The long path to being understood

I sent an internal note to all of Acquia's 700+ employees today and decided to cross-post it to my blog because it contains a valuable lesson for any startup. One of my personal challenges — both as an Open Source evangelist/leader and entrepreneur — has been to learn to be comfortable with not being understood. Lots of people didn't believe in Open Source in Drupal's early days (and some still don't). Many people didn't believe Acquia could succeed (and some still don't). Something is radically different in software today, and the world is finally understanding and validating that some big shifts are happening. In many cases, an idea takes years to gain general acceptance. Such is the story of Drupal and Acquia. Along the way it can be difficult to deal with the naysayers and rejections. If you ever have an idea that is not understood, I want you to think of my story.

Team,

This week, Acquia got a nice mention on Techcrunch in an article written by Jake Flomenberg, a partner at Accel Partners. For those of you who don't know Accel Partners, they are one of the most prominent venture capital investors and were early investors in companies like Facebook, Dropbox, Slack, Etsy, Atlassian, Lynda.com, Kayak and more.

The article, called "The next wave in software is open adoption software", talks about how the enterprise IT stack is being redrawn atop powerful Open Source projects like MongoDB, Hadoop, Drupal and more. Included in the article is a graph that shows Acquia's place in the latest wave of change to transform the technology landscape, a place showing our opportunity is bigger than anything before as the software industry migrated from mainframes to client-server, then SaaS/PaaS and now - to what Flomenberg dubs, the age of Open Adoption Software.

Waves of software adoption

It's a great article, but it isn't new to any of us per se – we have been promoting this vision since our start nine years ago and we have seen over and over again how Open Source is becoming the dominant model for how enterprises build and deliver IT. We have also shown that we are building a successful technology company using Open Source.

Why then do I feel compelled to share this article, you ask? The article marks a small but important milestone for Acquia.

We started Acquia to build a new kind of company with a new kind of business model, a new innovation model, all optimized for a new world. A world where businesses are moving most applications into the cloud, where a lot of software is becoming Open Source, where IT infrastructure is becoming a metered utility, and where data-driven services make or break business results.

We've been steadily executing on this vision; it is why we invest in Open Source (e.g. Drupal), cloud infrastructure (e.g. Acquia Cloud and Site Factory), and data-centric business tools (e.g. Acquia Lift).

In my 15+ years as an Open Source evangelist, I've argued with thousands of people who didn't believe in Open Source. In my 8+ years as an entrepreneur, I've talked to thousands of business people and dozens of investors who didn't understand or believe in Acquia's vision. Throughout the years, Tom and I have presented Acquia's vision to many investors – some have bought in and some, like Accel, have not (for various reasons). I see more and more major corporations and venture capital firms coming around to Open Source business models every day. This trend is promising for new Open Source companies; I'm proud that Acquia has been a part of clearing their path to being understood.

When former skeptics become believers, you know you are finally being understood. The Techcrunch article is a small but important milestone because it signifies that Acquia is finally starting to be understood more widely. As flattering as the Techcrunch article is, true validation doesn't come in the form of an article written by a prominent venture capitalist; it comes day-in and day-out by our continued focus and passion to grow Drupal and Acquia bit by bit, one successful customer at a time.

Building a new kind of company like we are doing with Acquia is the harder, less-traveled path, but we always believed it would be the best path for our customers, our communities, and ultimately, our world. Success starts with building a great team that not only understands what we do, but truly believes in what we do and remains undeterred in its execution. Together, we can build this new kind of company.

--
Dries Buytaert
Founder and Project Lead, Drupal
Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer, Acquia

Comments

Joel "Senpai" Farris (not verified):

Two roads diverged (in front of me),
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could

Then took the other...

This is confirmation. Press on towards the goal!

(BTW, thank you for sharing this outside the walls. It was noticed and appreciated.)

Concerned Developer (not verified):

The line between Drupal being an open-source product, or Acquia's product, are becoming increasingly blurry. Maybe this should be discussed.

Dries:

Care to be more specific about the concern(s)?

Concerned Developer (not verified):

Please check your drupal.org messages.

Dries:

I don't have my drupal.org contact form enabled. What do you want me to check?

Herman (not verified):

I did not start the thread but I got the same thoughts as the person that did. Drupal have more or less given up on the content editor experience and focusing on big corporate. How should an agency sell the benefits of Drupal to a client if D8 still are years behind most cms's?

Lucas (not verified):

Acquia Lightning is the "Drupal-Acquia-product".

Lyndon Hedderly (not verified):

The history of science and technology advancement is littered with examples of visionaries who's ideas were not only misunderstood but often actively resisted, only later to become the norm. Read Thomas Kuhn's "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions".

Jacob Redding (not verified):

This is a great note and it is certainly a sign of the times. Open Source is now the de-facto standard for a large swath of application areas. It's great to see the full business ecosystem noticing this and jumping in. We are going to need all of this help to shore up the foundational elements of open source (ex. CII, etc.). Of course, now we have to guide them well.

Good on you for "fighting the good fight" for so many years and for many more to come.

Dries:

Thanks Jacob. The same is true for you -- thanks for fighting the good fight for so many years!

Philip Van Hoof (not verified):

Dries,

"my 15+ yrs as an OS evangelist, I've argued with thousands of people who didn't...", "In my 8+ yrs as an entrepreneur, I've talked to thousands of business people and dozens of investors", "Throughout the years, Tom and I have presented Acquia's vision to many investors"

Dries. Stop. Break. Go back. Read the Tao's (http://www.mit.edu/~xela/tao.html) section 7.2:

"In the East there is a shark which is larger than all other fish. It changes into a bird whose wings are like clouds filling the sky. When this bird moves across the land, it brings a message from Corporate Headquarters. This message it drops into the midst of the programmers, like a seagull making its mark upon the beach. Then the bird mounts on the wind and, with the blue sky at its back, returns home.

The novice programmer stares in wonder at the bird, for he understands it not. The average programmer dreads the coming of the bird, for he fears its message. The Master Programmer continues to work at his terminal, unaware that the bird has come and gone."

That is how your Drupal coders think. You lead those master programmers to craftsmanship. You'll then deliver craftsmanship. Else you will deliver a big bird in the sky. To be ignored by the ones who make.

This is my final warning, Dries. Stop being a corporate ass. Stick to being an engineer. Like you are, and were. Stay you.

Philip

Dries:

Drupal would not have succeeded if I had stuck with just being an engineer. I'm an engineer, evangelist, an Open Source project lead, a business leader, and probably a couple of other things.