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Acquia retrospective 2011

It's that time of year again! In good tradition, here is my retrospective on Acquia's accomplishments for 2011. (You can also read my 2009 and 2010 retrospectives.)

While 2011 was only Acquia's third full year in business (i.e. revenue-bearing year), 2011 was absolutely jam-packed. Starting with executing on our product strategy and vision, to a trip to the Caribbean for the entire company, to being selected by Forbes magazine as one of America's 100 most promising companies, 2011 was full of amazing successes, both for Drupal and for Acquia.

In this post, I'll provide some more detail on what Acquia accomplished in 2011; I'll discuss our business as a whole, our products, our relation with the Drupal community and my role within the company. I have a separate blog post to reflect on how Drupal fared in 2011.

Acquia business retrospective

In 2011 we saw record bookings and continued momentum. We finished the year with 11 consecutive quarters of revenue growth and beating our plan.

Acquia, along with our partners, had more and more engagements with big and well-known organizations, like Paypal, Twitter, Al Jazeera, World Economic Forum, the U.S. House of Representatives, and many more.

Most importantly, customer satisfaction and renewals continued to climb, and are best in class compared to other companies in our industry. Rapid customer growth has resulted in surging ticket counts, now numbering in thousands each month. Sustaining high levels of satisfaction and servicing these tickets has proven to be challenging at times. As a result, we significantly evolved our customer on-boarding process, customer communication, and account management, and we've continued to invest in hiring many great people.

Because things went so well, we decided to accelerate sales and marketing and raised more money mid-2011. We raised $15 million in a fourth round of funding. Our previous investors affirmed their confidence by participating in this round, and they were joined by Tenaya Capital.

In January 2011, we also launched Acquia Europe and overachieved our goals there. We now have about 20 people in Europe.

We ended up growing the company from 80 full-time employees to 175, and growing our bookings by 230%. Mid-way through 2011, our existing office space simply couldn't contain us any longer, so we burst out at the end of August and moved to a bigger 35,000 square feet (3,250 square meter) office where we have had a lot of fun.

Despite our success in growing our staff, the availability of quality candidates continues to be the number one challenge for our continued growth. We're trying to help change that. Together with our partners, we delivered 200 training classes worldwide and we've launched an internal training program called Acquia U, to provide immersive training to a select group of new entry level employees (recent college graduates and career changers).

We've also grown Acquia through the acquisition of companies started by talented people within the Drupal community. This year, Acquia acquired two Drupal companies: security specialist Growing Venture Solutions and migration expert Cyrve. We wanted to do these acquisitions because they create a win-win-win situation for the Drupal community, our partners, and our customers.

Acquia product retrospective

On the product side, Acquia achieved everything in line with the product strategy and vision that I outlined in early 2011. If you're not already familiar with Acquia's products, it's worth reading that post first for context.

We rebooted the Acquia Network. We added two of our own services to the Acquia Network with the new Insight and SEO Grader tools, which provides active site testing for security, performance, and search engine optimization best practices for all of your sites.

In addition to adding our own services, we also added complimentary services and tools from our partners, including New Relic (performance monitoring), Drupalize.me (over 200 hours of Drupal video training from Lullabot), Blitz.io (load testing), Utest (crowd sourced manual testing), and Mobify (mobile delivery of Drupal sites). Lastly we re-built the Acquia Library, our knowledge base on everything Drupal and Acquia. Everything combined, we made massive improvements to the Acquia Network.

We also launched Dev Cloud, a single-server version of Managed Cloud. We now deliver over 4 billion page views a month and 70 terrabytes of data from our Drupal-tuned cloud platform. Our operations team now manages over 2,500 servers through Amazon EC2, up from 500 servers in 2011 and 100 at the end of 2010.

A major low-light was the famous Amazon outage in April 2011. Even though only two enterprise customers were affected, out of a couple hundred at that time, we made fairly significant changes to our roadmap to limit future outages. We've since added features to Acquia Cloud like multi-datacenter failover (both multi-region and multi-availability zone across continents) to increase the service level agreement (SLA) we provide to levels beyond what Amazon provides directly.

2011 was also the year that we commercially launched Drupal Gardens at DrupalCon Chicago after spending considerable design and engineering time on the new Views 3 user interface. Since then, Drupal Gardens has added many requested features and now is hosting over 75,000 Drupal 7 sites including some really large enterprise customers, though we can't talk about them quite yet.

We also did a lot of other things; from relaunching Acquia.com on Drupal 7, to adding support for Drupal 7 and Drupal 8 to Acquia Dev Desktop, to improving both Acquia Commons and COD.

All in all, 2011 was a very productive year for our engineers and product managers.

Community and Acquia

In everything we do, we try to raise the tide for the Drupal community at large. In 2011, we continued our long track record of giving back to the larger Drupal community.

Roughly 30% of our engineering time flows back to the Drupal community and resulted in numerous improvements, including core bug fixes, contributed module porting, and usability improvements to modules such as Date, Media, and Views. We participated in the University of Minnesota usability testing, in addition to performing more than 20 internal usability tests on Drupal and Drupal Gardens whose results have been fed into the community.

We participated in and organized many sprints, including the Drupal 7 media sprint, the Drush Code Sprint, and Multilingual Drupal Code Code Sprint.

In total, Acquia sponsored over 58 community events in the last 3 months of 2011 alone, and covered travel and accommodation costs for dozens of Acquians to contribute in person to the success of these events around the world. We also took the lead in organizing and running several of them.

Our marketing team contributed great sales and marketing collateral to the Drupal Association (creative commons-licensed), to help others in the community to promote and grow Drupal.

In addition, we also had some struggles …

Acquia is obviously interested in helping to make Drupal the best it can possibly be and we're proud of major contributions we make to the Drupal project. For example, due to concerns about the lack of Drupal marketing, we launched the Drupal Showcase site as a resource to enable the community to help market Drupal. And since the adoption and growth of Drupal is vitally important, I, supported by the rest of the Acquia leadership team, made a decision to fund a major usability initiative during Drupal 7's development.

However, some of these community investment decisions have backfired on us, and caused community backlash and criticism. Sometimes over smaller things that are easily corrected, as in the case of the Drupal Showcase (moving it from an acquia.com sub-domain and adding a field for attribution), and other times because of questions and concerns about Acquia's influence, as in the case of Drupal 7 usability.

Acquia is in a position where not only can we give back, we want to give back. And furthermore, I feel that corporate sponsorship (not just from Acquia) is important to Drupal's continued growth and success. But when major investments into Drupal like these backfire, it definitely gives us pause in continuing to make these kinds of large investments. Nevertheless, I'd love to contribute more and bigger changes to Drupal, particularly Drupal core, in a constructive and healthy way. As Acquia, we'll continue to refine how we work with the community to find the right balance. As a community, we need to figure out how to better embrace corporate sponsorship. Something to brainstorm about together in this new year.

On a more personal note ...

As Acquia and the Drupal community have grown, so have the demands on my time. Acquia's growing at a phenomenal rate; we're creating a product portfolio with multiple product lines; the Drupal Association is undergoing major changes; Drupal 8 development is underway; I'm traveling around the world evangelizing Drupal 7; and more. To meet all of these demands, I needed to create more time. To do so, I created Acquia's Office of the CTO (OCTO).

I made some amazing hires to be part of OCTO. It is kind of a dream team to work with on a daily basis. Together, we've been very focused on accelerating Drupal growth (enabling distributions on drupal.org, streamlining the contribution process), Drupal 8 (launching initiatives) and Acquia (driving the acquisition of GVS and Cyrve, creating recommendations on Drupal and mobile, researching new product ideas, and working with some of the largest Drupal users in the world).

This was definitely a highlight for me, as it has allowed much more velocity around these important aspects of what I do. We hope to extend OCTO in 2012 with additional people.

In summary …

In general, I'm very optimistic about Acquia's future in 2012. The decisions we've made early in the company's life, despite skepticism by some, have proven to be correct. Enterprises want commercial-grade support and cloud computing. Open Source, Software as a Service (SaaS) and Platform as a Services (PaaS) continues to be on the rise. More than ever, I'm convinced that Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) will become the de-facto standard for building and hosting web applications, especially in combination with Open Source web applications. The question is not if it will happen, but when and how fast. When it happens, Acquia will be in a great spot.

We've always been very transparent about our goals and roadmap (Acquia 2009 roadmap, Acquia 2011 product strategy), so in the next month or two, I'll provide more information on Acquia's goals for 2012 and beyond.

Of course, none of this success would be possible without the support of our customers, partners, the Drupal community, and our many friends. Special thanks to all those who helped organize my many visits to India, Brazil, Australia, France, etc. Thank you for your support in 2011, and I look forward to working with you to find out what 2012 will bring!

Drupal + India = opportunity

Given that there live one billion people in India, many of which great engineers, one can only imagine what would happen if Drupal gained serious traction there. To that extend, I decided to make a trip to India, and spent last week there with Jacob Singh and Ron Pruett from Acquia. The purpose of the trip was to increase awareness of Drupal in India in 3 ways:

  1. by organizing DrupalCamps to help create a grassroots community of volunteer developers, freelancers and small to medium-sized Drupal shops (bottom-up strategy),
  2. by talking to the large system integrators that will employ hundreds of Drupal developers (top-down strategy),
  3. by doing traditional PR with the media and press.

Together with Acquia's partners, we organized 3 DrupalCamps: nearly 300 people showed up in Delhi, 200 people showed up in Mumbai and 350 people showed up in Hyderabad. In addition, I gave a fourth keynote at ISB, India's premier business school, where about 150 people attended. At each of these events, more people showed up than originally expected. More importantly, this implies that there must be thousands of Drupal developers in India alone, especially since we didn't visit many other big cities like Bangalore, Pune, Chennai, etc.

DrupalCamp Deccan registration

Furthermore, we met various large system integrators in India: Accenture, Capgemini, Wipro, Virtusa, Cognizant, and more. Each of these are multi-billion IT sevices companies that employ thousands of engineers in India. Most of them have 1,000+ employees in their content management practices alone. Many are using Vignette, Liferay, Adobe CQ5, OpenText and Alfresco. Joomla! and WordPress seemed non-existent with the large system integrators, but all of them were eagerly starting to build a Drupal practice. The size of their Drupal teams ranged from 30 to 120 Drupal people, with all of them trying to hire 5 to 15 new people a month. All of them were rather bullish about Drupal and were hearing about it directly from their clients across the globe.

In general, I'd say that the Drupal community is about 3 or 4 years behind with the Drupal community in North America and Europe. However, they are catching up fast and it won't take long before many of the world's biggest Drupal projects are delivered from India.

Our ears perked when we learned time after time that well-known Drupal sites that we assumed were developed in the US or Europe were primarily delivered from India. And it didn't stop there; we learned that the Indian teams are also instrumental in the sales and pre-sales process. They are often responsible for making the CMS platform decisions for all of their clients regardless of country or industry. In other words, a lot of decisions are made in India and it is of strategic importance that the large system integrators have a good understanding of Drupal. They recognize this is important to their success, and all want to invest in training to build more capacity and to increase the expertise of their existing teams.

DrupalCamp Deccan attendees

Interestingly, the Indian culture is big on software training and professional certification, more so than anywhere else in the world. All Drupal companies -- small or large -- asked about training and professional certification.

Another highlight is that at DrupalCamp New Delhi, about 15 Drupal companies from Delhi met for the first time. Later the same day, we helped organize the first CXO event for Drupal executives. In many ways, these were formative meetings that reminded me of early DrupalCon meetings. For the first time, they got to know each other, explored how to work together, started sharing best practices and toyed with the idea of specialization. I've seen this movie before, and I know what happens when a community of passionate developers start working together. Exciting times are ahead.

Last but not least, I gave about 15 press interviews, many of which resulted in an article in an Indian newspaper or IT magazine.

Press coverage

After 5 days of intensive travel and back to back meetings in three cities, I left India feeling excited about the size of the opportunity for Drupal. It is impossible to grasp the magnitude of the technology community and the influence India is gaining ... without having been to India. There are a lot of reasons to pay close attention about how the local Drupal community will evolve. I like to believe my trip helped accelerate Drupal's growth in India.

This trip wouldn't be possible without the help of Acquia's partners. Special thanks to Azri Solutions, Blisstering and Srijan who helped make the journey more than successful.

Schedule

Acquia U

Due to Drupal's remarkable growth, the demand for Drupal talent continues to exceed the supply. Every Drupal company I talk to -- and I talk to many of them all around the world -- has a difficult time attracting enough qualified Drupal talent. The same is true for Acquia.

To help address that problem we are launching Acquia U, a program to employ and train recent and upcoming college graduates in Drupal. We will enroll these candidates in an intensive 6 month paid training program.

Selected candidates will start the training with six weeks of hands-on, classroom-style training in Drupal. After this initial training, they will rotate through Acquia's support, engineering and professional services teams, through select Acquia partner projects, and continue to receive on-the-job instruction and training. Candidates will spend 6 weeks in each team. Combined, this program will give candidates 6 months of real-world experience, and give participants insight into available work in Drupal.

At the end of the program, candidates will become part of one of the teams at Acquia. We believe that this effort, and similar ones undertaken by our partners and customers, will create some of the key Drupal contributors of the future.

We're very excited about this program so let us know if you are interested!

Movember 2011

It is that time of the year again: Movember!

During November each year, Movember is responsible for the sprouting of moustaches on thousands of men’s faces around the world. With their Mo’s, these men raise vital funds and awareness for men’s health, specifically prostate cancer and other cancers that affect men. One in two men will be diagnosed with cancer in his lifetime, and one out of six with prostate cancer.

Like last year, Acquia's "Mo Drupal" team wants your support as we put our faces to work for this great cause. The Acquia team mo'ed its facial hair on November 1st and for about a week now we have practiced the virtues of fine moustachery, immaculate grooming and growing a moustache for Movember.

For the entire duration of Movember, no hair shall be allowed to grow in the goatee zone - being any facial area below the bottom lip. The complete moustache region, including the entire upper lip and the handlebar zones, will also remain completely shaved. Rest assured, photos will follow!

By growing a moustache, we become walking, talking billboards for the 30 days of November. We raise awareness by prompting private and public conversations about cancer. In addition, we raise funds by seeking out sponsorship.

If you'd like, you can join Acquia's "Mo Drupal" team or you can support me in this cause.

It’s hard to get men to talk about prostate and testicular cancer, yet many of us will be diagnosed with it in our lifetime. The brilliance of Movember lies in its appeal to some basic masculine qualities, such as playing on a team, and competing with others. As a man, it’s easier to show your support for such an important cause if you’re doing so with a group of other men, all wearing a silly moustache. Give these guys a break and make their efforts worthwhile by supporting us! Thanks!

Sitecore FUD

Recently Sitecore, a vendor of a proprietary CMS, published a white paper called "The Siren Song of Open Source CMS". It has some good old Open Source FUD.

"In Greek mythology, the Sirens were seductresses who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and voices, only to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island. In the world of enterprise software, Open Source applications have an appeal that many companies find hard to resist, but if heeded, can lead to similarly disastrous results: runaway development costs, unpredictable delays, frustratingly slow responses to urgent support issues, and exponential growth in downstream upgrade and enhancement costs."

In this case they enrolled the CEO of a digital agency to say all the FUD, as if that would either lend additional credibility to the FUD, or behind which they could hide their own feelings:

"As it happened, after several successful experiences using WordPress (an open blogging platform) and Drupal (an Open Source CMS application) in small-scale deployments, agencyQ experimented with using Drupal for larger, enterprise-caliber sites. … We quickly discovered that Drupal's capabilities were a mile wide and an inch deep."

Attempting a complex implementation with any platform with only limited experience in simple sites really just reveals the inexperience of the implementer rather than the limits of Drupal. The whitehouse.gov site shows all by itself that Drupal can scale to high-profile, high-function, high-volume websites.

"Lack of support has a ripple effect across an Open Source CMS project", Breen says. "Because you are starting with a blank slate, in terms of your system's functionality, anything can happen. And when issues arise, the absence of responsive support means that deadlines slip. As a service-driven agency, that is simply not good for business. … It all comes down to accountability, about which Breen jokes, "In high tech there is an old saying that salespeople invoke when they want to be your sole-source provider: 'You want one throat to choke.' While that's pretty graphic, it gets to the point: When something's not working with software, I need one number to call, one person to speak to who's going to help me."

I take offense to the notion that there is no good support for an Open Source CMS. With Drupal, enterprises can look to Acquia for the "one throat to choke", or can tap into a community of 600,000 developers if they want breadth.

"After making a concerted effort to work with an Open Source CMS, non-existent support was the last straw with what Breen found to be Open Source's extremely expensive total cost of ownership (TCO). In website development projects, CMS software costs typically comprise 5% of the total implementation costs. "But by saving 5% in software costs by choosing an Open Source CMS, you drive up the 95% of the 'other' costs significantly. That's not a good value equation, by any measure", he says."

The numbers in their own white paper don't add up. They suggest that Sitecore licenses only represent 5% of the project's total implementation cost. We know from analyst firm Real Story Group that the Sitecore license component of a deal is $100,000 on average. That means that the average Sitecore project costs $2 million? That is much more than the average Drupal project.

Where have you seen this kind of FUD before? From any proprietary software vendor that is starting to feel competitive blows from an Open Source alternative. I see this white paper as a victory for Open Source and Drupal as they are being forced to call us out. Drupal is hurting them. Sitecore has reasons to be afraid.

Maybe the Siren that Sitecore is hearing is from the ambulance they've called for help? ;-)

PayPal developer community using Drupal

Drupal continues to rack up successes among large developer communities, with x.commerce joining Twitter, which made the move last month. X.commerce is a new division of PayPal that serves as an open, central meeting place for over 700,000 developers for eBay, PayPal, Magento, and other eBay properties.

X com

These communities join those of Brightcove, Symantec, DivX -- and, of course, Drupal. All told, that's millions of developers relying on Drupal-run sites for coding tips, product info, and idea exchange.

x.commerce's communities were formerly run on Jive, a proprietary package. Through Acquia, eBay engaged VML to create the site, with additional consulting by Cyrve (now part of Acquia) to migrate data. Acquia provided a Technical Account Manager (TAM), who helped coordinate resources to put the site into production and will be on call as it grows.

Like many developer sites, x.commerce centers around its documentation and its communities. The latter are a model of social networking at its best, in the service of a question-and-answer format. Developers help each other by responding directly to questions, either publicly or through private email; vote on questions (and answers) to highlight those of importance; promote conversations through other social sites such as Facebook; and bookmark discussions to form personal collections. The results are evident in the enormous level of activity within the forums (which, by the way, are built on Organic Groups).

This project is an excellent example of how open-source software drives innovation. Under Jive, eBay wasn't able to develop features that it needed. If eBay needed to do something that wasn't in Jive's roadmap, that was just too bad. Drupal, of course, allows them to create whatever they need, or developers outside the company to do it. That jibes well with x.commerce's ethos of open development, as is demonstrated by the extensive APIs it provides for eBay and PayPal, and the freedom the company allows its developers. I believe that their openness is a key factor to their success -- there are over 4,500 apps on Magento alone -- and that their move to Drupal will allow them to grow at the speed of their community.

Does Acquia suck up all the Drupal talent?

A number of concerns have been voiced from the community about the substantial growth Acquia has achieved since its inception, the number of key contributors who are now employed by Acquia, and the subsequent influence that this allows Acquia to have on the project.

While some of these concerns have validity, I also think there is also a fair share of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) being spread. So, let's clear up a few points.

In terms of growth, Acquia currently employs about 150 people. However, fewer than half of Acquia's employees work directly with Drupal; the majority of Acquians work in sales, marketing, hosting operations, finance, HR, etc. In a way, this makes us smaller than Phase2, Node One, Forum One, Propeople, Capgemini, and dozens of other shops in terms of Drupal staff. We have a different mix than most other Drupal shops.

In terms of influence, Acquia employs fewer than 10% of the contributors to Drupal core. Admittedly, on a "per Drupalist" basis, Acquia probably contributes significantly more code and magnitudes more dollars to the Drupal community than any other organization. We are investing in expanding the Drupal community through major learning initiatives. We sponsor more DrupalCamps, where new people are introduced to Drupal, than anyone. We sponsor more interns than perhaps the rest of the community combined, where high school and university students learn how to build a career in Drupal. Not to mention we contribute a lot of code.

I like to believe that is a great thing for Drupal and that not doing so would be a big loss for all of us.

It certainly helps to have venture capital money when making investments in the community, but it is not a magic bullet either. It is not free money. I've explicitly chosen to give up part of my equity in Acquia in exchange for money so that I can invest it back into the Drupal community to help Drupal advance.

I understand that my involvement with Acquia is tricky because its well-being is intertwined with Drupal's. But I help drive the decision-making process at Acquia, and I set those directions with the best interests of Drupal in mind at all times. Making Drupal successful and Drupal's well-being is my primary concern, regardless of the "hat" that I wear. We want Drupal to power as many sites as possible, both small and large. We want lots of Drupal entrepreneurs to thrive in a growing ecosystem. If you look at Acquia's actions, you'll see tons of contributions here. We sponsor DrupalCamps and DrupalCons, and pay employees to improve Drupal modules and themes.

Recently, our acquisitions of Cyrve and GVS have been a topic of debate. I'd like to point out that acquisitions are a two-way street: they don't happen unless both parties are really excited about it. Contributors come to Acquia for different reasons. Sometimes they would rather hand things like business development, sales, and support off to someone more set up for that, so they can stay focused on doing things they really enjoy. Others thrive more in a larger team of smart people working on interesting things, rather than toiling away on their own. Still others have put in huge amounts of their own personal time over a sustained period to help improve Drupal, often at great personal sacrifice, and are looking for an arrangement that makes this commitment to the project more sustainable. Painting these contributors as "bad guys", or the company who allows them to pursue a career that they love as "bad guys", is not healthy for our community, or the individuals involved.

The clear solution to the influence concern is to grow our community, particularly our contributor community. If more individuals and Drupal shops are contributing in a bigger way, this mitigates the risks of any organization, Acquia or otherwise, from exerting too much influence on the overall project.

So as a community, we need to re-frame this question. We need to be asking ourselves: (1) What can we do to grow the community? (2) Why aren't more people who depend on Drupal contributing to it? and (3) How can we encourage Drupal shops to contribute back?

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