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.
Today it was announced that Acquia is the eighth company on the Inc 500. This means we are the eight fastest growing private company in the United States. With nearly 7 million private companies in the US, being honored as number eight is an enormous accolade. In addition, we are the first software company on the list, making Acquia the fastest growing software company in the US. The current print edition of Inc Magazine also has a two page profile on Acquia.
This honor is attributed to each and every Acquian. I’m so proud to be part of such a hardworking and dedicated team! Go Acquia! Go Drupal!
For the foreseeable future, Mollom will continue to be offered as it is today. I will continue my role as general manager of Mollom, Ben will continue to lead the development of our products and the Mollom team will remain unchanged. If you are a user or customer of either Mollom or Acquia, everything will remain exactly the same.
When Ben and I started Mollom almost 5 years ago, we wanted to do something important. While most people were trying to figure out the social web, we were paddling out ahead of the wave, knowing that many websites would soon have to deal with increasing amounts of spam and content moderation. In the past five years, we have helped tens of thousands of people fight spammers on their websites, including some of the world's leading organizations.
We have blocked almost a billion spam messages since we started. It has been very rewarding for us to see that we have helped make the web a slightly better place. At the same time, we also built a healthy business. We successfully bootstrapped Mollom, and organically grew a team of 6 people.
The social wave keeps on growing; we're helping more and more people and organizations every day. But now that social wave has grown so big, we can't rest on our laurels. There are more business opportunities to explore, some of which we have been working on for a while.
At the business level, it made a lot of sense to merge Mollom into Acquia. Ben and I were looking to raise capital for Mollom to help fund future product development and expand our operations. It was clear that it would require a long-term commitment of my time – just at the point when I wanted to focus more on promoting Drupal globally and driving Acquia's growth and expansion. By having Acquia acquire Mollom, I can still be a part of Mollom, and Mollom could receive the resources to accelerate our efforts and create an even more exciting future for Mollom. It also allows me to double down on Drupal and Acquia. In short, I'm really excited to have Mollom as part of the Acquia family.
Keep an eye on us!
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:
- by organizing DrupalCamps to help create a grassroots community of volunteer developers, freelancers and small to medium-sized Drupal shops (bottom-up strategy),
- by talking to the large system integrators that will employ hundreds of Drupal developers (top-down strategy),
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?