Interview with Jeff Whatcott, former VP Marketing, Acquia

I interviewed Jeff Whatcott about marketing Drupal and Acquia at Gilbane Boston conference. He was then VP Marketing, Acquia and recently moved to work in the same role at Brightcove.

Jeff is probably one of the brightest software marketing experts out there and in this interview, he shares some valuable insights. Most notably, he explains how Acquia offers extended functionality in the cloud for Drupal and builds a business around this combination of Open Source and SaaS that also leverages network effects. In a way, this could make Acquia the Google of the Drupal community.

As with all videos, you can

Get a Dose of Semantics: Open Source Contributors Wanted for EU Project

The EU-funded IKS Project invites FOSS companies and projects to take part in building a software stack for knowledge management that is Open Source.

IKS is funded with 6.5 million Euros by the European Union and 2 million Euros are being invested by the consortium partners which makes up for an overall budget of 8.5 millions. The project will run for 4 years.

Financial support is available for 50 yet to be selected companies/organizations who agree to evaluate the IKS software stack as early adopters as well as 100 individuals who are members of a related FOSS project and who would like to actively engage in IKS project development. The budget for contributors to IKS is meant to alleviate the entry hurdles, e.g. for travel and accommodation for attending the IKS workshop end of May.

The premier focus of IKS is on FOSS content management systems and how they can make use of the to-be-developed IKS technology to let content objects behave the way they are supposed to across varying applications. Additionally, IKS also aims at cooperating with FOSS projects helping to implement semantics-aware software.

Wernher Behrendt, one of the initiators of IKS, exemplifies the project’s vision as follows:

Think of a task that has been defined in a project management software. Ideally, the project management software allows you to edit the task as you would expect it, for example, you can extend the ending date in case the work will take longer. Now, what happens if you want to transfer your work plan to the Web content management system that powers your Web site to display it to the public?

You will most likely create a screenshot of the work plan in the project management software, upload the screenshot in your WCMS and include it on a Web page. In between, you have lost all information about what a task is and how another application should treat it in case you want to edit it within the imported work plan.

This is where IKS comes to the rescue, because its software stack will not only provide a layer that takes care of metadata information (e.g. Ontologies, RDF, …), but will also be able to deal with information on how to process a content object across different applications.

If you’d like to join, IKS provides further information on its Web site and how to get in contact with them. Contribute to IKS as a…

Calendar of Open Source, IT, Industry-specific Events

World-wide Free and Open Source Software EventsInitMarketing has made its calendar of world-wide conferences and trade fairs related to Free and Open Source Software, IT and specific industries available to the public.

It currently includes 122 events in 17 countries taking place in 2009. 43 of them in Germany, 69 in USA. We use this calendar when planing events for our customers, thus we’ll regularly update it. Please let us know of any events which are not on our radar yet by commenting to my blog or commenting at the bottom of the events page.

Open Source CMS Companies Wanted for EU Project Proposal

Wolfgang Maass contacted me and asked if I would like to join the board of experts of an EU project they are going to propose. They are actually also looking for Open Source CMS companies (vendors or system integrators) who would like to join as a partner.

The EU project proposal entitled „Interactive Knowledge“ is currently being developed by a consortium which is led by Salzburg Research. The objective is to develop a “next generation semantic content management framework” based on existing frameworks, but with significant technological improvements ranging from RDF-storage to easy definition of workflows and business rules, and to dynamically re-configurable web interfaces.

Some more info on the objectives in Wolfgang’s words:

Our experience is that many smaller content management solution providers find it hard to make full use of the new standards such as RDF and CSS 3.0 when it comes to keeping solutions maintainable, re-usable or when it comes to cross-media publishing on mobile and other platforms. Increasingly, content management needs to interface with the “Internet of things”, e.g. you can get additional health information about a certain food product, by entering the retail store’s product code into a web-based content management system or into your mobile PA.

This is what the „Interactive Knowledge“ EU project will offer:

  • 50 smaller CMS companies can become early adopters (small grants of up to 12.000 Euro are possible)
  • 7 European SMEs who have content management systems will be offered to become full partners in this project and act as requirements experts as well as getting their own frameworks benchmarked with respect to their semantic capabilities. There are budgets between 80.000 and 200.000 Euro available, at a funding rate of 75%.

So, the „Interactive Knowledge“ EU project proposal is an excellent opportunity to benefit from a large scale R&D effort.

I know Wolfgang for quite some time and he told me that the project administrators have a very good track record in this type of project, are experts in the field and can assist with the administrative entry hurdles. This is good, because it will avoid that the EU bureaucracy and lazy project partners will eat up your valuable resources. I know how important this is because I have experience as a work package leader on behalf of eZ Systems of the successfully finished tOSSad EU project.

If you are interested, please send an email to wolfgang dot maass at hs-furtwangen dot de no later than this Thursday, March 20th, 2008.

See you at the kick-off meeting after the EU accepted the proposal :)

Drupal Marketing Dissected

Let me share some of my analysis of Drupal marketing efforts while getting prepared for my talk Marketing Open Source Software at Drupalcon. Comments are highly welcome, be it to this blog entry or during my talk or any day while I am at Drupalcon.

Drupal is a great brand

The Drupal brand is highly visible: For example, a Google search for Drupal generates 19 million results. Compare this with Alfresco, generating just 1.8 million results (including the Alfresco Grill).

The Drupal brand is vivid: A big part of the Drupal brand is in the people in the community.

Drupal is a registered trademark: That allows VCs to justify a $7 million investment.

Drupal is successful

There will be a whopping 800 attendees at Drupalcon – sold out – wow! That’s double the amount of the previous conference. Nice growth rate.

200 000 registered users at, 300 signing up each day, Drupal downloads approaching 100 000 a month, and more impressive Drupal statistics.

Comparing this with the statistics of other Open Source CMS, it clearly places Drupal in the top league.

Drupal marketing is community-driven

Drupal joined the forefront of Open Source marketing. Not only is the product Open Source, but marketing Drupal is itself being managed and performed like an Open Source project. Everyone is invited to contribute to Drupal marketing by helping craft a marketing strategy, positioning statement, marketing collaterals and all.

This leads to a load of valuable information created by enthusiastic volunteers which would typically cost tens of thousands of dollars. For example, take a look at the Drupal 6 landing page and you will be greeted by plenty of information and many videocasts.

Drupal is not the first when it comes to community-driven marketing. The Typo3 Communication Committee and its members such as the excellent Daniel Hinderink are doing a great job in volunteer-based marketing. The Plone community is also following that marketing path.

Balancing interests of Drupal stakeholders

Drupal Association and Acquia, the VC-backed startup of Drupal lead Dries Buytaert, are the backbones of Drupal’s success. Both organizations are being lead by Dries, which is good, because it ensures a balanced strategy. In Dries’ own words:

Since the health and vitality of the Drupal project at large is extremely important to us, we’ve taken great pains to make sure that I am able to continue to act for the best interests of the Drupal community at large as I have done for the past 7 years.

Drupal marketing challenges

Sounds like the sun always shines in Drupal land, but there are severe challenges ahead for the Drupal community.

Let’s look at the issues from a strategic point first:

  • Does the Drupal community want to grow? I guess so.
  • How do they want to grow? I have no clue and did not find any public information or discussion yet. Do they want to appeal more to business professionals (e.g. system integrators) now that there is a Red Hat style support subscription for Drupal within eyespot?
  • What are the means for growth? Drupal Association invests what they get from donations and sponsors. Apparently, they can raise quite some money e.g. for Drupalcon. Will they be able to raise money for marketing if necessary?

It is clear that Drupal needs to focus its marketing if they wanted to communicate to business professionals. This is presumably in the interest of Acquia. It is of course also in the interest of Drupal Association and all other members of the Drupal community, because clear messages will attract more pragmatists to Drupal’s Open Source market place – this is where the money is.

Some concrete suggestions from my perspective, which is somewhere between a visionary (I still feel young-at-heart) and pragmatist (I do have some experience):

The impression I have of Drupalcon up-to-now is: chaos.

The schedule was made available only two weeks before the event happens – much too late! A friend of mine who wants to meet with me at Drupalcon asked me a few days ago: “Sandro, I would attend only two days, which days would you recommend?” Well, I could not tell him, because there was no schedule available.

I was happy that I knew very early that my talk was accepted, but I felt uncomfortable that I did not know the exact day and time. Drupalcon is not my only concern, I have an open source marekting company to manage and some work to do myself. I rather book flights late, because some urgent work or customer meeting might require me to depart later or return earlier then planned.

Furthermore, I did not receive an email telling me that my talk was accepted. Maybe this is because the organizers told me in advance in private email. What about other speakers? Did they first hear that their talk was accepted from the various blog posts? If so, then I recommend that Drupalcon organizers don’t assume that potential speakers read their blog, because some people might simply not have the time to do so. Just send them an email and make all other necessary information available on the Drupalcon Web site.

Speaking about the Drupalcon Web site … too much information at too many places and not properly organized. The most important piece of information, the week at a glance schedule is even unavailable right now. Similar issues exist with the Drupal 6 landing page, which provides too much information and makes it hard to grasp the major benefits of Drupal 6 in ten seconds.

In fact, there is also important information missing or hard to find (at least, I did not manage to find it quickly enough). For example, how can I get an idea of the Drupal business environment, because I want to make sure that there is enough support I can get for money? There is a list of Drupal hosting companies, but that is only a fraction of all businesses. What about system integrators, media agencies, training providers, and so on?

Community-driven marketing is a mixed blessing

All of the above issues show that community-driven marketing can have its downsides. What looks like an highly dynamic community from the inside can easily look like a chaotic bunch of volunteers from the outside. To avoid this impression, Drupal marketing needs to better take care of the limited time available to professionals who “just” do business with Drupal.

This means two things:

First, at the top entry levels (e.g. Drupal 6 landing page), always provide only very necessary information. This information should help the audience to decide:

  1. This is not of interest to me
  2. I will take a look at this later
  3. I want to jump right into it

Second, don’t mix up pull information (e.g. Weblogs) with push information (e.g. speaker confirmation), make sure you adhere to best practices, so that your audience is not being confused by unexpected behavior (i.e. there is no alternative to sending out speaker confirmation emails).

Wanted: Drupal marketing lead

Please, Drupal marketing volunteers, don’t get me wrong. I think you are doing a tremendous job, I think you stand out from the crowd and do your best with fantastic results. What you do need now is a marketing strategy as the basis for consolidation and a leader in Drupal marketing who thoroughly takes care of focusing the brand.

The saying goes that a good software developer can boil down 100 lines of code to at least a third, providing the same functionality with higher performance. This is what the Drupal marketing lead is supposed to do with Drupal’s marketing collaterals: Have her boil down information to a third or fifth to make the message clearer and Drupal marketing will perform better.

The tough part for the marketing lead will be to drive consensus among the Drupal community, such as picking the best slogan from a myriad of suggestions. Unfortunately, marketing is not like software programming. The wrong slogan will not throw an error if you run it, at least not immediately. The risk is that marketing-related discussions can last forever – with let’s say 20 000 community members having 40 000 opinions – if there is no accepted authority or biased skepticism against marketing amongst community leaders.