The Drupal Product Summit
We started the Drupal Products meeting planning out what sessions to have based on the Open Space Technology approach - a methodology that was familiar to most of us given that it is the same approach that was used for various CxO meetings in the Drupal world.
Nevertheless, right from the start it was obvious that this was not going to be a straightforward meeting. While in other meetings were more traditional (i.e. service-company related) Drupal business issues were discussed topics and different concerns were easy to identify and groups were quickly formed it was particularly difficult to do so for the Products meeting. Everything seemed very interdependent and ultimately could be summarized with four questions:
a. What are Drupal products?
b. Does an appstore make sense?
c. What business models are viable and how can they be financed?
d. What is already out there - what are people doing now?
So lets take it each turn.
What are Drupal Products?
We spent about an hour discussing this without any clear easy-to-digest answer other than some characteristics and some examples. Now, unfortunately I didn't take a note of all of them so this is from memory.
The characteristics of a Drupal product that stuck with me were:
a. It has a brand.
b. It is repeatable.
c. It is scalable.
d. It is of a certain quality.
e. It has a fixed price - or at least a well defined immediately transparent pricing structure.
What I concluded is that it is easier to say what a Drupal Product is when we look at what is not a Drupal Product - and that tends to be consulting / services.
Examples of Drupal Products were things like themes, distros, apps, hosting but also training, fixed support packages, and even certification made it in the list.
Does an appstore make sense?
Critics of the Drupal appstore idea will be pleased to hear that most people thought that a centralized, community-run appstore is simply not a viable idea right now. There are three serious limitations:
1. The technology is not there in a realistic way. Yes there is an emerging standard, and even a module but to go from there to the utopia of any Drupal site being able to access a store, download an app and have it running reliably on their own machine a lot has to be done.
2. It is not clear who should be responsible for an appstore. Who defines what is ethical and what is not, who checks the apps, who foots the bill when apps don't work and sites go down?
3. The scale might simply not be there. Exactly how many sites would buy apps, are there enough for a sustainable business? Would an app developer earn enough to justify giving up consulting?
Without talking even more about the appstore I think that right now the idea of a big centralized appstore is not viable. That does not mean that distro makers could not decide to invest to built appstores that work in a very controlled environment and cater for a very specific distro (although the scale issue remains).
What business models are viable and how can they be financed?
Glad to report that there is no shortage of ideas here even when the appstore is out of the way. I am not going to go into too much detail. The headings are in the post-it notes on the side.
The overarching feeling is that SaaS models are the most straightforward to work with. Find a need that can be met with either a combination of a Drupal Distro / Module to create a platform on top of which a SaaS offering can be built or built a SaaS service that many Drupal sites would need such as SOLR search.
Financing comes down to whether you want to bootstrap or looking for external funding and whether you can handle the tension between the service side of your business that is making the money and the product side that will, at least initially, be burning it.
What is already out there - what are people doing now?
The second day of the meeting was spent essentially pitching each other with our ideas. I thought this was really useful and gave us the best sense of what is happening out there. I am not going to go into details to avoid misrepresenting any single idea but overall the ideas could be broken down into:
a. SaaS services: We are working on a SaaS service + distro for hotels but there are plenty of other areas that could benefit from the same approach and some are being attacked right now by Drupalistas, which is great.
b. Your Drupal Site as a service (ala Drupal Gardens or Buzr) - expect to see more competition in this field, which can only be a good thing.
c. Distros attacking specific concerns such as CRMs, NGO needs, Kickstarter-style solutions.
d. Integrations that will provide a bridge for Drupal to enter other fields such as the financial sector.
What happens now?
My take-aways from the entire meeting are two:
1. The Drupal Product space is heating up but there is still a world of opportunity out there.
2. Whatever our product we all need to make a concentrated effort to grow the Drupal ecosystem. We can't have successful Drupal Products without clients and we can't have more clients without growing the Drupal world. Every product that addresses a specific market is a change for Drupal to grow in the market - the more markets we can cover the more sense it will make to build Drupal products and who knows... one day we might even get an appstore :-)