Every week, I get asked the "Silicon Valley question". This week alone, it came up at least three times. I had a phone call with a Belgian start-up asking me for my thoughts on whether to start their company in Belgium or in Silicon Valley. This afternoon, iMinds, a Belgian research institute that promotes entrepreneurship, visited me at Acquia to talk about similar topics.
There are advantages and disadvantages to being in Silicon Valley, and we could argue them to death. Not every great technology company is based in Silicon Valley, and there are many successful entrepreneurs who aren't in the valley. However, I bet you that deep inside every one of those entrepreneurs wonders whether it wouldn't be better to be in Silicon Valley. More often than not, it actually would be better.
This morning I got a message from Bart Becks, a well-known Belgian entrepreneur and angel investor. He asked for my thoughts on an article he is writing about whether Europe could replicate the Silicon Valley phenomenon. To me, this is the more interesting "Silicon Valley" question.
Europe has no choice but to reinvent itself to become more like Silicon Valley. Entrepreneurs, not the government, will actually change the world. While the government's role is to foster entrepreneurship, clearly the government on its own isn't capable of changing Europe fast enough.
Silicon Valley is a state of mind. To recreate Silicon Valley in Europe, Europe has to adopt Silicon Valley's culture first. That culture has developed around the desire to continuously reinvent everything, including oneself. That is what keeps Silicon Valley relevant, and what Europe needs to emulate most. Once Europe has established a Silicon Valley-like culture, it can slowly mix in the other ingredients that make Silicon Valley successful: money, smart venture capitalists, better engineering talent, better creative talent, and more. But let's start with the culture.
There are other aspects of the Silicon Valley culture that all of Europe should adopt. The Silicon Valley culture encourages people from all over the world with different cultural backgrounds and diverse skills to physically come together, inspire each other, and try to accomplish something unique and game-changing.
I also believe that Europe should adopt part of the American Dream: the egalitarian belief that everyone is able to succeed through hard work, and that it is acceptable and encouraged to better oneself economically through hard work. It doesn't mean Europe needs to give up its strong communal beliefs and its desire to look out for the greater good. I hope the European financial crisis represent a watershed moment that causes Europe to rethink some of its current models.
America's social history wasn't necessarily pretty, but it has created a culture where multiculturalism, ethnic diversity and thoughtful capitalism are part of the national character. I'm worried it may take Europe a couple generations to truly embrace such a culture. Until that happens, we'll see some regional and national successes, but not the European-wide "Silicon Valley" culture that Europe needs to successfully reinvent itself.
For Acquia, 2012 was a great year. In many ways, it's been our best year.
Last year, we saw more evidence of Drupal continuing to become a growing part of the mainstream. While this trend has been apparent for some time, in 2012 we were being adopted at a faster rate by more and more enterprise businesses and government agencies. Acquia, in many ways, has risen on the tide of this acceptance. Maybe we helped build this momentum. And along the way, as we've grown, we have worked to keep the philosophy of open source as the guiding philosophy of Acquia.
The Open Source Way
The concept of being guided by the philosophy of open source, which I call the Open Source Way, is reflected in Acquia's approach to our products and services. For example, we believe it is important to provide the capability to easily transfer data from one platform or solution to another, and not be shackled to proprietary vendors' platforms. The solutions we offer, whether PaaS or SaaS, allow innovation and agility by following the open source way, eliminating lock-in. We've coined the terms OpenSaaS and OpenPaas to refer to this.
This approach has resonated with enterprise business. This is reflected in our growth metrics for 2012. Our growth was reflected in our sales bookings, which grew at a record rate. We finished the year with 15 consecutive quarters of revenue growth, surpassing even our own aggressive goals.
Acquia grew by more than 160 employees last year, and now totals about 280 staff. In addition to Acquia's base in Burlington (Boston, MA), we have 28 employees in the UK office, 14 in our new Portland office, and 82 working remotely. Success poses many challenges. Hiring so many people is difficult. On one recent Monday, we have about 20 new staff undergoing orientation in our Burlington office. We've met the challenge of hiring, though, and we've assembled a staff of talented, passionate people. They are the reason for Acquia's success.
Our core strength is our ability to accomplish the aggressive goals we set for ourselves. This ability is the result of both the collaboration and the passion the Acquia staff brings to everything we do. Acquia's culture, in which collaboration and passion are key, also reflect the Open Source Way. We bring this passion and collaboration to our customers as well, and we work hard to ensure every customer's success. In 2012, the number of customers renewing with us was up, returning that commitment and loyalty.
Landmarks and trends
As we moved through 2012, we saw the growing acceptance of cloud computing. No longer was it "should we be on the cloud", but businesses asked "how best to move to the cloud". More often, the open, elastic cloud computing offered by Acquia was the answer. Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS) both continue to gain further acceptance and grow, again providing that ability to react to business needs rapidly, putting a larger portion of resources into building exactly what is needed when it is needed, rather than investing in expensive infrastructure and maintenance. The success of our cloud products means that Acquia will continue to invest and expand in this area in 2013, especially as we saw the trend last year that having many microsites, often one for each product or service, is quickly becoming the rule rather than the exception.
Other landmarks in 2012 were the growing number of health/pharma businesses moving to Drupal and the cloud, joining financial services companies and government agencies also making the move. Until recently, these industries were wary of open source and cloud-based services, fearing that these solutions weren't secure or reliable enough. The reality that the cloud can also be fault-tolerant and highly available, and that security and government compliance requirements can be met with confidence, opened up the cloud to more and more enterprise businesses in 2012. Their move to the cloud in 2012 reinforced the fact that freedom of innovation and agility of open solutions are driving factors for large-scale business as well as smaller organizations.
As the public moves rapidly to mobile platforms of all kinds, including smart phones and tablets, the need to provide a great user experience on these platforms is becoming increasingly important. UX also became important in 2012 as marketing rather than IT became the driving force behind more and more websites. Acquia responded with the creation of our Spark team, which took shape as a five-person team made up of some of the world's best Drupal experts.
Also in 2012, Acquia acquired Mollom, a company I created to address the challenge of managing social spam on websites. With the tremendous growth of user-generated content as part of the social media explosion, unwanted content has become a more important issue to take on. As a SaaS tool, Mollom fits in with Acquia's existing services.
In 2012, Acquia continued to invest in the worldwide Drupal community in a number of important ways. First, we sponsored over 82 Drupal events around the world in 2012. These events brought new people into Drupal and helped existing Drupal users learn new techniques. We employ more than 110 Drupal specialists, most of whom are significant contributors to the larger community. We've sent our Drupalists to more than 30 of these events (as well as hosted sprints ourselves at Acquia) to collaborate with others in the community on important problems for Drupal.
We also grew Acquia's Office of the Chief Technical Officer, or OCTO, in 2012. OCTO includes a dedicated team who work on Drupal full-time, on projects that include:
- Drupal core architecture issues.
- Authoring experience improvements via Spark.
- Spearheading process changes that help the community work better together.
- Forming the Large Scale Drupal program, which helps pool resources of numerous enterprises to provide solutions the benefit the entire community.
This year, like 2012, will be a key year for Acquia as we continue to develop products and services built on the open source philosophy.
Life-cyle management applications will be an increasing focus for Acquia in 2013. These applications will help craft great digital experiences by providing the tools to monitor and optimize digital content.
Of course, we'll continue to nurture and expand our vision of OpenSaaS and OpenPaaS. We'll continue to make the move to PaaS even easier, providing solutions that offer all of the functionality needed, but in a simplified package. We'll accomplish this by combining PaaS, Drupal services and Application Performance Management to produce comprehensive solutions that continue to make Acquia a no brainer when it comes to choosing a PaaS provider. PaaS platforms that embrace an open ecosystem provide faster business value, as many of our customers have discovered. We are working with our growing number of partners to help them build customer solutions on our open cloud platform.
As we start down the road of 2013, we enter the year just having raised $30 million in Series E financing, the single largest financing we have done to date. As we have grown and matured during 2012, these funds will assure sustained growth and success in 2013. No matter how rapidly we grow, or how large the Drupal community becomes, Acquia will put its open source philosophy at the core of all the work it does. In the end, the people of Acquia and the Drupal community, following this philosophy, are building the future of the digital experience. The Open Source way.
A major focus of usability efforts in Drupal core has been around making it easier to edit things on your site. In Drupal 7, we introduced the Contextual links and Overlay modules to make it simpler for content authors and site builders to jump directly to the parts of the administration that relate to the things they see directly on the page, such as blocks or menus. Drupal 8 has now upped the ante with the new in-place editing feature, which allows for direct modification of content on your site, within the context of the page it is displayed on.
The next logical step is to take in-place editing to the next level by unifying contextual editing paradigms: combining the concept of "edit mode" with the ability to contextually edit more than just fields on content, in order to allow for contextual editing of everything on the page, in a mobile-first way.
Specifically, we need to address the following challenges:
- Conflicting patterns confuse users: There are contextual gears to edit content, local tabs to edit content, and "Edit mode" to edit content. These patterns need to be streamlined.
- Tasks are not intuitive enough: Seemingly simple tasks can often result in "pogo-sticking" around in the admin backend trying to locate where to change a given setting.
- Unnecessary information slows users down: Drupal forms tend to be long and full of advanced/confusing options, which can overwhelm users trying to complete simple tasks.
- Interactions don't work with smaller devices: With Drupal 8's Mobile Initiative, it is critical that these tools be as easy to use on the desktop as they are on a smartphone or tablet.
Here is a video showing what we'd like to propose for solving these problems in Drupal 8 core:
We've now performed several rounds of internal usability testing on this functionality, and it has tested really well so far, with a high emotional value: in general, people can't believe this is Drupal. :-) Check out the prototype yourself at https://projects.invisionapp.com/share/U2A4IAGX.
I'm very excited about these changes, and feel that if we can get this into Drupal 8 it could be game-changing. But what do you think? If you like it, we'd love help with implementation and reviews in the core issue at http://drupal.org/node/1882482.
In the summer, I announced that we would adopt Aloha Editor as part of Drupal 8. The primary reason was that Aloha was the only WYSIWYG editor that supported in-place ("true" WYSIWYG) editing; something we need to accomplish our vision for in-place editing. The Aloha Editor developers have been excellent in their attention to Drupal's needs. However, due to the nature of their editor being based around the concept of "true" WYSIWYG, we've run into some issues (which the Aloha Editor folks are actively working on) surrounding the user experience and accessibility of Aloha Editor when using it on the back-end.
Since that announcement, CKEditor has caught up, and now offers feature parity to Aloha Editor when it comes to our needs. Frederico Knabben, creator of CKEditor, has reached out to offer whatever support he can to make CKEditor and Drupal work together better. They already prototyped a convincing alternative to Aloha Editor's killer "Blocks" system (which is an excellent match for Drupal's need to manage content within text content in a structured manner). In addition to that, we found that CKEditor is more mature in terms of APIs, documentation, and ecosystem around the project. Hence, after days of research and weeks of further discussion, the consensus is that CKEditor is now our best choice.
Therefore, we are going to switch from Aloha to CKEditor for Drupal 8 core. By making this switch, we will not only have a more mature WYSIWYG editor, but we also free up resources to work on other parts of Drupal's authoring experience. The CKEditor team has committed to fix the 8 functional gaps that we've identified in their two next upcoming releases.
Last-minute decisions like this are never easy. But we make them in order to do what is best for Drupal. I'd like to thank both the Aloha Editor team and the CKEditor team for helping us evaluate both editors and working with the Drupal community on closing functional gaps. But don't take your eyes off Aloha Editor; it's an editor that continues to hold a lot of promise for the future of the web.
If you've ever listened to one of my keynotes, you might have seen pictures of the Drupal bacon, Drupal socks, Drupal lager, or the infamous naked guy on a bike with the Drupal tattoo. Well, today I'm excited to tell you about the Limited Edition Drupal Bobblehead Toy. The perfect gift for your Drupal geek!
I'm proud to announce Acquia's newest member of the team, the LEGO Druplicon, courtesy of DataFlow (now ONE Agency). It all started on a hot August day at DrupalCon Munich. On that day, I stopped by DataFlow's booth to look at this amazing piece of art. Obviously I am a bit partial to the Druplicon and the innovative and creative ways people around the world are creating branding for Drupal.
Little did I know some lucky DrupalCon attendee was going to win the Druplicon by guessing how many bricks DataFlow used to build it. After asking a couple of questions, such as “Is it a solid structure or hollow?”, I entered my guess (along with 94 other Drupalists). My mathematical equation brought me to the answer of 12,222 blocks, which was 9 blocks over the correct number of 12,213. I won!
DataFlow went to great lengths to ship the delicate, yet massive structure from Belgium to the United States. After contacting numerous courier companies and hearing the Druplicon needed a special Visa, VAT and insurance documents, as well as it needed to be fumigated (sigh, it's just LEGOs), they found one company that was willing to take on the task. About a month and half later, a pallet jack wheeled into our office and dropped off a 4 foot crate.
Unfortunately due to my travel schedule I wasn't able to open the crate for about a week, which created quite the buzz around the office. We had to schedule the unveiling and make sure we had a crowbar and hammer on hand to open it. Coincidentally this was on my birthday, so it was quite the gift!
I'm happy to report that the 12,213 LEGO Drupalicon made it intact (just a few pieces came loose) due to the wonderful packing material of Belgian toilet paper! I probably don't have to buy toilet paper for a year now. :-)
A huge thanks goes out to DataFlow who spent the time replicating the Druplicon in LEGOs, as well as shipping it over the Atlantic. We are in the process of finding a permanent spot for it in the Acquia office, so it's on display for everyone to see.