Acquia retrospective 2011

It's that time of year again! In good tradition, here is my retrospective on Acquia's accomplishments for 2011. (You can also read my 2009 and 2010 retrospectives.)

While 2011 was only Acquia's third full year in business (i.e. revenue-bearing year), 2011 was absolutely jam-packed. Starting with executing on our product strategy and vision, to a trip to the Caribbean for the entire company, to being selected by Forbes magazine as one of America's 100 most promising companies, 2011 was full of amazing successes, both for Drupal and for Acquia.

In this post, I'll provide some more detail on what Acquia accomplished in 2011; I'll discuss our business as a whole, our products, our relation with the Drupal community and my role within the company. I have a separate blog post to reflect on how Drupal fared in 2011.

Acquia business retrospective

In 2011 we saw record bookings and continued momentum. We finished the year with 11 consecutive quarters of revenue growth and beating our plan.

Acquia, along with our partners, had more and more engagements with big and well-known organizations, like Paypal, Twitter, Al Jazeera, World Economic Forum, the U.S. House of Representatives, and many more.

Most importantly, customer satisfaction and renewals continued to climb, and are best in class compared to other companies in our industry. Rapid customer growth has resulted in surging ticket counts, now numbering in thousands each month. Sustaining high levels of satisfaction and servicing these tickets has proven to be challenging at times. As a result, we significantly evolved our customer on-boarding process, customer communication, and account management, and we've continued to invest in hiring many great people.

Because things went so well, we decided to accelerate sales and marketing and raised more money mid-2011. We raised $15 million in a fourth round of funding. Our previous investors affirmed their confidence by participating in this round, and they were joined by Tenaya Capital.

In January 2011, we also launched Acquia Europe and overachieved our goals there. We now have about 20 people in Europe.

We ended up growing the company from 80 full-time employees to 175, and growing our bookings by 230%. Mid-way through 2011, our existing office space simply couldn't contain us any longer, so we burst out at the end of August and moved to a bigger 35,000 square feet (3,250 square meter) office where we have had a lot of fun.

Despite our success in growing our staff, the availability of quality candidates continues to be the number one challenge for our continued growth. We're trying to help change that. Together with our partners, we delivered 200 training classes worldwide and we've launched an internal training program called Acquia U, to provide immersive training to a select group of new entry level employees (recent college graduates and career changers).

We've also grown Acquia through the acquisition of companies started by talented people within the Drupal community. This year, Acquia acquired two Drupal companies: security specialist Growing Venture Solutions and migration expert Cyrve. We wanted to do these acquisitions because they create a win-win-win situation for the Drupal community, our partners, and our customers.

Acquia product retrospective

On the product side, Acquia achieved everything in line with the product strategy and vision that I outlined in early 2011. If you're not already familiar with Acquia's products, it's worth reading that post first for context.

We rebooted the Acquia Network. We added two of our own services to Acquia Network with the new Insight and SEO Grader tools, which provides active site testing for security, performance, and search engine optimization best practices for all of your sites.

In addition to adding our own services, we also added complimentary services and tools from our partners, including New Relic (performance monitoring), Drupalize.me (over 200 hours of Drupal video training from Lullabot), Blitz.io (load testing), Utest (crowd sourced manual testing), and Mobify (mobile delivery of Drupal sites). Lastly we re-built the Acquia Library, our knowledge base on everything Drupal and Acquia. Everything combined, we made massive improvements to the Acquia Network.

We also launched Dev Cloud, a single-server version of Managed Cloud. We now deliver over 4 billion page views a month and 70 terrabytes of data from our Drupal-tuned cloud platform. Our operations team now manages over 2,500 servers through Amazon EC2, up from 500 servers in 2011 and 100 at the end of 2010.

A major low-light was the famous Amazon outage in April 2011. Even though only two enterprise customers were affected, out of a couple hundred at that time, we made fairly significant changes to our roadmap to limit future outages. We've since added features to Acquia Cloud like multi-datacenter failover (both multi-region and multi-availability zone across continents) to increase the service level agreement (SLA) we provide to levels beyond what Amazon provides directly.

2011 was also the year that we commercially launched Drupal Gardens at DrupalCon Chicago after spending considerable design and engineering time on the new Views 3 user interface. Since then, Drupal Gardens has added many requested features and now is hosting over 75,000 Drupal 7 sites including some really large enterprise customers, though we can't talk about them quite yet.

We also did a lot of other things; from relaunching Acquia.com on Drupal 7, to adding support for Drupal 7 and Drupal 8 to Acquia Dev Desktop, to improving both Acquia Commons and COD.

All in all, 2011 was a very productive year for our engineers and product managers.

Community and Acquia

In everything we do, we try to raise the tide for the Drupal community at large. In 2011, we continued our long track record of giving back to the larger Drupal community.

Roughly 30% of our engineering time flows back to the Drupal community and resulted in numerous improvements, including core bug fixes, contributed module porting, and usability improvements to modules such as Date, Media, and Views. We participated in the University of Minnesota usability testing, in addition to performing more than 20 internal usability tests on Drupal and Drupal Gardens whose results have been fed into the community.

We participated in and organized many sprints, including the Drupal 7 media sprint, the Drush Code Sprint, and Multilingual Drupal Code Code Sprint.

In total, Acquia sponsored over 58 community events in the last 3 months of 2011 alone, and covered travel and accommodation costs for dozens of Acquians to contribute in person to the success of these events around the world. We also took the lead in organizing and running several of them.

Our marketing team contributed great sales and marketing collateral to the Drupal Association (creative commons-licensed), to help others in the community to promote and grow Drupal.

In addition, we also had some struggles …

Acquia is obviously interested in helping to make Drupal the best it can possibly be and we're proud of major contributions we make to the Drupal project. For example, due to concerns about the lack of Drupal marketing, we launched the Drupal Showcase site as a resource to enable the community to help market Drupal. And since the adoption and growth of Drupal is vitally important, I, supported by the rest of the Acquia leadership team, made a decision to fund a major usability initiative during Drupal 7's development.

However, some of these community investment decisions have backfired on us, and caused community backlash and criticism. Sometimes over smaller things that are easily corrected, as in the case of the Drupal Showcase (moving it from an acquia.com sub-domain and adding a field for attribution), and other times because of questions and concerns about Acquia's influence, as in the case of Drupal 7 usability.

Acquia is in a position where not only can we give back, we want to give back. And furthermore, I feel that corporate sponsorship (not just from Acquia) is important to Drupal's continued growth and success. But when major investments into Drupal like these backfire, it definitely gives us pause in continuing to make these kinds of large investments. Nevertheless, I'd love to contribute more and bigger changes to Drupal, particularly Drupal core, in a constructive and healthy way. As Acquia, we'll continue to refine how we work with the community to find the right balance. As a community, we need to figure out how to better embrace corporate sponsorship. Something to brainstorm about together in this new year.

On a more personal note ...

As Acquia and the Drupal community have grown, so have the demands on my time. Acquia's growing at a phenomenal rate; we're creating a product portfolio with multiple product lines; the Drupal Association is undergoing major changes; Drupal 8 development is underway; I'm traveling around the world evangelizing Drupal 7; and more. To meet all of these demands, I needed to create more time. To do so, I created the Acquia's Office of the CTO (OCTO).

I made some amazing hires to be part of OCTO. It is kind of a dream team to work with on a daily basis. Together, we've been very focused on accelerating Drupal growth (enabling distributions on drupal.org, streamlining the contribution process), Drupal 8 (launching initiatives) and Acquia (driving the acquisition of GVS and Cyrve, creating recommendations on Drupal and mobile, researching new product ideas, and working with some of the largest Drupal users in the world).

This was definitely a highlight for me, as it has allowed much more velocity around these important aspects of what I do. We hope to extend OCTO in 2012 with additional people.

In summary …

In general, I'm very optimistic about Acquia's future in 2012. The decisions we've made early in the company's life, despite skepticism by some, have proven to be correct. Enterprises want commercial-grade support and cloud computing. Open Source, Software as a Service (SaaS) and Platform as a Services (PaaS) continues to be on the rise. More than ever, I'm convinced that Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) will become the de-facto standard for building and hosting web applications, especially in combination with Open Source web applications. The question is not if it will happen, but when and how fast. When it happens, Acquia will be in a great spot.

We've always been very transparent about our goals and roadmap (Acquia 2009 roadmap, Acquia 2011 product strategy), so in the next month or two, I'll provide more information on Acquia's goals for 2012 and beyond.

Of course, none of this success would be possible without the support of our customers, partners, the Drupal community, and our many friends. Special thanks to all those who helped organize my many visits to India, Brazil, Australia, France, etc. Thank you for your support in 2011, and I look forward to working with you to find out what 2012 will bring!

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