I first met Dries Buytaert in the summer of 2007. Michael Skok, who was incubating the company, persuaded me to take a board seat at a new company in the process of being formed by Jay Batson and Dries. Dries was 29 years old, living and working in Belgium, and passionate about bringing his open source content management system -- Drupal -- to the world.
I turned down Jay and Dries’ initial offer to join them at the company they were creating and be the CEO - opting to join the board and focus on helping the company strategically. Later in 2008 they repeated their request for me to be the CEO. I had gotten to know Dries much better in the meantime and realized that he was much more than just the talented technical creator of Drupal. He was thirsty for knowledge about how to build a business; his curiosity ran from business strategy to customer success, from product positioning to financial planning. I asked Dries what he hoped from me if I were to join. He told me:
- He never wanted to feel like he had a boss - he wanted to have a partner
- He wanted to make a difference and have fun doing it
- He only ever wanted to work for this company, and someday he wanted to run it.
Well, I wasn’t exactly perfect on the first point, but I can confidently say that we built a tremendous partnership. Dries and I have accomplished a lot in the past nine years together. Throughout this time I always kept the third point in mind -- it is a personal passion of mine to pass along the leadership lessons I was fortunate to gain from my mentors early in my career -- and after growing the company to more than 750 people and $150MM+ in revenue the time has come for Dries to realize his vision of running the company he founded.
Together, Dries and I have celebrated Acquia’s being named the fastest growing private software company in Deloitte’s 2013 Fast 500, and being the highest ranked software company in the 2012 Inc. 500 rankings. We introduced thousands of companies to the cloud, to open source, to Drupal ... most for the first time. We grew from our first small office in Andover, Massachusetts to having sales offices in seven countries around the world and customers in more than 40. We built a “follow the sun” support team that spans five time zones around the world, supporting the most demanding and ambitious digital experiences that exist.
As measured and judged by the leading industry analysts, Acquia’s success has been rapid and undeniable. Forrester Research gave Acquia the highest score for strategy this year, naming us a “leader” in their 2017 Web Content Management wave. Gartner named us a leader for the second year in a row in their 2016 WCM Magic Quadrant.
In a recent meeting with us, an analyst stated the “Symbiosis that Drupal has achieved with the business community is phenomenal”.
The road hasn’t always been clear nor smooth. We haven’t always gotten it right but we learned to to pivot after our first ideas did not work out as planned, For example: in 2008, we had a strategic offsite meeting where we came up with the ideas for two new products, codenamed “Fields” and “Gardens.” I regard that strategy session as where the key seeds were sown for the company’s future. Shortly, we began to acquire customers and the revenue we needed to realize that vision set forth in that first offsite.
Advance the clock forward to the present. “Fields” evolved into Acquia Cloud. Acquia Cloud defined an entirely new business model in the software world that paired open source and the cloud, an often-imitated success model followed today in other sectors and by our competitors. “Gardens” evolved into Site Factory, Acquia’s unique platform for building thousands of sites from a shared code base that not only lowers costs, decreases time to market and offers multi site governance for many of the world’s largest brands, but now powers some of the world’s greatest global consumers brands to national governments.. There simply is nothing like Site Factory when it comes to delivering massive projects around the world in multiple languages, across decentralized multi-brand conglomerates with the need for unified data, regulatory compliance, confidence in security and personalization in real-time across devices we couldn’t have conceived of nearly a decade ago.
The biggest highlight for me of the past decade has been working with the amazing team that we assembled, both presently and along the way. I love nothing more than helping to grow “up and comers” and have great pride in the heights that our team has reached.
Secondly, I have taken great satisfaction in the caliber of the customers we’ve served so successfully. Our customer conference -- Acquia Engage -- has featured executives on the stage from IBM, NASDAQ, Nestle, Tesla, NBC, McKesson, Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and many more. The feeling of pride for what Acquia has done for its customers, partners and employees is indescribable. I have been told by some that their work with Acquia has been the best experience they’ve ever had with any technology vendor. These are the successes that confirm our dreams and vision for Acquia. If I have a hope for how my record at Acquia will come to be regarded, I hope it is for my undying passion for customer success, and for our amazing culture of “committed to awesome.”
With this success behind us, this is a perfect time for Dries to assume a larger role. He has a vision for digital experience management that one industry analyst recently called “game changing”. He’s learned a tremendous amount about the importance of customer success, business strategy and the mechanics of running a company.
Today we are formalizing the way that Dries and I have worked together from the beginning, forming an “Office of the CEO” from which Dries and I will jointly run the company. The board has named me Chairman. We are going to search for a new operating partner for Dries. When we locate that individual, I will be stepping down as CEO. Dries will focus on product areas, including product architecture and roadmap; technology partnerships and acquisitions; and company wide hiring and staffing allocations. I will continue to work with sales and marketing, customer success and G&A functions.
As Dries assumes a more prominent role, I’m excited for the company’s days ahead. He’s extremely talented, hard working, and deftly leads a community of tens of thousands of developers in addition to his contributions here at Acquia. I’m fully confident that Acquia and Drupal will continue to thrive under his leadership.
I’m not going far from Acquia. I’ll remain on the board of directors, the same place where I started in 2007. And in the spirit of Acquia’s DNA, I am looking forward to “Giving Back”. In the past two years, I have become involved a lot more growing the broader Boston tech community and I’m looking forward to rallying them around Acquia as an enduring business for Boston and beyond.
Dries’ blog on the next phase of Acquia can be found here.