You are here
The blog post below was a guest article I wrote for Inc Magazine and was published in September 2013. It has been a while since I shared a startup lesson on my personal blog so I'm cross-posting my article here.
When I started working on Drupal in my college dormitory 12 years ago, I had no idea that one day it would be used by 2 percent of the world's websites. What is even more exciting is the open source community that has grown up around Drupal.
I co-founded Acquia six years ago to support the growing number of organizations that rely on Drupal, and also co-founded Mollom to solve the spam moderation challenges for website owners. Six years later, Mollom was acquired, and Acquia has almost 400 employees. As I've encountered challenges every step of the way. Here are three lessons learned.
1. Think big
So often I meet entrepreneurs who are working on a startup concept. They have a great idea and a business plan to bring it to market, but they're thinking too small about what they're trying to do.
I believe companies are most successful when they have a mission to change the world. When you set ambitious goals, you'll better position yourself for success. You become what you believe.
Being shortsighted can be a big barrier to success, because you can easily miss the window to capitalize on an opportunity. It's why I founded Acquia in the United States; I immediately had access to a larger market. We moved quickly to be a global company to maximize our opportunity, and it's made all the difference.
2. Fail fast
"Fail fast, succeed faster" is a philosophy that's been adopted across the company at Acquia. It's perhaps counter intuitive, but the idea is that in building a startup, you're going to fail. There will be problems, and the faster you run into them, the faster you can learn, adjust, and grow.
Implied in the fail-fast philosophy is that you'll be open to failure, and that can be hard for entrepreneurs who are so focused on success. People don't like to fail, so they're not inclined to celebrate their failures and embrace the lessons learned. Yet doing so means you'll more quickly make the needed – and often painful – adjustments to get on the right path faster.
In the initial business plan for Acquia, we expected to support a specific distribution of Drupal that we'd closely manage. Early prospects told us repeatedly it was a great strategy, yet when we took our offer to market, the buyers weren't there. We realized very fast that our business plan needed a big change, that we needed to support Drupal in whole. It was a terrifying proposition at that stage of our business, but we realized that was what the market needed most. We made the change, and it quickly put us on a successful course.
3. Passion makes the difference
I think some people get inspired to launch a startup because of its potential rewards, but launching a successful business starts with having a passion to solve a problem. I was passionate about building websites; it was my biggest hobby before it was ever a business opportunity.
When we started Acquia, our lead investor told me the key to a successful startup isn't in a good idea, but rather is in having a good team. A good team will figure out how to make something great happen. They'll pivot, they'll change, and they'll claw their way to success. Find talented people who share your passion, and together you'll find your way toward building a great business.
Many organizations have long had the need to maintain multiple websites as part of their digital marketing and enablement efforts. But when the number of sites tallied across different products and services, geographic regions, departments, and clients for just a single organization grows into the hundreds or thousands, it's easy to see why managing all of these sites with agility, velocity and freedom has long been elusive.
Last week, Acquia announced the availability of the "Acquia Cloud Site Factory". I wanted to give a bit more background on this new product and possibly discuss it in the comments.
The Acquia Cloud Site Factory is a platform that provides users with a feature rich Drupal site-building environment and powerful multisite management tools on top of the Acquia Cloud platform. It was built to help corporations, agencies, educational institutions and government agencies to build, deploy and manage hundreds or thousands of Drupal websites at scale.
Acquia Cloud Site Factory is the result what we learned from delivering Drupal Gardens as a solution to large enterprises. Many of our customers benefit from Drupal Gardens as a multisite management platform. However, other customers ran into limitations with Drupal Gardens, namely the inability for developers to add modules, and could not experience the full freedom of Drupal. Based on our customers’ guidance and our own experiences, we built the new Acquia Cloud Site Factory to give organizations access to the full capabilities of Drupal, including custom modules.
Cloud Site Factory is available in three flavors so customers can choose the level of service that best meets their needs:
- Pure Software as a Service (SaaS): This is an out-of-the-box Drupal experience for customers who don’t want to manage anything other than their site content. Acquia manages and maintains the Drupal and Site Factory tools, and guarantees the service level agreement, or SLA, for all sites delivered through the platform.
- Platform as a Service (PaaS): With the Platform-as-a-Service tier, customers gain the ability to customize the Site Factory Drupal codebase with any contrib or custom module and manage the deployment of their codebase through a multisite oriented continuous integration workflow. This approach is perfect for those users needing the flexibility and freedom to truly customize their Drupal experience through self-service tools. Acquia maintains the starting codebase, the Site Factory tools and the Acquia Cloud hosting platform so customers can focus on building their code and their sites.
- SaaS+: For customers seeking the best of both worlds, we offer a hybrid service tier allowing Acquia Professional Services to certify contrib or custom modules on your behalf for deployment to your Site Factory codebase. Once modules are certified, they are available to you through the SaaS experience.
Acquia Cloud Site Factory has been architected to manage tens, hundreds, and even thousands of sites. For example, it currently is managing updates for tens of thousands of sites on DrupalGardens.com.
It's been a while since I wrote about Acquia Cloud so I wanted to give you a quick update. Acquia Cloud has experienced incredible growth so far in 2013. We recently crossed a milestone that I'm proud to share; we’re now running over 6,000 cloud instances on behalf of our customers in six Amazon regions stretching across North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. These instances are used to run a wide variety of Drupal sites; from e-commerce to collaboration to marketing sites, and more.
All that capacity served over 18 billion requests in May, with many more requests served via our CDN partnerships. Compared to last year, Acquia Cloud's traffic is up 200%. We also served over 232 terabytes of data in May. This astounding growth solidifies the scalability of Acquia Cloud. And it's only going to grow faster as Acquia is signing up larger websites.
A couple of weeks ago Acquia, the Red Hat of Drupal, reached out to fellow CMS founder, Matt Mullenweg of WordPress, to see if he would consider switching to Drupal. As luck would have it, this was enticing to Matt. He has long understood the value of the Drupal community and has been looking for ways to leverage our community to make WordPress even better. When Acquia suggested switching to Drupal, it dawned on Matt that this was certainly the easiest way to integrate with Drupal without irritating his webmaster.
"I have always wanted to be part of the Drupal community, where technical expertise is sought after to create some of the most advanced websites. This move demonstrates the synergy between WordPress and Drupal without the possibility of function name conflicts." - Matt Mullenweg
Several months ago I started working with some of our top developers to try to come up with a practical integration strategy between Drupal and WordPress. We had been struggling with this for some time when webchick said jokingly: "It would be a lot easier if they would just use Drupal instead".
To be honest, I felt a bit silly even talking to Matt about using Drupal, but I didn't know at the time that he had been struggling with exactly the same goal and the same problems. webchick's inadvertent idea has ushered in new possibilities for innovation and frankly this is such a fundamental change for us I can't even imagine the world as it was before.
I am very excited about this collaboration. WordPress and Drupal form a killer combination that can't be beat in today's CMS market. I can hardly wait for the WordPress developers to get their drupal.org accounts set up, so we can work together in ways that were never possible before. I also suggested xjm to setup extra "WordPress tables" at the DrupalCon Portland code sprint.
A new Drupal module has been created to ease the transition. The "WordPress_iframe" module will be available on drupal.org soon. It facilitates a rapid integration of existing WordPress sites into their Drupal counterparts. We are excited about the debut of this new module because it embodies the Drupal community's open acceptance of this partnership while it allows us to roll out literally millions of these new Drupal/WordPress sites over the coming weeks.
As part of the agreement, Matt didn't want to completely move away from the WordPress branding, so we have incorporated it into Acquia's logo. Phonetically Acquia is pronounced ah-kwee-uh, so we've swapped out our Q for the well-known WordPress "W". The name is still pronounced "ah-kwee-uh" but will now be spelled "Acwuia". This visually puts WordPress right in the center of our logo - exactly where it belongs. This is WordPress, powered by Drupal.
We are very proud of this partnership and look forward to serving many more customers as a result. You can expect many more great things from Acwuia coming soon.
Matt, your Red Press of Drupal t-shirt is on the way. Let's stand together as brothers, united in Drupal!
Last week it was Red Nose Day, a UK-wide fundraising event organized by Comic Relief every two years. A combination of television programs, local community events, social media and Drupal websites were used to raise £75 million ($113 million) in one day. On Red Nose Day everyone is encouraged to cast inhibitions aside, put on a Red Nose and do something funny for money. The money is used to make a difference to the lives of countless people across Africa and the UK who are facing terrible injustice or living in desperate poverty.
Rednoseday.com and Comicrelief.com are built in Drupal and the Acquia team have been supporting their talented web team with Drupal expertise and use of the Acquia Cloud to ensure a stable and massively scalable platform.
During the live show there were massive peaks in website traffic and every hour there were special heartfelt appeals within the program which results in a frenzy of donations. To deal with the sudden, massive spikes (they call them 'slams'), we had to employ 24 load balancers, 28 web heads and 2 database servers. We had an additional 12 load balancers and 2 web nodes ready for failover. This happens so quickly that it would not give you enough time to spin up additional servers once the traffic starts to ramp up. Along with the hardware, Acquia had 11 people helping with the infrastructure the night of the event.
As you can imagine, there is nothing like a live, six-hour televised national charity event where millions of dollars are at risk, to put fear into the hearts of any web team. To be able to do help inspiring charities such as Comic Relief gives the entire Acquia team an exceptional sense of accomplishment. I am very proud of their dedication and commitment to this project.
In fact, we've been doing our bit with some Harlem Shake videos from both our Reading (UK) and Burlington (US) offices to raise donations. It's not too late to help this tremendously worthwhile and life changing cause: https://www.rednoseday.com/donate.
Today I'm excited to announce that we've released the next generation of Mollom - our Content Moderation Platform. For the past five years, we have worked hard to help companies stay ahead of the curve when it comes to content moderation. With today's release, I feel like we've secured our place as the leading enterprise-ready content moderation system.
With over 2 years in development, and 600 beta users, the new content moderation platform is built to help companies handle extensive amounts of user generated content with ease. The main features of the Content Moderation platform are:
- Easy team management. Site admins can add moderators, assign privileges, and monitor how moderators are performing - keeping an eye on productivity while trusting that no malicious content is making it to their site.
- Fast moderation. If we know it's spam, your team never sees it. If we're sure it's good content - we'll publish it to your site. For the content we're unsure about - moderators now have a very easy user interface where they can view the contributor, their comment, and their reputation, spam, and profanity score all within seconds. They can approve or decline, and even take bulk actions to speed things up.
- Custom filters. The system allows each user to create custom filters so they can focus on a specific subset of commenters. If they only want to see users with low spam and profanity scores - creating a filter takes just a couple seconds and they now have a customized view.
- Multi-site management. All customers can have from one to hundreds of sites in their system - which makes moderation for big brands with multiple site properties very easy. Adding a site takes just a couple minutes, and customers can view analytics separately across all site properties.
I'm really excited to finally show this off to the world, and continue to help more companies embrace social without fear!
We just celebrated our two year anniversary of Acquia's expansion into the European market. It has been a phenomenal two years and as a result, we have grown to over 50 employees in Europe. Our UK office is bursting at the seams so we're about to move into our new digs in Reading. We also have a growing presence in the Benelux, France and Germany.
We are looking for more great talent, no matter what level you're at. If you are passionate about working on some of the most challenging Drupal projects alongside other talented Drupalists, we want to talk to you! Please stop by Acquia's booth at DrupalCamp London, or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We currently have vacancies for Client Advisors, Customer Support Coordinators, Customer Advocates, as well as Sales and Marketing roles.