Business model innovation is usually more powerful than technical innovation; it is more disruptive and harder to copy than technical innovation. And yet, so many companies are focused on technical innovation to compete.
Consider Airbnb. What makes them so successful is not a technical advantage, but a business model advantage that provides them near-zero marginal cost. For a traditional hotel chain to increase its capacity, it needs to build more physical space at significant cost. Instead of shouldering that setup cost, Airbnb can add another room to its inventory at almost no cost by enabling people to share their existing houses. That is a business model innovation. Furthermore, it is extremely difficult for the traditional hotel chain to switch its business model to match Airbnb's.
The same is true in Open Source software. While it is true that Open Source often produces technically superior software, its real power may be its business model innovation: co-creation. Open Source software like Drupal or Linux is a co-created product; thousands of contributors build and enhance Drupal and everyone benefits from that. A large Open Source community produces vastly more software than a proprietary competitor, and shares in the production and go-to-market costs. It disrupts proprietary software companies where the roles of production and consumption are discrete and the production and go-to-market costs are high. While established companies can copy key technical innovations, it is extremely difficult to switch a proprietary business model to an Open Source business model. It affects how they build their software, how they monetize the software, how they sell and market their software, their cost structure, and more. Proprietary software companies will lose against thriving Open Source communities. I don't see how companies like HP, Oracle and SAP could change their business model while living quarter to quarter in the public markets; changing their business model would take many years and could disrupt their revenues.
Take Amazon Web Services (AWS), one of the most disruptive developments in the IT world the past decade. While AWS' offerings are rich and often ahead of the competition, the biggest reason for the company's success is its business model. Amazon not only offers consumption-based pricing ('pay as you consume' vs 'pay as you configure'), it's also comfortable operating a low-margin business. Almost 10 years after AWS launched, at a time that vast amounts of computing are moving into the cloud, HP, Oracle and SAP still don't have competitive cloud businesses. While each of these companies could easily close technical gaps, they have been unable to disrupt their existing business models.
If you're in a startup, innovating on a business model is easier than if you're in a large company. In fact, an innovative business model is the best weapon you have against large incumbents. Technical innovation may give you a 6 to 18 month competitive advantage, but the advantage from business model innovation can be many years. Too many startups focus on building or acquiring innovative or proprietary technology in order to win in the market. While there is usually some technical innovation around the edges, it is business model innovation that makes a successful, long-standing organization -- it tends to be a lot harder to copy than technical innovation.
The concept of official initiatives came out of lessons learned from the Drupal 7 development. We learned a lot from that and in a recent blog post about Drupal initiative leads, I recognized that we need to evolve our tools, our processes, and our organizational design. Others like Nathaniel Catchpole, Larry Garfield and Gábor Hojtsy have shared some of their thoughts already. One of the things I'm most proud of is that the Drupal community is always looking to improve and reinvent itself. Evolving is an important part of our culture. Each time it will get better, but still won't be perfect.
For me, one of the biggest take-aways (but not the only one) is that for an initiative to succeed, it needs to be supported by a team. An initiative needs to carry out a technical vision, plan the work, communicate with all stakeholders, mobilize volunteers, raise funding, organize sprints, and more. It can easily be more than one person can handle -- especially if it isn't your full-time job or if your initiative is complex.
More specifically, we have learned that the most successful initiatives appear to be run by teams that are self-managed; the team members collaborate in the development of the initiative, but also share both managerial and operational responsibilities like planning, coordinating, communicating, sprint organizing and more.
Because self-managed teams are both responsible for their outcomes and in control of their decision-making process, members of a self-managing team are usually more motivated than traditional hierarchical teams. This independence and greater responsibility are important in volunteer communities. Self-managed teams also build and maintain institutional knowledge. The outcome of their work is also more easily accepted by other stakeholders (like core committers) because they have already built a lot of consensus.
If I were to be an initiative lead, I'd feel strongly about building my own team rather than being handed a team. My initial assumption was that each initiative lead would build his/her own team. In hindsight, that was a mistake. Team building is not easy. It requires a time investment that can seem to compete with technical priorities. This is an important lesson and something we can do better going forward. Before making an initiative official, we have to make sure that each initiative has a good team and the support to be successful -- either we can help create a team, provide more coaching or formal training around team building, or we shouldn't designate the initiative official until such a team has coalesced.
One of the world's most trafficked websites, with more than 100 million unique visitors every month and more than 20 million different pages of content, is now using Drupal. Weather.com is a top 20 U.S. site according to comScore. As far as I know, this is currently the biggest Drupal site in the world.
Weather.com has been an active Drupal user for the past 18 months; it started with a content creation workflow on Drupal to help its editorial team publish content to its existing website faster. With Drupal, Weather.com was able to dramatically reduce the number of steps that was required to publish content from 14 to just a few. Speed is essential in reporting the weather, and Drupal's content workflow provided much-needed velocity. The success of that initial project is what led to this week's migration of Weather.com from Percussion to Drupal.
The company has moved the entire website to Acquia Cloud, giving the site a resilient platform that can withstand sudden onslaughts of demand as unpredictable as the weather itself. As we learned from our work with New York City's MTA during Superstorm Sandy in 2012, “weather-proofing” the delivery of critical information to insure the public stays informed during catastrophic events is really important and can help save lives.
Drupal 8 is the first time we introduced the concept of formal initiatives and initiative leads. Over the course of these Drupal 8 initiatives we learned a lot and people are floating several ideas to increase the initiatives' success and provide Drupal initiative leads with more support. As we grow, it is crucial that we evolve our tools, our processes, and our organizational design based on these learnings. We've done so in the past and we'll continue to do so going forward.
But let's be honest, no matter how much support we provide, leading a Drupal initiative will unquestionably remain difficult and overwhelming. As a Drupal initiative lead, you are asked to push forward some of the most difficult and important parts of Drupal.
You will only succeed if you are able to build a strong team of volunteers that is willing to be led by you. You have to learn how to inspire and motivate by articulating a vision. You establish credibility by setting clear objectives and roadmaps in partnership with others. You have to motivate, guide and empower people to participate. You have to plan and over-communicate.
Not only do you have to worry about building and leading a team, you also have to make sure the rest of the community has shared goals and that everyone impacted has a shared understanding of why those decisions are being made. You use data, ideas and feedback from different sources to inform and convince people of your direction. Your "soft skills" are more important than your "hard skills". Regardless, you will lose many battles. You only "win" when you remain open to feedback and value change and collaboration. To lead a community, you need both a thick skin and a big heart.
Success is never a coincidence. You put in long hours to try and keep your initiative on track. You need relentless focus on doing whatever is necessary to succeed; to be the person who fills all the gaps and helps others to be successful. Instead of just doing the things you love doing most, you find yourself doing mundane tasks like updating spreadsheets or planning a code sprint to help others be successful. In fact, you might need to raise money for your code sprint. And if you succeed, you still don't have enough money to achieve what is possible and you feel the need to raise even more. You'll be brushing aside or knocking down obstacles in your path, and taking on jobs and responsibilities you have never experienced before.
Your objectives will constantly shift as Drupal itself iterates and evolves. You will want to go faster and you will struggle with the community processes. Imagine working on something for a month and then having to throw it out completely because you realize it doesn't pass. Frustration levels will be off the charts. Your overall goal of achieving the perfect implementation might never be achieved and that feeling haunts you for weeks or months. You will feel the need to vent publicly, and you probably will. At the worst moments, you'll think about stepping down. In better times, you realize that if most of your initiative succeeds it could take years of follow-up work. You will learn a lot about yourself; you learn that you are bad at many things and really good at other things.
Leading is incredibly hard and yet, it will be one of the best thing you ever did. You work with some of the finest, brightest, and most passionate people in the world. You will see tangible results of your hard work and you will impact and help hundreds of thousands of people for the next decade. There is no better feeling than when you inspire or when you help others succeed. Leading is hard, but many of you will look back at your time and say this was the most gratifying thing you ever did. You will be incredibly proud of yourself, and the community will be incredibly proud of you. You will become a better leader, and that will serve you for the rest of your life.
Some of you picked up that Michael Skok is leaving North Bridge, Acquia's lead investor. A number of people asked me if Michael is leaving Acquia's Board of Directors as part of that. I'm pleased to say that Michael is staying on as a Director on Acquia's Board.
I first met Michael in the summer of 2007. From the moment I met Michael I knew that he was someone that I could trust and learn from. From the day we started Acquia, we had big dreams -- many of which we have realized today. In large part because Michael went all-in and helped us every step of the way. From his operational experience, to his relevant domain expertise, to his passion for Open Source and focus on building great teams and products, Michael has been an incredible asset to our Board. Fast forward 8 years and I'm as excited as ever to work with Michael to realize even bigger dreams with Acquia.