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Entrepreneurship is 80% sales and marketing

Background in business is a 'nice to have', not a 'must have' for an aspiring entrepreneur. I had no solid business background when I founded Mollom or Acquia (I launched them roughly at the same time).

Other than the standard things (an idea, passion and the willingness to act), the most important thing that aspiring entrepreneurs need is the understanding that 80% of entrepreneurship is sales and marketing. If as a founder, you're not obsessed with sales and marketing, you're a liability rather than an asset.

You don't have to be the best sales and marketing guy (I am far from that), but you better enjoy getting other people excited about your project, company or product. It will help you not only with finding customers, but also with recruiting a world-class team, raising venture capital, and more. So if there is one thing you should learn before starting a company, it is "sales and marketing" (in the broad sense) — and you better be passionate about it, because you'll invest years of your life to selling and evangelizing to make your company a success. Without customers or a team, you won't need any other skills, because you'll be out of business.

You need to be talking about your idea all the time. Too many entrepreneurs believe that if they build a killer product, customers will come. It almost never works like that. Smart entrepreneurs do it backwards; they find customers first and build their product only when they have customers ready to start paying. Not testing the market by selling from day one can lead to months, if not years, of wasted time and money. So stop being so secretive about your idea. You will never find your product-market fit by keeping your idea secret until it is perfect. If you're afraid of people telling you that your idea is stupid, chances are you may not be ready to be an entrepreneur.

Do well and do good

This blog post is on purpose, Open Source, profit and pie. This week I had an opportunity to meet Professor Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum. I was inspired by the following comment he made (not his exact words):

"Because companies strive to have a positive balance sheet, they take more in, than they give out. However, as individuals, we define success as giving more than you take. Given that many of us are leaders as individuals *and* also leaders in our businesses, we often wrestle with these opposing forces. Therein lies the leadership challenge."

I’ve seen many Open Source developers struggle with this as they are inherently wired to give back more than they take. Open Source developers often distrust businesses, sometimes including their own employer, because they take more than they give back. They believe businesses just act out of greed and self-interest.

This kind of corporate distrust comes from the “fixed-pie concept"; that there is only so much work or resources to go around, and as pieces of the pie are taken by some, there is less left for everyone else. The reality is that businesses are often focused on expanding the pie. As the pie grows, there is more for everyone. It is those who believe in the "expanding-pie concept" who can balance the opposing forces. It is those who believe in the "fixed-pie concept" who worry about their own self-interests and distrust businesses.

Imagine a business that is born out of a desire to improve the world, that delivers real value to everyone it touches. A business that makes employees proud and where team members are passionate and committed. A business that aspires to do more than just turn a profit. A business that wants to help fuel a force of good. That is Acquia for me. That should be your employer for you (whoever your employer is).

The myth that profit maximization is the sole purpose of business is outdated, yet so many people seem to hold on to it. I started Acquia because I believed in the potential and transformative nature of Drupal and Open Source. The purpose of business is to improve our lives and create value for all stakeholders.

Acquia's growth and capital position has given me power and responsibility. Power and responsibility that has enabled me to give back more and grow the pie. I have seen the power that businesses have to improve the world by accelerating the power of good, even if they have to take more than they give. It's a story worth telling because business is not a zero-sum game with one winner. I believe Open Source companies are in a prime position to balance the opposing forces. We can do well and do good.

Acquia retrospective 2013

As is now a tradition, here is my annual Acquia retrospective. Time to look back at 2013. In your life, you only get an opportunity to do so many things, so you have to focus on doing things that matter. I'm fortunate that Drupal and Acquia are remarkable stories. I take time to write these retrospectives for you and for me. I write them for you, because you might benefit from my experiences or from analyzing the information provided. But I also write them for myself so I don't forget this incredible journey. If you want, you can read previous retrospectives: 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.

For Acquia, 2013 was another excellent year. It was our fifth full year in business (i.e. revenue-generating year), and we finished the year with 19 consecutive quarters of revenue growth. In short, 2013 was a year of continued momentum, record bookings and great customer success. With five-year sales growth of more than 84,100 percent, Acquia was identified as the second fastest-growing company on Deloitte's Technology Fast 500 in North America. Acquia was also listed among North America's fastest growing software companies in 2013's Inc. 500. We're all very proud of that.

We hired 208 people this year and ended the year with 412 employees, up from 280 employees at the end of last year. 337 employees are based in the US, with 197 in Burlington, 27 in Portland, and 113 remote employees. We employ 75 people outside of the US, 53 of which are based in our office in Reading, UK. In 2013, we almost doubled our headcount in the Reading and Portland offices. Additionally, we hired 31 interns in 2013.

Acquia grew its customer base to more than 4,000 organizations. Some of the brands we've added as customers include Intel Corporation, Polycom, News Corp Australia, Timex, the National Association of Realtors, the X PRIZE Foundation, Columbia University, McGraw Hill Financial, Bart.gov and the Red Cross.

In 2013, Acquia continued to be focused on providing Drupal support to our customers. We reached the milestone of 100,000 support requests received and resolved during our company lifespan. In 2013 alone, we resolved almost 32,000 customer service requests, up 30 percent from 2012. We invested a lot in scaling our support team and on improving overall customer satisfaction and responsiveness. For example, we created a dedicated customer onboarding team. The result is that we spent more time with our customers to better understand their needs and help solve their Drupal questions. In 2014, we'll continue to keep customer success front and center. It's something we are very passionate about.

With regards to Acquia's software products, it was certainly our busiest year. Not only did we continue to invest heavily in Acquia Cloud and Acquia Network, we also launched some new products. Acquia Commerce Cloud was unveiled last quarter, providing a platform for creating content-rich, socially enabled shopping experiences. Acquia Cloud Site Factory was also released, providing a platform for launching and managing hundreds of websites. We unveiled Drupal Commons 3.0, our Drupal-based community platform, that was identified a Social Platform leader by Forrester Research. And we delivered the general availability release of the Mollom Content Moderation Platform, a content moderation platform built for the enterprise.

The cloud continues to prove to be a great way for organizations to save money, manage websites more efficiently and bring them to market faster. And Drupal is no exception to this trend -- in 2013, many organizations decided to standardize on Drupal in a big way, moving away from the variety of different systems -- exactly the vision we laid out in 2010.

And the proof is in the numbers: Acquia Cloud grew from 4,300 AWS instances at the end of 2012 to 7,300 AWS instances at the end of 2013. In aggregate, we're now serving more than 22 billion hits a month or 319 TB of bandwidth. I believe that makes Acquia the largest Drupal infrastructure provider in the world. Some of the Acquia Cloud achievements I'm most proud of include hosting the Grammy Awards (462 million visits) and hosting Red Nose Day during their largest fundraising event ever (£75 million/$113 million raised in one night).

Drupal community and Acquia

In 2013, we continued our long track record of giving back to the larger Drupal community.

  • We sponsored 77 Drupal events in 2013, helping thousands of Drupal developers connect and collaborate together.
  • Our product teams sponsored work on numerous important community modules, such as Media, Organic Groups, and more …
  • The authoring experience work for Drupal 8 that we started last year landed in core this year, including WYSIWYG and in-place editing. We also sponsored work on redesigned content creation page and an improved blocks UI for Drupal 8.
  • Also on Drupal 8, we sponsored work on the Web Services and Migrate in Core initiatives, donating the Migrate module authors' time.
  • We helped set up numerous process improvements to help streamline Drupal 8 core development, including various "hard problems" discussions at DrupalCons to work through complex issues, releasing monthly alpha releases for user and developer feedback, and laying out the criteria for beta 1. We've also helped establish communication channels to help promote what is happening in Drupal 8: the This Week In Core series, and the Drupal 8.0 landing page.
  • We helped the Drupal Association to establish Drupal.org Working Groups to provide better leadership and transparency to the Drupal website. Some of our team also helped assist on Drupal.org upgrade and security issues.

I'm particularly proud of Acquia's contributions to Drupal. It's part of our philosophy to give back, and we work hard to do our part by contributing to the Drupal community -- the reason why we exist. I'm proud of this because it is not trivial to give back as much as we do.

Conclusion

What I'm most proud of is that we have accomplished all of this "the open source way". Since Acquia's interests are so aligned with Drupal's, we try to raise the tide for the Drupal community at large.

At the end of the day, we're not selling Drupal or cloud hosting. We're selling what can be done with Drupal. The belief in the limitless. No matter what you dream, you can do it, and Drupal will get you there -- and Acquia is here to help you succeed. Thank you for 2013, and we're looking forward to working with more customers that are changing the world.

Entrepreneurs, not the government, will save Europe's economy

(I originally wrote this blog post as a guest article for The Next Web (English) and De Tijd (Dutch). I'm cross-posting it to my blog.)

If Steve Jobs was adopted by a Belgian family rather than an American family, it's extremely possible he may have ended up working in a bank instead of co-founding Apple. Why? Because starting a company and growing it is hard no matter where you are, but the difficulty is magnified in Europe, where people are divided by geography, regulation, language and cultural prejudice.

While entrepreneurship and startups have spread tremendously in Europe, a lot of aspiring young entrepreneurs leave Europe for the United States. Very little will stop a true entrepreneur from trying to reach his or her goals, including uprooting their entire life and moving it across the ocean to optimize their chances of success. From my interactions with them, the United States' gravitational pull is only getting stronger.

So, what can Europe do about it? Here are my three recommendations.

Focus on creating large companies

Europe produces plenty of small businesses: restaurants, small technology firms, clothing stores, hair salons, and so on. What it doesn't produce enough of are innovative companies that grow quickly and end up big. It's a problem.

Look at the 500 largest companies in the world (Fortune Global 500). According to Bruegel, a European think tank devoted to international economics, Europe created three new, large companies between 1975 and today. The U.S. created 26.

That number is even more incredible when you take into account the fact that Europe has about twice the population of the U.S. The reality is if Europe were to be competitive, it has to produce 25 times more large companies than it does today.

Access to capital continues to be a challenge in Europe. Getting seed capital (1M EUR or less) has become easier, but raising significant money (25M EUR and more) to turn your company in a global business continues to be difficult. Large companies also provide an important 'exit strategy' for startups. Without a vibrant exit market, it's harder to attract both entrepreneurs and investors.

Large companies also play an important role in creating successful innovation centers. They are catalysts for creating angel investors, for providing distribution, and serve as a breeding ground for talent and practiced management.

If you look at Silicon Valley, Hewlett Packard, among others, served that purpose in the early days, and more recently, a number of successful entrepreneurs have emerged from Google.

I recommend that European government stimulus focuses on companies that could become titans, not on small companies that won't move the needle. Too often, there are investments made in companies that have limited or no growth potential.

Level the playing field

Anyone who has built a global organization likely understands that European work regulations can shackle the growth of startups. Taxes are high, it's hard to acquire a European company, severance packages can be outrageous and it's extremely difficult to fire someone.

It only gets worse when you attempt to operate in multiple European countries, as anyone with the ambition to build a large company has to. Each country is different enough that it requires setting up a local legal entity, and having local accountants and local attorneys. Setting up and running these legal entities costs valuable time and money, a huge distraction that gets in the way of actually running and growing your business.

Europe needs to roll out unified labor laws that are competitive globally and unified across Europe. My biggest worry is the branches of government that try to promote entrepreneurship are not powerful enough to address Europe's labour rules.

Change our culture

A small business can be started anywhere in the world, but it takes a different level of ambition to aspire to become the next Apple. The biggest thing entrepreneurs need is the belief that it can be done, that it's worth taking the risk and putting in the hard work. Having the right culture unlocks the passion and dedication necessary to succeed.

Silicon Valley is a state of mind. To recreate Silicon Valley in Europe, Europe must first adopt Silicon Valley's culture. I believe Europe's culture would benefit from adopting 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'm a firm believer that many modern businesses can "do well and do good". Businesses that generate value for their shareholders and that also have a positive impact on the world go beyond generating profits.

Our world does not lack business opportunities; there are plenty of people with needs that aren't met. Enabling entrepreneurship enables innovation, and innovation helps change the world. The entrepreneurs that succeed in building large businesses, especially those that are aligned with fixing the world's problems, will transform the lives of others for the better and introduce more opportunity on a global level.

Entrepreneurs, not the government, will change the world. It's time for Europe to help their companies grow.

Can Europe copy Silicon Valley?

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.

Acquia retrospective 2012

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.

Drupal community

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:

And finally, Acquia has sponsored other key contributors in the community to take on critical work, including the configuration management initiative, web services, and "Views in Core".

Looking forward

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.

Acquia raises $30 million series E

Today, we announced that Acquia raised $30 million, our single largest financing we have done to date. The investors include Investor Growth Capital, Goldman Sachs, Accolade Partners and our existing investors; North Bridge Venture Partners, Sigma Partners and Tenaya Capital. The new funding will bring Acquia’s total fund-raising to $68.5 million.

It's a lot of money but we're on a big mission. We believe that Drupal is uniquely positioned to provide a single, unified platform for content, community and commerce applications. We believe an Open Source platform like Drupal is the best way to keep up with the evolving web. We believe we can take on a large variety of proprietary competitors across different industries. We know it is true because we've seen Drupal invade enterprises and overturn their established web technologies. We believe Acquia is breaking new ground with our combination of cloud products and business models.

We've made good strides towards this mission. Drupal continues to grow faster than proprietary competitors. And as Acquia, we have grown to 250 employees and are well on our way to posting around $44 million in annual revenue this year on $60 million in bookings. Specifically, Acquia's revenue has grown at 250% CAGR over the past 3 years, making us the fastest growing software company in the US according to Inc. We added more than 100 employees in the past 12 months. We've seen some incredible growth across the board.

But we also believe we are just getting started. We are in the middle of a big technological and economic shift in how large organizations build and maintain web sites. We believe that Drupal and Acquia are poised to come out as the dominant player.

We'll use the additional funding to continue to go after our mission. We're set out to build a successful, high-margin, highly defensible software company. Expect to see us use the money to accelerate our sales and marketing efforts, to continue our international expansion across Europe and Asia Pacific, to grow each of our product teams, and even to build more products. Part of our funding is also to make Drupal more relevant and easier to use by digital marketers and site builders - and things like Project Spark are a critical element of this. As Acquia builds products, we're committed to contributing to the Drupal project - to drive adoption of Drupal and make it more competitive with proprietary CMS players.

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