Drupal's long-term growth obstacles

Drupal 8 has been growing 40 to 50 percent year over year. It's a healthy growth rate. Regardless, it is always worth exploring how we can continue to accelerate that growth.

Earlier this week, I wrote about the power of removing obstacles to growth, and shared how Amazon approaches its own growth blockers. Amazon identified at least two blockers for long-term growth: (1) shipping costs and (2) shipping times. For more than a decade, Amazon has been focused on eliminating both. They have spent an unbelievable amount of creativity, effort, time, and money to eliminate them.

In that blog post, I promised to share my thoughts around Drupal's own growth barriers. What obstacles can we eliminate to fuel Drupal's long-term growth? Well, I believe the limitations to Drupal's growth can be summarized as:

  1. Make Drupal easy to evaluate and adopt
  2. Make Drupal easy for content creators and site builders
  3. Reduce the total cost of ownership for developers and site owners
  4. Keep Drupal relevant and impactful
  5. Promote Drupal and help Drupal agencies win

For those that have read my blog or watched my DrupalCon keynote presentations, none of these will come as a surprise. Just like Amazon's examples, fixing these obstacles have been, and will be, multi-year efforts.

A mountain images with 5 product strategy tracks leading to the top
Drupal's five product strategy tracks. A number of current initiatives is shown on each track.

1. Make Drupal easy to evaluate and adopt

We need to make it easy for more people to try Drupal. To help evaluators explore Drupal's possibilities, we improved the download and installation experience, and included a demonstration site with core. We made fantastic progress on this in 2018.

Now that we have improved the evaluator experience, I'd love to see us focus on the "new user" experience. When you put yourself in the shoes of a new Drupal user, you'd still find it hard to set up a local development environment. There are too many options, too little direction, and no one official way for how to get started with Drupal. The "new user" is not receiving enough attention, and that slows adoption so I'd love to see us focus on that in 2019.

2. Make Drupal easy for content creators and site builders

One of the most powerful trends I've noticed time and time again is that simplicity wins. People expect software to be functionally powerful and easy to use. This is especially true for content creators and site builders.

To make Drupal easier to use for content creators and site builders, we've introduced WYSIWYG and in-place editing in Drupal 8.0, and now we're working hard on media management, layout building, content workflows and a new administration and authoring UI.

A lot of these initiatives add tools to the UI that empower content creators and site builders to do more with less code. Long term, I believe that we need to add more of these "no-code" or "low-code" capabilities to Drupal.

3. Reduce the total cost of ownership for developers and site owners

Developers want to be agile, fast and deliver high quality projects that add value for their organization. Developers don't want their tools to get in the way.

For Drupal this means that they want to build sites, including themes and modules, without being bogged down by complex upgrades, expensive migrations or cumbersome developer workflows.

For developers and site owners we have made upgrades easier, we adopted a 6-month innovation model, and we extended security coverage for minor releases. This removes the complexity from major upgrades, gives organizations more time to upgrade, and allows us to release new capabilities more frequently. This is a very big deal for developer and site owners!

In addition, we're working on improving Drupal's Composer support and configuration management capabilities. This will help developers automate and streamline their day-to-day work.

Longer term, improved Composer support could act as a stepping stone towards automated updates, which would be one of the most effective ways to free up a developer's time.

4. Keep Drupal relevant and impactful

The innovation in the Drupal ecosystem happens thanks to Drupal contributors. We need to attract new contributors to Drupal, and keep existing contributors excited. This means we have to keep Drupal relevant and impactful.

To keep Drupal relevant, we've been investing in making Drupal an API-first platform for many years now. Headless Drupal or decoupled Drupal is one of Drupal's competitive advantages. Drupal's web service APIs allow developers to use Drupal with their JavaScript framework of choice, push content to different channels, and better integrate Drupal with different technologies in the marketing stack.

Drupal developers can now do unprecedented things with Drupal that weren't available before. JavaScript and mobile application developers have been familiarizing themselves with Drupal due to its improved API-first capabilities. All of this keeps Drupal relevant, ensures that Drupal has high impact, and that we attract new developers to Drupal.

5. Promote Drupal and help Drupal agencies win

While Drupal is well-known as an Open Source project, there isn't a deep understanding of how Drupal is evolving or how Drupal compares to its competitors.

Drupal is improving rapidly every six months with each new minor version release, but I'm not sure we're getting that message out effectively. We need to promote our amazing progress, not only to everyone in the web development community, but also to marketers and content managers, who are now often weighing in heavily on CMS decisions.

We do an incredible job collaborating on code — thousands of us are helping to build Drupal — but we do a poor job collaborating on marketing, education and promotion. Imagine what could happen if these thousands of individuals and agencies would all collaborate on promoting Drupal!

That is why the Drupal Association started the Promote Drupal initiative, and why we're trying to rally people in the community to work together on creating pitch decks, case studies, and other collateral to promote and market Drupal.

Here are a few things already happening:

  • There is an updated Drupal Brand Book for organizations to follow as they design Drupal marketing and sales materials.
  • A team of volunteers is creating a comprehensive Drupal pitch deck that Drupal agencies can use as a starting point when working with new clients.
  • DrupalCon will have new Content & Digital Marketing Track for marketing teams responsible for content generation, demand generation, user journeys, and more; and a "Agency Leadership Track" for those running Drupal agencies.
  • We will begin work on a competitive comparison chart — contrasting Drupal with other CMS competitors like Adobe, Sitecore, Contentful, WordPress, Prismic, and more.
  • A number of local Drupal Associations are hiring marketing people to help promote Drupal in their region.

Just like all open source contribution, it takes many to move things forward. So far, 40 people have signed up to help with these marketing efforts. If your organization has a marketing team that would like to contribute to the marketing of Drupal, check out the Promote Drupal initiative page and please join the Promote Drupal team.

Educating the world about how Drupal is evolving, the amazing use cases we support, and how Drupal compares to old and new competitors will go a very long way towards raising awareness of the project and growing the businesses built on and around Drupal.

Final thoughts

After talking to hundreds of Drupal users and would-be users, as well as dozens of agency owners, I believe we're working on the right things. Overcoming these growth obstacles are multi-year efforts. While the various initiatives might change, I believe we'll keep working on these five tracks for the next decade. We've been making steady progress the last few years but need to remain both patient and committed to driving them home. Just like Amazon continues to work on their growth obstacles after more than a decade, I expect we'll be working on these four obstacles for many years to come.

Relentlessly eliminating barriers to growth

In my last blog post, I shared that when Acquia was a small startup, we were simultaneously focused on finding product-market fit and eliminating barriers to future growth.

In that light, I loved reading Eugene Wie's blog post called, Invisible asymptotes. Wie was a product leader at Amazon. In his blog post he explains how Amazon looks far into the future, identifies blockers for long-term growth, and turns eliminating these growth barriers into multi-decade efforts. As Amazon shows, eliminating barriers to growth remains very important long after you have outgrown the startup phase.

For example, Amazon considered shipping costs to be a growth blocker, or as Wie describes it, an invisible asymptote for growth. People hate paying for shipping costs, so Amazon decided to get rid of them. At first, solving this looked prohibitively expensive. How can you offer free shipping to millions of customers? Solving for this limitation became a multi-year effort. First, Amazon tried to appease customers' distaste for shipping fees with "Super Saver Shipping". Amazon introduced Super Saver Shipping in January 2002 for orders over $99. If you placed an order of $99 or more, you received free shipping. In the span of a few months, that number dropped to $49 and then to $25. Eventually this led to the launch of Amazon Prime in 2005, making all shipping "free". Members pay $79 per year for free, unlimited two-day shipping on eligible purchases. While a program like Amazon Prime doesn't actually make shipping free, it feels free to the customer, which effectively eliminates the barrier for growth. The impact on Amazon's growth was tremendous. Today, Amazon Prime provides Amazon an economic moat, or a sustainable competitive advantage – it isn't easy for other retailers to compete from a sheer economic and logistical standpoint.

Another obstacle for Amazon's growth was shipping times. People don't like having to wait for days to receive their Amazon purchase. Several years ago, I was talking to Werner Vogels, Amazon's global CTO, and asked him where most commerce investments were going. He responded that reducing shipping times was more strategic than making improvements to the commerce backend or website. As Wie points out in his blog, Amazon has been working on reducing shipping times for over a decade. First by building a higher density network of distribution centers, and more recently through delivery from local Whole Foods stores, self-service lockers at Whole Foods, predictive or anticipatory shipping, drone delivery, and more. Slowly, but certainly, Amazon is building out its own end-to-end delivery network with one primary objective: reducing shipping times.

Every organization has limitations that stunt long-term growth so there are important lessons that can be learned from how Amazon approached its blockers or invisible asymptotes:

  1. Take the time to correctly identify your long-term blockers for growth.
  2. Removing these long-term blockers for growth may look impossible at first.
  3. Removing these long-term blockers requires creativity, innovation, patience, persistence and aggressive capital allocation. It can take many initiatives and many years to eliminate them.
  4. Overcoming these obstacles can be a powerful strategy that can unlock unbelievable growth.

I spend a lot of time and effort working on eliminating Drupal's and Acquia's growth barriers so I love these kind of lessons. In a future blog post, I'll share my thoughts about Drupal's growth blockers.

Optimizing your product strategy for the short- and long-term

Most products cycle through the infamous Innovation S-curve, which maps a product's value and growth over time.

Product lifecycle s curve

Startups are eager to find product-market fit, the inflection point in which the product takes off and experiences hockey-stick growth (the transition from phase one to phase two).

Just as important, however, is the stagnation point, or the point later in the S-curve when a product experiences growth stagnation (the transition from phase two to phase three). Many startups don't think about their stagnation point, but I believe they should, because it determines how big the product can become.

Ten years ago, a couple years after Acquia's founding, large organizations were struggling with scaling Drupal. I was absolutely convinced that Drupal could scale, but I also recognized that too few people knew how to scale Drupal successfully.

Furthermore, there was a lot of skepticism around Open Source scalability and security. People questioned whether a community of volunteers could create software as secure and scalable as their proprietary counterparts.

These struggles and concerns were holding back Drupal. To solve both problems, we built and launched Acquia Cloud, a platform to build, host and manage Drupal sites.

After we launched Acquia Cloud, Acquia grew from $1.4 million in bookings in 2009 to $8.7 million in bookings in 2010 (600% year-over-year growth), and to $22 million in bookings by 2011 (250% year-over-year growth). We had clearly found product-market fit!

Not only did it launch Acquia in rocket-ship growth, it also extended our stagnation point. We on-boarded many large organizations and showed that Drupal can scale very large. This helped unlock a lot of growth for both Drupal and Acquia. I can say with certainty that many large organizations that use Drupal would not have adopted Drupal without Acquia.

Helping to grow Drupal — or extending Drupal's stagnation point — was always part of Acquia's mission. From day one, we understood that for Acquia to grow, Drupal had to grow.

Launching Acquia Cloud was a great business decision for Acquia; it gave us product-market fit, launched us in hockey-stick growth, but also extended our S-curve.

As I think back about how Acquia approached the Innovation S-curve, a few important lessons stand out:

  • Focus on business opportunities that serve a burning customer need that can launch or accelerate your organization.
  • Focus on business opportunities that remove long-term barriers to growth and push out the stagnation point.

It's the most 'Wonderfund' time of year

Gift drive

Every December, Acquia organizes a gift drive on behalf of the Wonderfund. The gift drive supports children that otherwise wouldn't be receiving gifts this holiday season. This year, more than 120 Acquians collected presents for 205 children in Massachusetts.

Acquia's annual gift drive always stands out as a heart warming and meaningful effort. It's a wonderful example of how Acquia is committed to "Give back more". Thank you to every Acquian who participated and for Wonderfund's continued partnership. Happy Holidays!

Acquia highway billboards

If you're driving into Boston, you might notice something new on I-90. Acquia has placed ads on two local billboards; more than 120,000 cars drive past these billboards everyday. This is the first time in Acquia's eleven years that we've taken out a highway billboard, and dipped our toes in more traditional media advertising. Personally, I find that exciting, because it means that more and more people will be introduced to Acquia. If you find yourself on the Mass Pike, keep an eye out!

Billboard