Investing in Open Source startups

From the day we started Acquia, we had big dreams: we wanted to build a successful company, while giving back to the Open Source community. Michael Skok was our first investor in Acquia and instrumental in making Acquia one of the largest Open Source companies in the world, creating hundreds of careers for people passionate about Open Source. This week, Michael and his team officially announced a new venture firm called _Underscore.VC. I'm excited to share that I joined _Underscore.VC as a syndicate lead for the "Open Source _Core".

I'm very passionate about Open Source and startups, and want to see more Open Source startups succeed. In my role as the syndicate lead for the Open Source _Core, I can help other Open Source entrepreneurs raise money, get started and scale their companies and Open Source projects.

Does that mean I'll be leaving Drupal or Acquia? No. I'll continue as the lead of the Drupal project and the CTO of Acquia. Drupal and Acquia continue to be my full-time focus. I have been advising entrepreneurs and startups for the last 5+ years, and have been a moderately active angel investor the past two years. Not much, if anything, will change about my day-to-day. _Underscore.VC gives me a better platform to advise and invest, give back and help others succeed with Open Source startups. It's a chance to amplify the "do well and do good" mantra that drives me.

Mautic and the power of syndicates

While Michael, the _Underscore.VC team and I have been working on _Underscore.VC for quite some time, I'm excited to share that on top of formally launching this week, they've unveiled a $75 million fund, as well as our first seed investment. This first investment is in Mautic, an Open Source marketing automation company.

Mautic is run by David Hurley, who I've known since he was a community manager at Joomla!. I've had the opportunity to watch David grow for many months. His resourcefulness, founding and building the Mautic product and Open Source community impressed me.

The Mautic investment is a great example of _Underscore.VC's model in action. Unlike a traditional firm, _Underscore.VC co-invests with a group of experts, called a syndicate, or in the case of _Underscore.VC a "_Core". Each _Core has one or more leads that bring companies into the process and gather the rest of the investors to form a syndicate.

As the lead of the Open Source _Core, I helped pull together a group of investors with expertise in Open Source business models, marketing automation, and SaaS. The list of people includes Larry Augustin (CEO of SugarCRM), Gail Goodman (CEO of Constant Contact), Erica Brescia (Co-Founder and COO of Bitnami), Andrew Aitken (Open Source Lead at Wipro) and more. Together with _Underscore.VC, we made a $600,000 seed investment in Mautic. In addition to the funding, Mautic will get access to a set of world-class advisors invested in helping them succeed.

I personally believe the _Underscore.VC model has the power to transform venture capital. Having raised over $180 million for Acquia, I can tell you that fundraising is no walk in the park. Most investors still don't understand Open Source business models. To contrast, our Open Source _Core group understands Open Source deeply; we can invest time in helping Mautic acquire new customers, recruit great talent familiar with Open Source, partner with the right companies and navigate the complexities of running an Open Source business. With our group's combined expertise, I believe we can help jumpstart Mautic and reduce their learnings by one to two years.

It's also great for us as investors. By combining our operating experience, we hope to attract entrepreneurs and startups that most investors may not get the opportunity to back. Furthermore, the _Core puts in money at the same valuation and terms as _Underscore.VC, so we can take advantage of the due diligence horsepower that _Underscore.VC provides. The fact that _Underscore.VC can write much larger checks is also mutually beneficial to the _Core investor and the entrepreneur; it increases the chances of the entrepreneur succeeding.

If you're starting an Open Source business, or if you're an angel investor willing to co-invest in the Open Source _Core, feel free to reach out to me or to get in touch with _Underscore.VC.

Gotthard tunnel website using Drupal

The Gotthard Base Tunnel, under construction for the last 17 years, was officially opened last week. This is the world's longest and deepest railroad tunnel, spanning 57 kilometers from Erstfeld to Bolio, Switzerland, underneath the Swiss Alps. To celebrate its opening, Switzerland also launched a multi-lingual multimedia website to celebrate the project's completion. I was excited to see they chose to build their site on Drupal 8! The site is a fitting digital tribute to an incredible project and launch event. Congratulations to the Gotthard Base Tunnel team!

Gottardo

Advancing Drupal's web services

In an earlier blog post, I looked at the web services solutions available in Drupal 8 and compared their strengths and weaknesses. That blog post was intended to help developers choose between different solutions when building Drupal 8 sites. In this blog post, I want to talk about how to advance Drupal's web services beyond Drupal 8.1 for the benefit of Drupal core contributors, module creators and technical decision-makers.

I believe it is really important to continue advancing Drupal's web services support. There are powerful market trends that oblige us to keep focused on this: integration with diverse systems having their own APIs, the proliferation of new devices, the expanding Internet of Things (IoT), and the widening adoption of JavaScript frameworks. All of these depend to some degree on robust web services.

Moreover, newer headless content-as-a-service solutions (e.g. Contentful, Prismic.io, Backand and CloudCMS) have entered the market and represent a widening interest in content repositories enabling more flexible content delivery. They provide content modeling tools, easy-to-use tools to construct REST APIs, and SDKs for different programming languages and client-side frameworks.

In my view, we need to do the following, which I summarize in each of the following sections: (1) facilitate a single robust REST module in core; (2) add functionality to help web services modules more easily query and manipulate Drupal's entity graph; (3) incorporate GraphQL and JSON API out of the box; and (4) add SDKs enabling easy integration with Drupal. Though I shared some of this in my DrupalCon New Orleans keynote, I wanted to provide more details in this blog post. I'm hoping to discuss this and revise it based on feedback from you.

One great REST module in core

While core REST can be enabled with only a few configuration changes, the full extent of possibilities in Drupal is only unlocked either when leveraging modules which add to or work alongside core REST's functionality, such as Services or RELAXed, or when augmenting core REST's capabilities with additional resources to interact with (by providing corresponding plugins) or using other custom code.

Having such disparate REST modules complicates the experience. These REST modules have overlapping or conflicting feature sets, which are shown in the following table.

Feature Core REST RELAXed Services Ideal core REST
Content entity CRUD Yes Yes Yes Yes
Configuration entity CRUD Create resource plugin (issue) Create resource plugin Yes Yes
Custom resources Create resource plugin Create resource plugin Create Services plugin Possible without code
Custom routes Create resource plugin or Views REST export (GET) Create resource plugin Configurable route prefixes Possible without code
Translations Not yet (issue) Yes Create Services plugin Yes
Revisions Create resource plugin Yes Create Services plugin Yes
File attachments Create resource plugin Yes Create Services plugin Yes
Authenticated user resources (log in/out, password reset) Not yet (issue) No User login and logout Yes

I would like to see a convergence where all of these can be achieved in Drupal core with minimal configuration and minimal code.

Working with Drupal's entity graph

Recently, a discussion at DrupalCon New Orleans with key contributors to the core REST modules, maintainers of important contributed web services modules, and external observers led to a proposed path forward for all of Drupal's web services.

Web services entity graph
A visual example of an entity graph in Drupal.

Buried inside Drupal is an "entity graph" over which different API approaches like traditional REST, JSON API, and GraphQL can be layered. These varied approaches all traverse and manipulate Drupal's entity graph, with differences solely in the syntax and features made possible by that syntax. Unlike core's REST API which only returns a single level (single entity or lists of entities), GraphQL and JSON API can return multiple levels of nested entities as the result of a single query. To better understand what this means, have a look at the GraphQL demo video I shared in my DrupalCon Barcelona keynote.

What we concluded at DrupalCon New Orleans is that Drupal's GraphQL and JSON API implementations require a substantial amount of custom code to traverse and manipulate Drupal's entity graph, that there was a lot of duplication in that code, and that there is an opportunity to provide more flexibility and simplicity. Therefore, it was agreed that we should first focus on building an "entity graph iterator" that can be reused by JSON API, GraphQL, and other modules.

This entity graph iterator would also enable manipulation of the graph, e.g. for aliasing fields in the graph or simplifying the structure. For example, the difference between Drupal's "base fields" and "configured fields" is irrelevant to an application developer using Drupal's web services API, but Drupal's responses leak this internal distinction by prefixing configured fields with field_ (see the left column in the table below). By the same token, all fields, even if they carry single values, expose the verbosity of Drupal's typed data system by being presented as arrays (see the left column in the table below). While there are both advantages and disadvantages to exposing single-value fields as arrays, many developers prefer more control over the output or the ability to opt into simpler outputs.

A good Drupal entity graph iterator would simplify the development of Drupal web service APIs, provide more flexibility over naming and structure, and eliminate duplicate code.

Current core REST (shortened response) Ideal core REST (shortened response)
{
  "nid": [
    {
      "value": "2"
    }
  ],
  "title": [
    {
      "value": "Lorem ipsum"
    }
  ],
  "field_product_number": [
    {
      "value": "35"
    }
  ],
  "field_image": [
    {
      "target_id": "2",
      "alt": "Image",
      "title": "Hover text",
      "width": "210",
      "height": "281",
      "url": "http://site.com/x.jpg"
    }
  ]
}
{
  "nid": "2"
  "title": "Lorem ipsum",
  "product_number": {
    "value": 35
  },
  "image": {
    "target_id": 2,
    "alt": "Image",
    "title": "Hover text",
    "width": 210,
    "height": 281,
    "url": "http://site.com/x.jpg"
  }
}

GraphQL and JSON API in core

We should acknowledge simultaneously that the wider JavaScript community is beginning to embrace different approaches, like JSON API and GraphQL, which both enable complex relational queries that require fewer requests between Drupal and the client (thanks to the ability to follow relationships, as mentioned in the section concerning the entity graph).

While both JSON API and GraphQL are preferred over traditional REST due to their ability to provide nested entity relationships, GraphQL goes a step further than JSON API by facilitating explicitly client-driven queries, in which the client dictates its data requirements.

I believe that GraphQL and JSON API in core would be a big win for those building decoupled applications with Drupal, and these modules can use existing foundations in Drupal 8 such as the Serialization module. Furthermore, Drupal's own built-in JavaScript-driven UIs could benefit tremendously from GraphQL and JSON API. I'd love to see them in core rather than as contributed modules, as we could leverage them when building decoupled applications backed by Drupal or exchanging data with other server-side implementations. We could also "eat our own dog food" by using them to power JavaScript-driven UIs for block placement, media management, and other administrative interfaces. I can even see a future where Views and GraphQL are closely integrated.

Web services rest json grapql
A comparison of different API approaches for Drupal 8, with amended and simplified payloads for illustrative purposes.

SDKs to consume web services

While a unified REST API and support for GraphQL and JSON API would dramatically improve Drupal as a web services back end, we need to be attentive to the needs of consumers of those web services as well by providing SDKs and helper libraries for developers new to Drupal.

An SDK could make it easy to retrieve an article node, modify a field, and send it back without having to learn the details of Drupal's particular REST API implementation or the structure of Drupal's underlying data storage. For example, this would allow front-end developers to not have to deal with the details of single- versus multi-value fields, optional vs required fields, validation errors, and so on. As an additional example, incorporating user account creation and password change requests into decoupled applications would empower front-end developers building these forms on a decoupled front end such that they would not need to know anything about how Drupal performs user authentication.

As starting points for JavaScript applications, native mobile applications, and even other back-end applications, these SDKs could handle authenticating against the API and juggling of the correct routes to resources without the front-end developer needing an understanding of those nuances.

In fact, at Acquia we're now in the early stages of building the first of several SDKs for consuming and manipulating data via Drupal 8's REST API. Waterwheel (previously Hydrant), a new generic helper library intended for JavaScript developers building applications backed by Drupal, is the work of Acquia's Matt Grill and Preston So, and it is already seeing community contributions. We're eager to share our work more widely and welcome new contributors.

Conclusion

I believe that it is important to have first-class web services in Drupal out of the box in order to enable top-notch APIs and continue our evolution to become API-first.

In parallel with our ongoing work on shoring up our REST module in core, we should provide the underpinnings for even richer web services solutions in the future. With reusable helper functionality that operates on Drupal's entity graph available in core, we open the door to GraphQL, JSON API, and even our current core REST implementation eventually relying on the same robust foundation. Both GraphQL and JSON API could also be promising modules in core. Last but not least, SDKs like Hydrant that empower developers to work with Drupal without learning its complexities will further advance our web services.

Collectively, these tracks of work will make Drupal uniquely compelling for application developers within our own community and well beyond.

Special thanks to Preston So for contributions to this blog post and to Moshe Weitzman, Kyle Browning, Kris Vanderwater, Wim Leers, Sebastian Siemssen, Tim Millwood, Ted Bowman, and Mateu Aguiló Bosch for their feedback during its writing.

In memoriam: Opa Koek

Dear Opa,

We just got the news that you passed away while we were in flight from Boston to Amsterdam. We landed an hour ago, and now I'm writing you this letter on the train from Amsterdam to Antwerp. We were on our way to come visit you. We still will.

I wish I could have had one last drink with you, chat about days gone by, and listen to your many amazing life stories. But most of all, I wanted to thank you in person. I wanted to thank you for making a lasting mark on me.

I visited you in the hospital two months ago, but I never had the courage to truly say goodbye or to really thank you. I was hoping I'd see you again. I'm in tears now because I feel you might never know how important you were to me.

I can't even begin to thank you for everything you've taught me. The way you invented things -- first in your job as an engineer and researcher, and later in automating and improving your home. The way you taught me how to sketch -- I think of you each time I draw something. The way you shared your knowledge and insight and how you always kept reading and learning -- even as recent as 2 months ago you asked me to bring you a book on quantum physics. The way you cooked and cared for Oma every single day and the way you were satisfied with a modest, but happy family life. The way you unconditionally loved all your grandchildren, no matter what choices we made -- with you we never had to live up to expectations, yet you encouraged us to make most out of our talents.

There are no words. No words at all for how you impacted my life and how you helped me become the person I've become. Few adults have the opportunity to really get to know their grandparents. I have been lucky to have known you for 37 years. Thank you for our time together. Your impact on me is deep, and forever. You made your mark.

Love,

Dries

Wedding

We heart opa

Demandware acquisition heats up the customer experience market

The battle for the marketing cloud just got way more interesting. This week, Salesforce announced its acquisition of Demandware for $2.8B in cash. It will enable Salesforce to offer a "Commerce Cloud" alongside its sales and marketing solutions.

The large platform companies like Oracle and Adobe are trying to own the digital customer experience market from top to bottom by acquiring and integrating together tools for marketing, commerce, customer support, analytics, mobile apps, and more. Oracle's acquisition of Eloqua, SAP's acquisition of hybris and Salesforce's acquisitions of ExactTarget were earlier indicators of market players consolidating SaaS apps for customer experience onto their platforms.

In my view, the Demandware acquisition is an interesting strategic move for Salesforce that aligns them more closely as a competitor to marketing stack mega-vendors such as Adobe, Oracle and IBM. Adding a commerce solution to its suite, makes it easier for Salesforce's customers to build an integrated experience and see what their customers are buying. There are advantages to integrated solutions that have a single system of record about the customer. The Demandware acquisition also makes sense from a technology point of view; there just aren't many Java-based commerce platforms that are purely SaaS-based, that can operate at scale, and that are for sale.

However, we've also seen this movie before. When big companies acquire smaller, innovative companies, over time the innovation goes away in favor of integration. Big companies can't innovate fast enough, and the suite lock-in only benefits the vendor.

There is a really strong case to be made for a best-of-breed approach where you choose and integrate the best software from different vendors. This is a market that literally changes too much and too fast for any organization to buy into a single mega-platform. From my experience talking to hundreds of customer organizations, most prefer an open platform that integrates different solutions and acts as an orchestration hub. An open platform ultimately presents more freedom for customers to build the exact experiences they want. Open Source solutions, like Drupal, that have thousands of integrations, allow organizations to build these experiences in less time, with a lower overall total cost of ownership, more flexibility and faster innovation.

Adobe clearly missed out on buying Demandware, after it missed out on buying Hybris years ago. Demandware would have fit in Adobe's strategy and technology stack. Now Adobe might be the only mega-platform that doesn't have an embedded commerce capability. More interestingly, there don't appear to be large independent commerce operators left to buy.

I continue to believe there is a great opportunity for new independent commerce platforms, especially now Salesforce and Demandware will spend the next year or two figuring out the inevitable challenges of integrating their complex software solutions. I'd love to see more commerce platforms emerge, especially those with a modern micro-services based architecture, and an Open Source license and innovation model.