The investment case for employing a Drupal core contributor
by Dries Buytaert
I've long been convinced that every well-run Drupal agency of 30 people or more can afford to hire a Drupal core contributor and let him/her work on Drupal core pretty much full-time. A healthy Drupal agency with 30 people should be able to do $5MM in revenue at a 15% net profit margin #1. This means they have $750k in profits that can be invested in growth, saved as reserves, or distributed among the owners.
There are many ways you can invest in growth. I'm here to argue that hiring a Drupal core contributor can be a great investment, that many Drupal agencies can afford it, and that employing a Drupal core contributor shouldn't just be looked at as a cost.
In fact, Chapter Three just announced that they hired Alex Pott, a Drupal 8 core maintainer, to work full-time on Drupal core. I couldn't be more thrilled. Great for Alex, great for Drupal, and great for Chapter Three! And a good reason to actually write down some of my thoughts.
The value of having a Drupal core contributor on staff
When Drupal 8 launches it will bring with it many big changes. Having someone within your company with first-hand knowledge of these changes is invaluable on a number of fronts. He or she can help train or support your technical staff on the changes coming down the pipe, can help your sales team answer customer questions, and can help your marketing team with blog posts and presentations to establish you as a thought-leader on Drupal. I believe these things take less than 20% of a Drupal core contributor's time, which leaves more than 80% of time to contribute to Drupal.
But perhaps most importantly, it is a crucial contribution that helps ensure the future of the Drupal project itself and help us all avoid falling into the tragedy of the commons. While some core contributors have some amount of funding — ranging from 10% time from their employers to full-time employment (for example, most of Acquia's Office of the CTO are full-time core contributors) — most core contribution happens thanks to great personal sacrifice of the individuals involved. As the complexity and adoption of Drupal grows, there is a growing need for full-time Drupal contributors. Additionally, distributing employment of core contributors across multiple Drupal organizations can be healthy for Drupal; it ensures institutional independence, diversified innovation and resilience.
Measuring the impact of a Drupal core contributor on your business
While that sounds nice, the proof is in the numbers. So when I heard about Chapter Three hiring Alex Pott, I immediately called Chapter Three to congratulate them, but I also asked them to track Alex's impact on Chapter Three in terms of sales. If we can actually prove that hiring a Drupal core contributor is a great business investment, it could provide a really important breakthrough in making Drupal core development scalable.
I asked my team at Acquia to start tracking the impact of the Drupal core contributors on sales. Below, I'll share some data of how Acquia tracked this and why I'm bullish on there being a business case.
For Acquia, high quality content is the number one way to generate new sales leads. Marketers know that the key to doing online business is to become publishers. It is something that Acquia's Drupal developers all help with; developers putting out great content can turn your website into a magnet. And with the help of a well-oiled sales and marketing organization, you can turn visitors into customers.
Back in December, Angie "webchick" Byron did a Drupal 8 preview webinar for Acquia. The webinar attracted over 1,000+ attendees. We were able to track that this single piece of content generated $4.5MM in influenced pipeline #2, of which we've managed to close $1.5MM in business so far.
Even more impressive, Kevin O'Leary has done four webinars on Drupal's newest authoring experience improvements. In total, Kevin's webinars helped generate $9MM in influenced pipeline of which almost $4MM closed. And importantly, Kevin had not worked on Drupal prior to joining Acquia! It goes to show that you don't necessarily have to hire from the community; existing employees can be made core contributors and add value to the company.
Gábor Hojtsy regularly spends some of his time on sales calls and helped close several $500k+ deals. Moshe Weitzman occasionally travels to customers and helped renew several large deals. Moshe also wrote a blog post around Drupal 8's improved upgrade process using Migrate module. We aren't able to track all the details yet (working on it), but I'm sure some of the more than 3,200 unique viewers translated in to sales for us.
Conclusion: investment returned, and then some
Obviously, your results may vary. Acquia has an amazing sales and marketing engine behind these core contributor, driving the results. I hope Chapter Three tracks the impact of hiring Alex Pott and that they share the results publicly so we can continue to build the business case for employing full-time Drupal contributors. If we can show that is not just good for Drupal, but also good for business, we can scale Drupal development to new highs. I hope more Drupal companies will start to think this way.
#1 I assumed that of the 30 people, 25 are billable and 5 are non-billable. I also assumed an average fully-loaded cost per employee of $125k per head and gross revenue per head of around $180k. The basic math works out as follows: (25 employees x $180k) - (30 employees x $125k) = $750k in profit.
There are 365 days per year and about 104 weekend days. This means there are 260 business days. If you subtract 10 legal bank holidays you have 250 days remaining. If you subtract another 15 business days for vacations, conferences, medical leave and others, you have 230 business days left. With a blended hourly rate of $130 per hour and 75% utilization, you arrive at ~$180k gross revenue per billable head.
I confirmed these numbers with several Drupal companies in the US. Best in class digital agencies actually do better; they assume there are 2,000 billable hours in a year per head and maintain at least a 85% chargeability rate (i.e. 1,700 billable hours per head). Many companies do less because the maturity of their business, the market they are in, their geographic location, their ambitions, etc. It's not about what is "good" or "bad", but about what is possible.
#2 "Influenced pipeline" means that the content in question was one factor or touch point in what ultimately lead potential customers to become qualified sales leads and contacted by Acquia. On average, Acquia has 6 touch points for every qualified sales lead.