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Drupal world domination - step 2

on Wed, 08/22/2012 - 09:35

In recent years, a new breed of incubators called seed accelerators have had success helping new companies get started. They provide mentoring, connections, and capital. Depending on the accelerator, even the branding from having been accepted into the program adds value.

The best example I've seen is TechStars. TechStars has helped launch dozens of companies over several years by attracting extraordinary mentors, and running a well-thought-out program for getting startups off the ground. Historically, TechStars built programs in specific cities, and now has four: Boulder, Portland (OR), New York, and Boston. In 2012 it also ran its first vertical-specific program (TechStars Cloud). This was in Austin, but attracted startups from all over the world.

This trend is interesting to me in light of Drupal's rapid expansion. There is a very clearly a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs to build companies providing applications, distributions, tools, analytics, web services and more in, on and around Drupal. Seeding and feeding the ecosystem with a TechStars-like accelerator would make Drupal even stronger, in turn creating even more opportunities in a virtuous cycle.

So I'm going to spend some time seeing if I can put together a Seed Accelerator for Drupal. Thus - step 2 in my personal plan for Drupal world domination.

What would this look like? I'm not completely sure yet. I suspect it would work a great deal like the TechStars program (see also the FAQ):

  • Interested teams would submit an application to get into the program. The application period would be open for several months
  • All applications are reviewed, and a handful - probably around 10 - are selected and offered entry into the program
  • Those who join would get a small amount of direct seed funding, plus more in an optional convertible debt note
  • Those who join must commit to come to Boston for a 3-month intensive mentoring program full of learning opportunities, direct mentoring and coaching on getting their business off the ground
  • The program provides co-working space during the program
  • At the end, there is a Demo Day. If the TechStars team is illustrative, the audience will be full of angel and venture investors, and potential business partners, to help take the graduates to the next level

Obviously this is not something I can do while working for Acquia. Operating an incubator like this means creating deep, and confidential relationships with the founders of the companies. This isn't appropriate to do while I'm still part of the team here.

So I'm going to begin to step away from Acquia. Very soon, I'll be shadowing the Boston TechStars program running this fall in Boston. In parallel, I hope to "fill the pipeline" with companies that would want to be in this kind of accelerator.

IF (and it's a big if) there are enough interested companies, and if I can pull together all the capital and other things it takes to get an incubator off the ground, the first session would be in early 2013. This Drupal incubator may - or may not - be associated with TechStars. (I haven't even talked to TechStars about such a thing.) But I'll use techniques from them whether it is or not.

On a personal level, it's been over 5 years since I co-founded Acquia with Dries Buytaert in order to build a significant company. I think I can say we succeeded, and I'm proud of the result, including having been named in this year's Inc. 500 list as the #1 fastest growing software company, the #8 fastest growing company on the list, and the top Massachusetts company on the list.

In particular, I want to express how grateful I am to have worked with Dries. I'm not sure that I have worked with another person in my career who has the integrity he does. He is uncannily smart at a young age, eager and willing to learn from those around him - yet bring his own way of doing things to the process. He is a remarkable leader for the Drupal community, which I would assert is as great as it is in large part due to Dries' ability to act as its humble leader. Most of all, I will miss the ability to walk down the hall and get his thoughts on something (when he's in town!) I hope, though, to be able to continue our interactions in a new way if this accelerator succeeds.

And in doing so, I'll be following in the great tradition of "spinning out successful management talent to start (or help) new product companies". This tradition is the potent fuel driving geographies like Silicon Valley, Boston, and other tech-heavy cities. Drupal needs some of this type of fuel, and it's time I help provide it. I've been doing quite a bit of mentoring over the last year for Founder Mentors and MassChallenge. I've found it immensely rewarding, and it turns out that I've learned a few things by having been a serial entrepreneur that are useful to new founders. So this is an exciting thing for me, too.

Interested in being in the accelerator?

As I said above, the soonest this might get off the ground is 2013. I've got lots of things to pull together. BUT, the biggest thing to do is to fill the pipeline. If you have an interest in being part of a Drupal Accelerator program, please do this:

  • Send me your contact information
  • Provide a 1-2 sentence description of what you think your business is. Do NOT send a complete description, business plan, or other confidential information. I don't have the appropriate process in place yet to handle all that confidential information. A formal application process will have that. "Wait for it...."
  • Note: "Professional services" companies - those that build Drupal sites - are not the type of company that needs this kind of accelerator. So if that's what you have, or want to start, I'm sorry, but those won't get over the bar.
  • Make sure you tell me you've read this entire post, plus TechStars process & FAQ above, just so you realize what this is all about, and that the timing works for you.
  • Leave as much contact information for yourself as you wish. The more the better.

I will acknowledge your email, and put you on an email list that I'll use to communicate with everybody who is interested.

I think this sounds exciting - I hope you do.