Drupal Planet

The business of Acquia Drupal

A few hours ago, Acquia announced public release of its first two products: Acquia Drupal (the software) and Acquia Network (the services). I plan to migrate tomgeller.com to Acquia Drupal, and will (probably) post my impressions of the products themselves then.

But for now, let's consider the business side of Acquia. A few numbers:

  • $7,000,000: Initial private investment the company received in December, 2007. (Merry Christmas!)
  • 27: Its current number of employees.
  • $260,000: The amount of initial investment per current employee -- a useful figure (together with burn rate) to understand how soon Acquia needs to either become profitable or receive further funding.
  • $3,750: The median price quoted for Acquia services per site/year. Note that this doesn't include Acquia's top-level "Elite" services, which are priced by individual quote and are likely to go into six figures. (Guessing the true average and median sales ticket would be a fun exercise, but one whose answer we outside the company would have no way of checking.)

So: Can Acquia make it?

Well, the numbers ain't bad. Assuming the company delivers on its promises, I have to say I'm optimistic for it. The site clearly defines its products, proposes realistic prices, and offers packages that encourage engagement -- including a free "Community" level for a single-server site with "forum-based" support. At first glance, it all comprises a strong value proposition.

Just as importantly, Acquia offers a migration path to rope in people like me who want to "upgrade" an existing "Drupal.org Drupal" site to Acquia Drupal. Smart! (Put simply, the migration is done by merging your existing sites directory, .htaccess file, and robots.txt file to a special Acquia Drupal package that leaves out these pieces.)

At the moment, Acquia stands alone. If Drupal continues to grow -- and particularly if it experiences breakthrough success -- it will attract other commercial suitors in areas where Acquia is now treading. But from what I can see, Acquia has gained first-mover advantage with its confident and solid entry into the market.

No, Acquia's greatest challenges won't come from competitors, but rather from two other places. First, the company could have misjudged market need -- an easy thing to do when you're defining a new market. Second, it's in that tender stage when relatively small mistakes can affect them in big ways. To act boldly under such circumstances takes courage, making the strength of its first steps all the more impressive.

So congratulations to the Acquia team! I can't wait to see what's next.

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Why support Drupal Association?

Note: The store closed in October 2009, so this program is no longer active. I'm leaving the blog post up for historical reasons.

I recently posted about my new store for Drupal-related items, which gives 10% of the price of all purchases to Drupal Assocation. Here's why I think it's important to support DA:

  • To continue -- and improve -- Drupal's infrastructure. The Drupal.org site gets millions of hits per year, and that number is growing. Drupalcon likewise gets bigger every year, as do demands on volunteers like you and me. By supporting Drupal Association, you help the project grow to accommodate these pressures.
  • To enable new initiatives. Would you like to help talented Drupal developers attend Drupalcon? Accelerate funding of a much-needed (but commercially uninteresting) module? Have Drupal representatives acting as media and industry liaisons full-time? While Drupal Association doesn't currently do these things, it could -- with your support.
  • To fulfill functions best served by a non-profit authority. While I find commercial interest in Drupal exciting and encouraging, some functions -- such as certification and trademark protection -- are best served by a neutral party with interests beyond the purely financial. Drupal Association is that authority.
  • To provide continuity to the Drupal project. Drupal's growing popularity means that long-time contributors will be an ever-shrinking percentage of the community. Drupal Association serves as an institutional memory to help us stay true to Drupal's design and avoid repeating past mistakes.
  • Because it's time to give back. Many of us -- me included -- have Drupal to thank not only for the software, but also for the opportunity to learn career-enriching skills in CSS, HTML, PHP, design, social media, and many other areas. As with other free and open-source software, Drupal democratizes such education. All you need is time, interest, and a way to download the code.

Regardless of whether you visit the store, I encourage you to learn more about Drupal Association and become a member today to help further these goals.

-- Tom Geller, Drupal Association member #898

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New store for Drupal-related products gives 10% to Drupal Association

I'm pleased to announce the opening of store.tomgeller.com, which donates 10% of the purchase price on all Drupal-related products to Drupal Association.

It opens with three Lynda.com videos:

  • Drupal Essential Training: 7 hours on 1 DVD-ROM for $49.95
  • PHP with MySQL Essential Training: 11 hours on 2 CD-ROMs for $149.95
  • CSS Web Site Design: 6 hours on 2 CD-ROMs for $149.95

All three for $299.85 -- a $50 savings, available only from store.tomgeller.com.

This is a test run: If it goes well, I intend to offer other Drupal-related products through the store, also with 10% going straight to Drupal Association.

Thanks in advance for your support!

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Is the market ready for Drupal certification?

Yesterday, Indian firm Gloscon announced its intent to offer Drupal certification. It joins Acquia, which first discussed its forthcoming "Yellow Jersey" program last March. To the best of my knowledge, only U.K.-based NobleProg currently "certifies" Drupal developers, although other training companies (Lullabot large among them) provide course-completion certificates; as far as I can tell, these other course certificates hold at least as much weight as NobleProg's documents.

Which brings us to the point: Certification has only the value the market gives it. "Market" here refers not to the certified, but to their prospective employers and clients. That the market recognizes one certification over another isn't necessarily a reflection of quality: an MBA from Harvard will open more doors than one from Florida Tech, even if the latter has better teachers. So it goes.

Recognition comes from two sources: word of mouth and active promotion. I'd say that Lullabot is the leader in the former, but believe that Acquia, with its US$7,000,000 in initial funding, has tremendous potential to blow away all competition in the latter.

I don't know much about Gloscon or NobleProg, except that I hadn't heard of them until yesterday. That's my own ignorance... but it's also a data point. Both are outside the U.S., which gives them an extra barrier for gaining recognition. (My country has many faults, it does host the world's leading advertising and promotion machinery.)

One oft-raised issue with all these certifications is that they're led by commercial firms -- which some stakeholders fear will cause conflicts of interest. The obvious solution would be for a neutral, third-party nonprofit company to manage certification. Advantages:

  • Undivided focus. Such an organization could concentrate solely on certification and associated tasks (such as market promotion).
  • Ability to form "clean" partnerships (with, for example, Drupal Association)
  • Flexible structure. For example, it could certify the courses of Lullabot, NobleProg, etc. as being part of a bigger certification.
  • Market perception of neutrality.
  • Additional venues for distributed fundraising through corporate sponsorships, grants, etc.

The big disadvantage? It's still not evident that the market need for Drupal certification is big enough to support such an organization. Plus it has no obvious source of seed money, which I believe should be at least $200,000 for the first year to make a serious impact. (Remember, advertising and public relations are a major part of what would give such a program value. Those things cost money.)

On the other hand, it could quickly become self-supporting -- if the market is big enough. And just as a side effect, the boost it would give to Drupal's visibility in the business community would be incomparable.

Now, I founded and ran a high-tech nonprofit organization for about a year and a half -- here's its old Web site at its peak on archive.org, if you're curious. It was founded without money, gained (comparatively) huge public recognition, got its 501(c)(3) recognition from the U.S. government, and fell apart immediately after I handed off the reins. It was, frankly, a deeply traumatic experience.

But among the many things it taught me, one lesson stands out: Don't go it alone. Delegate; work with partners; follow the market. The emerging leader in Drupal certification will need to know this, regardless of whether it's a nonprofit or commercial organization.

There's a saying that goes something like: "Smart leaders don't try to get a crowd to follow them. They find a crowd and run to its front." The question: Is the need for Drupal certification a big enough "crowd" to coalesce a leader?

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Reaching for the middle: Hosted Drupal or Google Sites?

A comment in response to Jim Butz' blog post ("Drupal and Startups: Is there a Connection?") mentions Google Sites, an online system that allows people to easily build Web sites with such "Web 2.0" features as discussion boards and event calendars. Then a comment in Acquia VP Jeff Whatcott's blog said that "Google Labs [is] cooking up their own CMS support division".

Such online "build-your-own-site" systems have always been severely limited when compared to Drupal; on the other hand, Drupal's installation procedure is still WAY beyond the abilities of 98% of the market. So we have simplicity and complexity, both reaching for the middle of the market.

Which will get there "firstest with the mostest"? Google's a good bet -- they're smart folks, and the company has an amazing inventory of existing products they can leverage well. (Calendar, Groups, Maps, and Documents for site building; AdSense for revenue; Adwords for marketing.) The addition of e-commerce features (via PayPal/Google Checkout?) would make such a solution appeal to a lot of small business owners.

Meanwhile, I've been thinking about whether a consumer-level Drupal hosting service could be successful. Some ISPs offer one-click Drupal setup, but a lot more could be done to make hosted Drupal more user-friendly, such as one-click themes and modules, automated backups, integrated marketing services, etc.. The diversity of available Drupal modules could make such a solution more powerful than anything Google could offer... but simplifying and bulletproofing it for a consumer audience is not a trivial matter.

So here are two questions to consider:

  • How is the market segmented? That is, which users would benefit more from a Google Site, and which should go with hosted Drupal?
  • To the appropriate audience, what advantages would a hosted Drupal site have over a Google Site?

These are questions all Drupal consultants will have to answer soon. I hope the discussion we start here helps us all in our business. :)

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New to Drupal? Come to my beginners' sessions at BADCamp (SF Bay Area)

Today I proposed two sessions for BADCamp, a FREE two-day Drupal event that will happen 11-12 October in Berkeley. Except for the Installfest, they're among only a very few sessions aimed at people with no Drupal experience at all. If that's you, please register for the site and vote for them! They are:

  • First Drupal Steps: From Download to Launch. This session is perfect for first-time Drupal administrators, those comparing CMSes, and anyone who wants to get a structured Web site online fast. We'll go through the steps necessary to: set up Drupal on a local development computer; personalize the site by selecting a theme and adding site-wide information; turn on and configure functions that are included in the basic Drupal download; and ensure that everything's working correctly for stability, security, and ease of administration.
  • Second Drupal Steps: Improving Your New Site. So you've successfully launched your first Drupal site. Now what? This class looks at some of the options Drupal provides to gain greater control over your site and improve how it appears to visitors. Topics covered include: Managing users; modifying themes to give your site a unique look; finding and evaluating modules and themes; and eeping the site running well with updates, backups, and added security.

In any case I hope to see you at the event. (And register soon! There's a good chance it'll be oversubscribed.)

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Try the complete Drupal Essential Training video course -- for free!

I'm excited to finally be able to give out access to the complete Drupal Essential Training course for free for 24 consecutive hours. Just go to:


...and sign up. There's no obligation, and you won't be asked for payment information. If you like what you see -- or want to take any of Lynda.com's 450 other courses -- it's only $25/month.

Please do let me know what you think, and enjoy the course(s)!

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Tips: Running Drupal on Windows using WAMP

I haven't actively administered Drupal on Windows, and in fact had never installed WAMP before creating Drupal Essential Training. The course includes a nine-minute "Installing WAMP and Drupal on Windows" video, but here are some additional tips I've discovered since the course was released.
  • Increase PHP's memory settings or you might have problems backing up and restoring your Drupal site. You'll see the issue if you go to the MySQL-controlling phpMyAdmin screen (probably at http://localhost/phpMyAdmin) and click "Import": The maximum file size allowed is 2,048K. That's only 2MB, and the databases for most Drupal sites are much larger than that. (The example site for Drupal Essential Training gets as big as 5MB.) To change this limit:
    1. Click the WAMP icon in your system tray.
    2. Select "PHP". In the side menu, select "php.ini" to open a file containing PHP's configuration options.
    3. Search for the line, "upload_max_filesize = 2M".
    4. Change it to "upload_max_filesize = 32M" (or whatever you like).
    5. Save the file and restart WAMP. (Better yet, restart your computer entirely to be sure. I'm frankly not sure whether it makes a difference.)
    6. Now go back to that "Import" screen in phpMyAdmin: You should notice that the limit has changed. (Thanks to L.H. for pointing this out.)
  • L.H. writes: "In Windows Vista, the WAMP icon disappears from the system tray after x time (not sure about the duration protocols). To make the WAMP icon re-appear (so that you can access localhost, phpmyadmin, php.ini, etc.), you have to activate the "start WAMP server" icon (from start menu, desktop or wherever); then the system tray icon reappears. Pain in the chicken, but that's Vista."
I've added these tips to my new Drupal Support database. Please comment here if you have other tips for using Drupal on Windows. Share the wealth!

[Update, 16 August 2009: See also this thread for tips, particularly this comment.]
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Update on Lynda.com course, Panels 2, and tomgeller.com

The last few days have been busy, and I'm sorry if I've been slow in correspondence. Here's what's up with reviewer access to the Drupal Essential Training videos.

  • I believe I've sent email to everyone who contacted me. If not, please let me know.
  • According to Lynda.com, reviewers will receive their two-month passes soon. Hooray! They give you access to the whole site, in case you want to learn Photoshop, Illistrator, and Joomla as well. ;)
  • I'm very sorry that I wasn't able to get review copies for everyone who asked. I understand Lynda.com's decision to limit how many go out, even though it's unfortunate for those who can't get them.
  • But please do continue to spread the word! I'd particularly love to see reviews outside of the Drupal community, for example in Web design magazines. I'd appreciate any ideas or contacts you could suggest.

In other news:

  • The course was the subject of Lynda.com's weekly video podcast. (And let me tell you, it's a really odd experience to hear someone else say your name repeatedly.)
  • The DVD is now available! It's $49.95, available directly from Lynda.com -- look in the bottom of the right-hand column. It should be available from Amazon.com soon as well, and I'm looking into selling them directly.

Now I'm working on rebuilding the tomgeller.com site in Drupal, to be a Drupal resource. (I'm a little embarrassed that I didn't make the conversion before the videos came out.) Like the gellerguides.com site, it'll be built on Drupal 6 -- and will be my first time using the new version of Panels 2. [/fingers crossed]

(By the way, may I just give a shout out to Earl "merlinofchaos" Miles, creator of Panels 2? He just released an alpha version for D6, and I'm lovin' it.)

Thanks again for your interest in the course: It's really encouraging. The Drupalsphere has a feeling of emerging greatness that I haven't sensed since the late '90s, when I was involved in Linux communities. That experience, together with being on the wrong side of several losing ideas during the dotcom bust, taught me to recognize qualities of a winner. I'll talk about what those qualities are -- and how I think Drupal does (and doesn't) exhibit them -- in a future blog post.

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Happy anniversary to me! (One year on drupal.org.)

As of 11:27 this morning, I've had an account on Drupal.org for exactly one year. :)

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