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Calling all Drupal Entrepreneurs

I love working with entrepreneurs and I’ve been constantly amazed by the entrepreneurial nature of the entire Drupal ecosystem. It’s exciting, it’s contagious, and it fuels the soul. Great opportunities await for those willing to adopt it. My colleague Jam recently wrote a post and published an infographic entitled “From the Dorm room to the board room” http://www.acquia.com/blog/dorm-room-board-room-ten-years-drupal-growth-... which outlines the incredible rise of Drupal and the global open-source-phenomenon that it is today. I continue to witness how the hard-charging, passionate, change-the-world ethos of the Drupal Community is having a positive impact in many countries and across all sectors of our society. Acquia does its bit to foster this creativity and energy through programs such as Acquia U http://www.acquia.com/careers/acquia-u and through sponsoring various Drupal community meet-ups, code sprints, and other events around the world. The spirit upon which Drupal will continue to grow comes in equal measures from the contributions that thousands make to its code and from the entrepreneurs that pick it up, learn it, help others, and then help themselves by building successful businesses using it.

I recently learned about one such entrepreneur and became quickly impressed during an interview. His name is Isaac Chambers and he’s a student at Emory University in Atlanta, GA where he studies Information Systems and Operations Management. Unlike Dries Buytaert, the creator of Drupal and co-founder of Acquia, Isaac is still in his dorm room but he pursues his own aspirations with the same determination. In 2007, Isaac started his own digital media agency called Addoa. http://www.addoa.com/ Impressively, by using Drupal to build some cool websites, Isaac also helps pay his own way through school.

Below is a brief of our discussion. If you’re a fellow Drupal entrepreneur, or know of one like Isaac who we should feature, please let me know. Drupal has grown because of people like him, and we need to keep infusing the ecosystem with more.

(In full disclosure, my daughter EB, a former Acquia intern, also attends Emory and introduced me to Isaac).

Isaac, please tell me about yourself
I was born and raised in Champaign, IL, home of the Fighting Illini. I attended the University of Illinois Laboratory High School, which is a part of the University of Illinois and on its campus. I credit this as being a significant influence on the formation of my web design business since the University of Illinois has such a strong technological background and infrastructure. Although I had been tinkering with websites since I was little, my high school provided the right opportunities and resources to really practice and improve my web development skills. Specifically, designing my high school's online daily student news publication was my first big web development challenge (and also my first experience with Drupal).

I'm currently studying Information Systems and Operations Management at the Emory University's Goizueta Business School. I've run track or cross-country now for 9 years, continuing my running career at Emory as a member of the varsity track and field team. And I've spent the last five summers living in Anchorage, AK, since my web design business gives me the flexibility to work from anywhere. In my free time, I enjoy running, hiking, playing ultimate Frisbee, fishing, photography, and following politics.

How/why did you start your business?
I had been creating websites for hire since I was around 10, but as more and more clients referred me, I was invariably asked to give examples of my past work. Formalizing my business with a brand and a website to showcase my work was the next logical step, and this was really the birth of my business.

What types of clients/projects do you have? Examples
I've had a wide range of clients including higher education institutions, non-profit organizations, local businesses, and bricks-and-clicks. A few examples of my clients are the University of Illinois, Emory University, and Body N' Sole, a local athletic shoe store that has a significant eCommerce presence.

What do you like most about what you do?
Creating an effective website requires taking a time to learn about my clients and understand their needs and goals. This has definitely been the most rewarding part of what I do. I've certainly acquired a lot of technical knowledge since I began my business, but the things I've learned from my clients have been the most interesting and valuable.

Do you consider yourself to be an entrepreneur by nature? Why or why not?
Yes. Before I started designing websites, I created a mostly imaginary business where I sold lemonade and computer services to my parents. It was a great business model! They bought the lemons and sugar, so my profit margin was 100%. Of course, I provide free technical support to them now, so maybe that could be considered as my first loan. In all seriousness though, I've always had a mind for how I can make things better. For example, because my high school is part of the University of Illinois, it doesn't enjoy the local funding from property taxes that most public schools enjoy. As a result, my high school's facilities, which were constructed in 1921, are ailing and limited. When I was a student, I recognized this need and completed an independent study that culminated in the Provost approving funding for an $80,000 facility usage study that explored options for renovations and new facilities. They are currently beginning the capital fundraising phase in order to make the facility improvements a reality.

How long have you used Drupal and why did you select it?
I've been using Drupal for over 5 years now. I started using Drupal in early 2007 as another student and I begun the process of revamping our high school's daily student publication which was then powered by MoveableType. We started this process by researching a bunch of CMS solutions and actually started development with a different CMS. We got fairly deep into development, but realized that the CMS platform was not built to grow and lacked the flexibility that we needed to develop all the custom features we wanted to include. For example, one of our requirements was that users would be able to use their University of Illinois NetID and password to login to the site. Drupal was one of the only open-source solutions at the time that had a community module developed that, with a little modification, did what we needed. So, we abandoned that CMS other and started with Drupal. Working with Drupal was a dream. It is backed by a great community of developers and is flexible and powerful. At the time, there was certainly a learning curve to Drupal development, but once I got rolling with Drupal, there was no looking back. Since the release of Drupal at the time (version 5), the community has grown enormously and new features in versions 6 and 7 have made learning Drupal easier than ever.

What would you say to others about Drupal?
Drupal is an incredible platform that is an appropriate solution for both the simplest and most complex of websites. Its community and scalability are its greatest strengths and are a win-win for developer and client. From my standpoint, developing in Drupal saves me time because I can stand on the shoulders of giants. Because so many people actively develop for Drupal, many other developers have experienced the same challenges that you are experiencing, so it's easy to get answers and find modules that provide the custom functionality you need. From the client's perspective, this greatly reduces the cost and time of development.

What are your business aspirations?
I have a number of business ideas in my head, but entrepreneurship entails risk, and as I pay my way through college, guaranteed money from client projects has always come first. In addition, I'm definitely looking forward to bringing some of my business ideas to life, but I'm also a big fan of "entrepreneurship." I don't need to create the next hot business, but I'd like to have a big impact on all of the organizations of which I am a part. Wherever I end up in business, I take with me a motto frequently repeated by one of my mentors: fail fast. Failing is inevitable, just don't waste time doing it.

Well-said Isaac. Here’s to your continued success.

Here are examples of the sites Isaac has built:

www.uni.illinois.edu (Drupal 6)
www.euifc.com (Drupal 7)
www.millertracy.com (Drupal 7)
www.farmersto40.com (Drupal 7)

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