You are here
I've long been convinced that every well-run Drupal agency of 30 people or more can afford to hire a Drupal core contributor and let him/her work on Drupal core pretty much full-time. A healthy Drupal agency with 30 people should be able to do $5MM in revenue at a 15% net profit margin #1. This means they have $750k in profits that can be invested in growth, saved as reserves, or distributed among the owners.
There are many ways you can invest in growth. I'm here to argue that hiring a Drupal core contributor can be a great investment, that many Drupal agencies can afford it, and that employing a Drupal core contributor shouldn't just be looked at as a cost.
In fact, Chapter Three just announced that they hired Alex Pott, a Drupal 8 core maintainer, to work full-time on Drupal core. I couldn't be more thrilled. Great for Alex, great for Drupal, and great for Chapter Three! And a good reason to actually write down some of my thoughts.
The value of having a Drupal core contributor on staff
When Drupal 8 launches it will bring with it many big changes. Having someone within your company with first-hand knowledge of these changes is invaluable on a number of fronts. He or she can help train or support your technical staff on the changes coming down the pipe, can help your sales team answer customer questions, and can help your marketing team with blog posts and presentations to establish you as a thought-leader on Drupal. I believe these things take less than 20% of a Drupal core contributor's time, which leaves more than 80% of time to contribute to Drupal.
But perhaps most importantly, it is a crucial contribution that helps ensure the future of the Drupal project itself and help us all avoid falling into the tragedy of the commons. While some core contributors have some amount of funding — ranging from 10% time from their employers to full-time employment (for example, most of Acquia's Office of the CTO are full-time core contributors) — most core contribution happens thanks to great personal sacrifice of the individuals involved. As the complexity and adoption of Drupal grows, there is a growing need for full-time Drupal contributors. Additionally, distributing employment of core contributors across multiple Drupal organizations can be healthy for Drupal; it ensures institutional independence, diversified innovation and resilience.
Measuring the impact of a Drupal core contributor on your business
While that sounds nice, the proof is in the numbers. So when I heard about Chapter Three hiring Alex Pott, I immediately called Chapter Three to congratulate them, but I also asked them to track Alex's impact on Chapter Three in terms of sales. If we can actually prove that hiring a Drupal core contributor is a great business investment, it could provide a really important breakthrough in making Drupal core development scalable.
I asked my team at Acquia to start tracking the impact of the Drupal core contributors on sales. Below, I'll share some data of how Acquia tracked this and why I'm bullish on there being a business case.
For Acquia, high quality content is the number one way to generate new sales leads. Marketers know that the key to doing online business is to become publishers. It is something that Acquia's Drupal developers all help with; developers putting out great content can turn your website into a magnet. And with the help of a well-oiled sales and marketing organization, you can turn visitors into customers.
Back in December, Angie "webchick" Byron did a Drupal 8 preview webinar for Acquia. The webinar attracted over 1,000+ attendees. We were able to track that this single piece of content generated $4.5MM in influenced pipeline #2, of which we've managed to close $1.5MM in business so far.
Even more impressive, Kevin O'Leary has done four webinars on Drupal's newest authoring experience improvements. In total, Kevin's webinars helped generate $9MM in influenced pipeline of which almost $4MM closed. And importantly, Kevin had not worked on Drupal prior to joining Acquia! It goes to show that you don't necessarily have to hire from the community; existing employees can be made core contributors and add value to the company.
Gábor Hojtsy regularly spends some of his time on sales calls and helped close several $500k+ deals. Moshe Weitzman occasionally travels to customers and helped renew several large deals. Moshe also wrote a blog post around Drupal 8's improved upgrade process using Migrate module. We aren't able to track all the details yet (working on it), but I'm sure some of the more than 3,200 unique viewers translated in to sales for us.
Conclusion: investment returned, and then some
Obviously, your results may vary. Acquia has an amazing sales and marketing engine behind these core contributor, driving the results. I hope Chapter Three tracks the impact of hiring Alex Pott and that they share the results publicly so we can continue to build the business case for employing full-time Drupal contributors. If we can show that is not just good for Drupal, but also good for business, we can scale Drupal development to new highs. I hope more Drupal companies will start to think this way.
#1 I assumed that of the 30 people, 25 are billable and 5 are non-billable. I also assumed an average fully-loaded cost per employee of $125k per head and gross revenue per head of around $180k. The basic math works out as follows: (25 employees x $180k) - (30 employees x $125k) = $750k in profit.
There are 365 days per year and about 104 weekend days. This means there are 260 business days. If you subtract 10 legal bank holidays you have 250 days remaining. If you subtract another 15 business days for vacations, conferences, medical leave and others, you have 230 business days left. With a blended hourly rate of $130 per hour and 75% utilization, you arrive at ~$180k gross revenue per billable head.
I confirmed these numbers with several Drupal companies in the US. Best in class digital agencies actually do better; they assume there are 2,000 billable hours in a year per head and maintain at least a 85% chargeability rate (i.e. 1,700 billable hours per head). Many companies do less because the maturity of their business, the market they are in, their geographic location, their ambitions, etc. It's not about what is "good" or "bad", but about what is possible.
#2 "Influenced pipeline" means that the content in question was one factor or touch point in what ultimately lead potential customers to become qualified sales leads and contacted by Acquia. On average, Acquia has 6 touch points for every qualified sales lead.
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.
I'm proud to share that Acquia announced its certification program today. You can now get "Acquia certified in Drupal", something I'm pretty excited about.
This is something I've been hoping to see in the community. While there have been other experiments around certification, we as a community have lacked a way to ensure professional standards across Drupal. Over the years, I've heard the demand coming from partners and clients who need a way to evaluate the skills of people on their teams. More and more, that demand has drowned out any perceived criticisms of a certification for Drupal.
A good certification is not just a rubber stamp, but a way for people to evaluate their own abilities, and make plans for improving their knowledge. In some countries, certification is really important to create a career path (something I learned when visiting India). For these reasons, I feel Drupal's growth and development has been hindered without a formal certification in place.
The certification we've built is based on the combined years of experience among Acquia staff who oversee and manage thousands of Drupal sites. We've observed patterns in errors and mistakes; we know what works and what doesn't.
People have debated the pros and cons of software certifications for years (including myself), especially where it involves evaluating candidates for hire. Certainly no certification can be used in isolation; it cannot be used to evaluate a candidate's ability to perform a job well, to work in teams or to learn quickly. Certification can, however, provide a valuable data point for recruiters, and a way for developers to demonstrate their knowledge and stand out. It is undeniably valuable for people who are early in their Drupal career; being certified increases their chance to find a great Drupal job opportunity.
One of the biggest challenges for Drupal adoption has been the struggle to find qualified staff to join projects. Certification will be helpful to recruiters who require that job candidates have a good understanding of Drupal. There are many other aspects to recruitment for which certification does not provide a substitute; it is only one piece of the puzzle. However, It will provide organizations added confidence when hiring Drupal talent. This will encourage the adoption of Drupal, which in turn will grow the Drupal project.
The community has been talking about this need for a long time. One approach, Certified to Rock, evaluated an individual's participation and contribution in the Drupal community. Acquia's certification is different because we're assessing Drupal problem-solving skills. But the community needs more assessments and qualifications. I hope to see other providers come into this space.
Today, the web is not just about publishing content anymore. As the web evolves from content management to digital experience management, it's about understanding visitors' interests and preferences, and figuring out how to deliver them an optimal personalized experience. Many organizations are exploring ways to more effectively create and deliver valuable content to site visitors to increase traffic, conversions and revenue. Great content is still gold, but delivering the right content to the right user at the right moment in the right format is platinum.
Today's personalization tools aren't great and put marketers at a disadvantage. This is why I'm excited to announce that we're rolling out Acquia Lift, a solution that equips the site owners with powerful website testing and content targeting tools to optimize content for each visitor. Acquia Lift learns about a visitor's interests and, based on these insights, uses machine learning algorithms to automate the delivery of personalized content. Marketers and site builders can test content, for example using A/B or multivariate testing, and even add rules about the types of user profiles that get specific content. There is implicit learning that takes place as well that continuously helps Acquia Lift provide increasingly more appropriate content to individuals. Attributes of the user, such as location, and even what the current weather is, can be taken into account in providing the right content. Check out this short Acquia Lift video if you want to learn more or see Acquia Lift in action:
As I talked and wrote about earlier, I believe personalization and contextualization will be a critical building block of the future of the web, and I'm excited to help make that a reality.
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.
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.
(I originally wrote this blog post as a guest article for Forbes. I'm cross-posting it to my blog.)
To "assemble" means to build. Assembling also means that we come together. Sometimes, both aspects are true. When that happens and we work together to build, we are better off for it.
The open source community is a perfect example of this. When Linux creator Linus Torvalds spoke about how it felt to get contributions from a worldwide network of people, he remarked "I had hoisted myself up on the shoulders of giants". I'm lucky enough to feel the same way.
The Internet has created a culture of sharing, letting people connect and collaborate on areas of common interest. When I started developing Drupal in 2000 from my university dormitory in Antwerp, I never imagined I'd build a network of people who were interested in building a content management system with me. Yet word of my project spread, and before I knew it, I was getting contributions to my project from around the world. Soon I also was standing on the shoulders of giants.
We didn't know it at the time, but this founding group of Drupalists was creating the basis for the assembled web. The assembled web is the next stage in the evolution of the web. While the coded web will always continue to exist, it will be a minority.
Think of the assembled web almost as an app store model for creating a digital experience. For example, if you want your website to allow social comments to flow in from Facebook or Twitter, you can simply add a module that someone has already coded. If you want to add analytics, maps, or almost anything you can imagine — there's probably a module for that.
While the modules are built on a foundation of code, they require no coding to install and build with ... to assemble. Instead, the vision of a great digital experience can be accomplished by someone with no coding experience, who can now simply "snap" the pieces of a new web experience together.
So, why is the assembled web rising to prominence so quickly, and what does that mean for developers?
- First, there are more websites now than ever before, and there's no sign of that growth slowing down. Ten years ago, a company had one website. Now, that same company might manage dozens or even hundreds of sites.
- Second, the complexity of websites has skyrocketed. Applications, integrations with third-party systems, social media integration, and the mobile web have all driven this complexity. New technologies emerge and replace the old. For example, Flash has almost been driven to extinction, replaced by HTML5, CSS3 and other more modern standards.
These two trends, set against the way many sites are built today, make it difficult to keep up with the changing standards, much less innovate and move the digital experience forward.
There is only one way to keep up: do more with less. I first imagined the assembled web in 2005, when the widespread use of content management systems began to replace the webmaster role as we knew it. Webmasters were no longer hired to write HTML by hand, or upload code to an FTP. In a way, the CMS eliminated the middleman.
Beyond our own evolution as developers, outside forces have also fundamentally altered the web. Ten years ago, the global phenomenon of Facebook didn't exist. Twitter didn't exist. The iPhone had yet to be released and create the mobile ecosystem that we know today. Think about the amount of change that's happened in such a short period. Now what will the world, and the web, look like another 10 years from today? No one knows.
The best thing to do is to adopt a platform that can change at the pace of the web. Developers will be tasked with building new functionality, and expanding the world of possibilities that modules can deliver. The innovation that developers will bring is crucial, and will power the assembled web by lowering barriers and democratizing the experience of site building.
The assembled web doesn't just have implications for the way developers create websites. It will have a widespread impact on any person or organization that needs to keep up with rapidly changing external forces. That's pretty much everyone. Think about how the assembly line changed manufacturing the first time. And how 3D printing is changing it again now. We can build faster and smarter than ever before. Similarly, the assembled web gives more people the tools to build the web as we know it.
Anyone without coding experience will be able to use an open source CMS to assemble a site by simply snapping modules together. A marketer could build a site for a new product launch without relying on the engineering team. An entrepreneur could launch a company site without hiring a webmaster. This phenomenon frees up time for developers to create new ways to connect citizens to their governments, nonprofits to donors, businesses to customers, friends and family to each other. Launching a disruptive business idea or reacting to today's rapid market changes could be accomplished without technical assistance. Going from vision to realization, for the first time, would be a single step. This advantage would finally bring the speed of digital site building in line with the speed of the web.
This evolution isn't a scary thing for developers; it's an opportunity. The web has forced a constant reinvention of everything. Careers. The way we compete for business. Being more efficient in the way we assemble a website will allow us to focus on the things that matter more, like innovation and creativity. By standing on the shoulders of giants, we can make things look and operate more beautifully than we'd ever have expected.
Over the past two years, we've built Drupal 8 into what will be the most flexible, future-proof Drupal version ever. Core developers have contributed thousands of hours of work to expanding Drupal 8's capabilities and modernizing our APIs.
We're several months into Drupal 8's API completion phase, and we're releasing monthly alphas as we nail down key APIs, refine the developer experience, and continue vital work on performance. To finish Drupal 8, we must focus on essentials, so I'd like to ask the Drupal developer community to look ahead to the next big step: the first Drupal 8 beta.
When does alpha become beta?
Earlier in the year, we announced that Drupal 8's first beta would be released once we had a stable data upgrade path from Drupal 7. At DrupalCon Prague, however, the Drupal core developer team made a bold decision: instead of using Drupal's
update.php database update script to convert Drupal 7 sites to Drupal 8 on the fly, Drupal 8 core will instead include a robust data migration API (based on the popular migrate module) to migrate data from existing sites into new Drupal 8 installations. This means that Drupal 8 core will provide reliable, extensible migration from Drupal 6 as well as Drupal 7. We believe this to be important for organizations running older versions of Drupal can reliably modernize their sites.
Data migration no longer blocks a beta release
In order to make this important data migration change possible for Drupal 8, the initial Drupal 8.0 release will be primarily intended for building new Drupal sites, and the finished data migration path for existing Drupal 6 or 7 sites may be provided in a later Drupal 8 release, like Drupal 8.1. (For more information on how we might improve the Drupal release cycle after the release of Drupal 8, see the proposal to manage the Drupal 8 release cycle.)
This means that a data upgrade path from Drupal 7 is no longer a prerequisite for releasing Drupal 8.0-beta1. Instead, we will focus on what testers and contributed module authors most need from a Drupal 8 beta: (1) a stable data model and (2) stable critical APIs.
Stable data model
A stable data model means that developers should not need to perform data migrations between beta releases of Drupal 8 (except where necessary to resolve critical issues). The Drupal 8 data model includes database schemas, file-based configuration storage, and storage services like the Entity and State systems.
Stable critical APIs
To provide contributed module developers with a useful milestone for module porting, beta 1 will include stable critical APIs. These are fundamental APIs that most or all contributed modules depend on, including the configuration system, the Entity and Field API, the Plugin API, and the Routing and Menu systems.
Other API changes approved by core maintainers will continue through the end of the API completion phase, but after the first beta, we will shift from away removing deprecated code and instead retain more backward compatibility layers. (Module/theme developers who wish to go through the porting process only once should wait for the first release candidate.)
What issues are blocking beta1?
Drupal core maintainers determine which specific issues must be resolved to meet the criteria above. We have worked with core developers to identify a list of beta-blocking issues. There are currently 48 of these "beta blockers" outstanding. As you can see, there are many difficult problems in this list that need to be solved. We need your help to resolve these issues so that we can release beta1 and expand Drupal 8's reach to new testers and contributors.
It's focus time!
While the end of Drupal 8's development cycle is in sight, there's still a lot of work to do. Now more than ever it's essential to focus on the critical issues that will bring Drupal 8 closer to release. If we don't, we risk pushing Drupal 8's release off for many more months. The sooner we create a beta, the sooner we can release Drupal 8 to the world.
Many people looking forward to Drupal 8's release aren't sure how best to help out. I'd like to ask all sub-system maintainers to watch their sub-system's issue queues closely to help new contributors triage issues and fix bugs, especially for beta-blocking issues. I'd also like to ask everyone to review patches carefully, make only necessary API changes, and document APIs clearly. Or, if you aren't able to work on Drupal 8 issues directly, consider sponsoring core developers for Drupal 8 contribution.
Help us make Drupal 8 the best release of Drupal yet by working on our alpha releases and toward a Drupal 8 beta!