansion
Over the years, Neo4j has grown through developers and some of the early adopters of its platform. “Unfortunately, developers interested in graph databases will typically start with us”, said Rangan affirmatively.
Further, explaining the conversion cycle, he said that once they know about graph databases, they later join the community edition. Then, once they get comfortable with the use cases and start putting this into production, they eventually get into a paid version for the advanced security, support, scalability, and commercial constructs.
“In India, that’s the similar motion we are seeing”, said Rangan. He revealed that they already have a huge developer community. Banking on this community, they plan to invest in continuing the engagement with the community in a meaningful way.
Of late, the company has also started hiring several community leaders to encourage proactive engagement within the community. In addition, it is also investing heavily in sales and marketing engines, including technical sales, which work closely with organisations in building the use cases, alongside the implementation of services and support.
What makes Neo4j special?
One thing that makes Neo4j stand apart from other players is its intuitiveness in helping deploy applications faster because of its flexible schema. This helps developers to add properties, nodes, and more. “It gives tremendous flexibility for developers so they can get to the outcome much more quickly”, said Rangan.
But what about the learning curve? Rangan said, “Literally, for a new developer, if they start learning graphs for the first time, it is very intuitive.” He explained that the learning curve is not that steep and doesn’t take long. “But, for folks who have been working in the development space and building applications and are very familiar and comfortable with RDBMS, i.e., rows and tables. Strangely enough, the learning curve is a little higher and steeper”, added Rangan, discussing that they have to unlearn to model intuitively versus modelling tables. He said the best way to overcome that learning curve is to try it out.
“So, when you think about the learning curve, it is a very easy learning curve, especially if you can put aside the former way of thinking about things like rows and tables and go back to first principles.”—Chandra Rangan.
Discovering use cases with Neo4j
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) released the full list of companies and individuals in the Panama Papers, implicating at least 140 politicians from more than 50 countries in tax evasion schemes. The journalist used Neo4j to draw the relationship with their data and found common touchpoints and names of people involved in having multiple offshore accounts and evading tax.
“We believe a whole bunch of sectors can actually get value. We have seen new sectors kind of pop up on a pretty regular basis”, said Rangan while citing various use cases in financial service sectors (fraud detection), healthcare (vaccine distribution), pharmaceuticals (drug discovery), supply chain and logistics (mapping automation), tech companies (managing IT networks), retail (recommendation systems), and more.
Chandra Rangan further explained that people are still discovering what they can use graph databases for and how useful it is in some sense. He said that it is unleashing a whole bunch of innovations. “So, we are hoping for a lot of that to happen here in India because of the developer community”, he added.
Rangan said Neo4j would be aggressively investing in the community and ecosystem here in India. Besides this, he said they are investing in building a marketing and sales team, which has grown significantly in the last year. In addition, Neo4j is also investing in building a partner ecosystem to support a wider range of customers.
“Depending on how quickly we can grow or cannot grow—again, responsible growth—we want to grow as fast as possible. But, we also want to make sure as we hire people as we establish the relationship, we are investing enough time, effort, and money to make sure that these relationships are successful”, concluded Rangan.