Doing geospatial business with FLOSS: An Interview with CartoDB

This week we have for you an interview with Simon Tokumine and Javier de la Torre from CartoDB, an open source geospatial cloud database with a business model. Enjoy the interview!


Simon Tokumine and Javier de la Torre

F4S: Please, give us a brief introduction about CartoDB.

CartoDB: CartoDB is a geospatial database on the cloud. We enable developers and data explorers to easily visualise and query their spatial data online through an easy to use interface. In addition, CartoDB has high speed data and map API’s to easily allow you to publish your data and build geospatial apps. CartoDB is an open source product, and we also provide paid-for hosting.

F4S: When and why was CartoDB founded? Where is it located?

CartoDB: We built CartoDB in response to our experience at Vizzuality designing and building open source geospatial applications. We found ourselves repeating the same things over and over and thought: “this should be easier!”. CartoDB was founded in 2011, and has offices in Madrid, New York and London.

CartoDB map interface

F4S: What is your business model and what open source software helps you support it?

CartoDB: CartoDB is based around the SaaS (Software as a Service) model. We rely on PostGIS, Node.js, Mapnik, Rails & HTML5 for much of our infrastructure.

F4S: Are you self-funded or did CartoDB get started with venture capital?

CartoDB: CartoDB is entirely self-funded.

F4S: How many employees does the company have?

CartoDB: Currently, Vizzuality has 10 members and we all work on CartoDB as needed. We also have a core team of 3 working on CartoDB strategy and management.

F4S: How will you describe CartoDB’s working environment?

CartoDB: It can vary from relaxed to very busy! We have the typical challenges of all SaaS, in addition to being bootstrapped. There is always something to do! We’re a fairly principled bunch, and firm believers in open source software and science. Recently we started to organise hackdays around geospatial and environmental hacking with our first event held in New York this month (!/search/ecohacknyc). We generated some excellent hacks and had a great response from attendees. It’s nice to have such an excellent peer group!

CartoDB Interface

F4S: What challenges have you faced been a business based on open source software?

CartoDB: There have been very few challenges faced with using Open Source. It is of course essential to keep up to date on all the changes in key parts of your stack, but I don’t think this is limited to Open Source specifically. Aside from that, all software suffers from bugs and so on – with Open Source you have the ability to contribute code back if you want things fixed. For example we have funded core PostGIS developers to implement functionality we wanted to use in CartoDB. The great thing about this is that it is not only us and the maintainers that benefit, but open source community in general.

F4S: What advice could you give to someone who is thinking about starting a business using scientific open source software?


CartoDB: Possibly the only element you must be aware of with basing a business on open source software are the limitations and requirements of licences for software you choose to use and whether they align with your business model.

F4S: Which projects, blogs or sites related to open source software for science can you recommend?

CartoDB: Hmm. This is a tough question. I’m pretty sure that any software can be used for science if it’s used in a certain way! That said, aside from the CartoDB blog ( and Hacker News, the best advice I think is maintaining a relevant network on Twitter and joining mailing lists for software that you use – you’d be surprised what gems are discussed on this seemingly old fashioned channel!

F4S: Is there any other topic you would like our readers to know about?

CartoDB: CartoDB will be coming out of closed beta in the next few weeks, so if you want to get a head start on making geospatial applications, or easily add geospatial to an existing application, be sure to register at

F4S: Where people can contact you?

CartoDB: People can contact us on:

F4S: Thank you for sharing with us more about Vizzuality and CartoDB.

CartoDB: Thank you!

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