The Hacker and Hustler: How to Code a Great Company
by Ryan MacInnis
It all starts with a great idea, something you think will change the world. What’s next? Well, for Dries Buytaert, the creator of Drupal and a hacker by trade, he wanted to take his great idea and build a company around it.
Drupal was his college dorm side project, initially created as a sounding board for himself and his classmates. Drupal was slowly gaining traction and adoption, but it wasn’t until Dries had to spend many late nights helping MTV with its Drupal sites that he had the big idea. Why not build a company around Drupal support, helping brands better leverage this open source technology?
Acquia started as a support company that helped brands using Drupal. With one person in sales and four in support, Dries quickly realized that even the support team would have to start selling. It became evident that more of a business and sales emphasis was needed around Drupal and what he wanted to do at Acquia.
Enter the hustler: Tom Erickson.
Erickson had experience in various successful startups and was introduced to Dries and co-founder Jay Batson through lead investor Northbridge. Erickson started on Acquia’s board, really trying to get a better understanding of the business and what they were trying to do with Drupal.
“I met Tom and we just hit it off,” Buytaert said. “He ordered his sushi in Japanese and I knew he had traveled a lot, so that international knowledge was important to me. After he had been on the board and understood what we were trying to do, he came on board as CEO and has really lived up to being a hustler.”
Since then, Tom and Dries have together coded the fastest growing private software company in North America. Drupal now powers more than 2 percent of websites globally and there are over one million members on Drupal.org. Acquia today helps some of the world's leading brands succeed, including Twitter, Mercedes Benz, Warner Music Group, and Stanford University.
“One of the things that has really helped us do well is the concept of ready, fire, aim,” Erickson said. “Most business is about hunches, failing fast and learning quickly so that you can be successful next time.
Today’s session at SXSW in Austin, Texas was about how a hacker and a hustler coded a great company, but one question in the audience asked what many were wondering: Can one person be both?
“That’s a great question,” Erickson said. “I think you can be, but you need to separate the roles. If you look at Apple, you’d see that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak were both hackers, but Jobs hustled. Watch any of his YouTube videos and you’ll see how he switched his mindset to really balance the hacking that “Woz” was doing.”
And what’s next for Acquia, the company that has done well thanks to a hacker and hustler? Well, for Tom and Dries, it’s about continuing to build the company and increase Drupal awareness starting from within.
“We believe in P triple I,” Erickson said. "Passion, integrity, initiative and intelligence. We want our employees and people we work with to embody all of these because culture and people are just as important to Acquia as our products and technical expertise. But, because we’ve been able to see both sides and know when to trust the hacker and when to trust the hustler, we’ve been able to bring Drupal and Acquia to a global scale.”