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.
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.
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.
- Acquia press release: Acquia completes $30 million financing
- Techcrunch: Acquia lands $30 million Series E to scale out its enterprise Drupal development platform (video interview)
- Venture beat: With $30 million in funding, Acquia edges closer to an IPO
- Forbes: Acquia looks to 2014 IPO with new $30 million round
- The Next Web: Open-source Drupal software startup Acquia bags $30 million to fuel expansion in Europe and Asia
- Reuters: Open source software firm Acquia raises $30 million
- Boston Business Journal: Acquia raises $30 million, foresees IPO as soon as next year
- Xconomy: Pre-IPO Acquia lands another $30 million, sees sales topping $56 million
- Wall Street Journal: Acquia funded for expansion of content-management technology
- De Tijd (Dutch): IT-Belg Buytaert haalt 30 miljoen dollar op
- Datanews (Dutch): Acquia haalt 30 miljoen dollar op
I've acquired other companies, but the sale of Mollom to Acquia, was the first time I sold a company of my own. Being the seller felt quite different. It's a interesting mixture of satisfaction tinged with loss. During the negotiation phase you feel joy and excitement. Then you feel frustration as you go through the due diligence process. It's a lot of work. Eventually, the day you hand over the keys you feel like you sold your baby. At the same time, you feel a sense of achievement.
Selling Mollom was a life-changing moment. Not because it was a big financial transaction (it wasn't), but because it proves that I was able to bootstrap and grow a company, steer it to profitability, and successfully exit. It was a great experience, because I know that at some point, I'll have the desire to do that again.