Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Drupal CXO Panel Meet : Managing a Drupal consulting firm

Dries lighting the lamp. Image : Vasudeesha

After an early morning flight from Bangalore to Delhi, and a ride in the Delhi Airport Metro Express (DAME) and the Delhi local metro, I was late for Drupal Camp Delhi. Unfortunately I missed the Dries' keynote speech. But however the Panel discussion was still in progress and the volunteers ushered me to the Panel Discussion Hall. Being a speaker at the camp did help after all.

The room boasted off  CXO's of most popular small and medium scale Drupal houses from India. [For those of you those who don't know what CXO is, basically X can be replaced by a meaningful letter. So CTO, CEO, CFO, CLOs ... all fall under CXO]

These were the following points that caught my attention during the panel discussion.

Lack of Drupal Talent : This was one issue that every CXO in the room agreed to. Being a Drupal developer myself, I could not agree more. The number of calls I keep getting regarding the new opportunities to shift is just a testimony.

The response from Dries & Ron was that even Acquia faces the problem, and their solution was to start the drupal training by themselves and then create a in-house talent pool. The CXOs too felt that this is the only viable option that was available to them. But since training a talent pool in-house is not cheap either, most of them felt that a group of companies coming together to have a common training was something that they were willing to try out.

Specialization is the key :  It was interesting to see the CXOs swear by their companies that they would not work on the projects that don't pay them well (read as 15$/hour projects). Looks like they have learnt their lessons the hard-way. The problem with the 15$/hour projects is that they don't give the companies enough scope to innovate but takes up the resources of the company. One of the CXO went ahead and said "I would rather have people on bench rather than working on one such project". 

Irrespective of the companies and the regions, it is a know fact that Drupal houses in India work very cheap. Their per hour rates are abysmal. Not many India companies are in a position to charge more than 50$/ hour for the development. The key here is specialization. The companies can cross this border only if they have a niche and they can promote themselves as specialists. Specialization doesn't come cheap and companies have to invest their time and resources on them. But the results are worth the efforts. The other advantage of the specialization is that it gives the companies an easy exit from the projects. So the companies have a definite deadline. They know when their entry is and they can plan when their exit should be. "Don't be a slave of your own creations" somebody from the panel rightly quoted.

Scaling Drupal Companies :  Drupal is good for a freelancer. It is good for the startups too. But what next. How can Drupal companies scale? This was the question. Partnerships, Mergers and Acquisitions was the answer. Most of the Companies have European and UK partners who bag the projects and these companies take care of the executions. There was a CXO in the room, whose company was recently acquired. (Rahul mentioned this after taking his permission.) 

Few of the CXO's were of the opinion that Acquia should partner more with the India companies and give them the much needed credibility, which the bigger corporations expect. But Acquia was of the opinion that they can only partner with the companies in India if they have a particular niche. Acquia also made it clear that they were not partnering with any companies in India, as most of them were into the whole development cycles and didn't have a niche of their own.

Exit strategies : This was something which I had never thought of until I attended the panel discussion. The fact that these people are thinking about the exit strategies proves that these people are considering Drupal seriously as a money making instrument, which is good for Drupal in particular and open source in general. I was just wondering if Acquia also has an exit strategy and what would that be.

If this was one perspective, Mohan from Azri solutions introduced another interesting perspective namely "Exit strategy from the clients". Most of the companies would have gone through this. Though the project if functionally complete, you still need to spend lot of time with the clients doing the menial tasks like content creation, formatting and changing the texts... Mohan rightfully pointed out that educating the clients is the best solution for this. Have a workshop with the technical team of the clients and transfer the most of the responsibilities to their in-house team so that our valued time can be spent on something more productive.

Lack of visibility :  Visibility of the Indian Drupal houses to me seemed to be Abysmal as always. Drupal houses from India not even featuring in the top ten for searches like "Drupal Companies India" only makes the things much worse. One of them brought this to the notice of the panel saying that when he actually wanted to give out a project to a Indian Drupal team, he was not able to find the names of most of the companies in the panel room. Pity! . The only SME that everybody felt had a better visibility was Srijan.

At-least in this angle, Drupal India still has long way to go. I have just reserved a domain called www.drupalenterprise.in I am planning to make it like a portal where drupal companies can list themselves, their details and their projects, so that it will be easier for the clients to find them. If you have any ideas or want to contribute to this project, write to me nkgokul at gmail dot com


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lakshminp said...

Gokul, can't agree enough. Excellent summary of the Indian Drupal landscape. I am reminded of http://cyrve.com/niche, which echoes the same sentiments, i.e. specialising in a niche.

Gaurav M said...

Thanks for a healthy post!
Wanted to know curiously about, what happened in Deccan

Gokul NK said...

Thanks Gaurav and Lakshminp

@Lakshminp : Went through the article you mentioned. A good read. Thanks for sharing

@Gaurav : I have started my post on DrupalCampDeccan. But has been in draft mode since long :P Will post it soon

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