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TECHNOLOGY

Why I Stopped Giving It Away
 

Becoming a hero among Web developers was cool--but it didn't actually pay. So Dries Buytaert, the developer of Drupal, built a company.

Brand Loyalty Dries Buytaert doesn't have a Drupal tattoo. Plenty of his fans do.

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Dries Buytaert created Drupal, the platform on which millions of websites are now based, while still a student in his native Belgium. Drupal gave him considerable renown in a certain world, but, because the software is free and open source, it didn't actually provide him with a living. And so he started Acquia. As told to Eric Markowitz.

Recently I was in Portland, Oregon, and as I was walking to my hotel, some guy comes up to me and says, "Are you Dries?"

It's not like I'm a pop star, but I do get recognized. It happens at the airport, in supermarkets, and even at the beach.

I'm not the kind of person who likes to be in the spotlight. But at the same time, I feel very natural in my role, and so when I get recognized on the street, it's nice to have an opportunity to learn how that person is using Drupal.

There is a lot of passion in the Drupal community. I've seen people shave their heads and leave nothing but a Druplicon, Drupal's logo. At Drupal events, some developers dress up as the Druplicon. Some people have even gotten Drupal tattoos.

"For the first seven and a half years, I didn't make any money from Drupal. It was a hobby project."

My fans send me pictures. One that comes to mind—I can't forget it—is of a man riding a bike with a Drupal sticker on his bum. Besides the sticker, he's completely nude.

During the years I was working on my Ph.D., Drupal grew to be a relatively big project. Larger organizations were starting to use it. I remember being on the phone with MTV in the U.K. one night, trying to help them fix some scalability issues after they launched on Drupal.

But for the first seven and a half years, I didn't make any money from it. It was just a hobby project, and I was volunteering my time troubleshooting problems for users. By the time I was finishing school, I had something like 400 euros left.

It became clear to me that for Drupal to be successful and to be accepted by larger organizations, they would need IT support. It was also a good business model for us. In December 2007, my co-founder, Jay Batson, and I raised $7 million to start Acquia, which is an enterprise guide for Drupal. I remember I was still writing my dissertation while I was out raising money.

One of the biggest goosebumps moments in my lifetime was a couple years back at the DrupalCon in San Francisco. There were a little over 3,000 people in the audience. I don't know why, but at some point I asked the crowd, "If Drupal has changed your life, will you please stand up?" Almost 3,000 people stood up. It was overwhelming.

IMAGE: Miller Mobley
Last updated: Sep 6, 2012




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