October 12, 2016
Part four of our DrupalCamp LA Table Talk! This week the shop owners of Achieve Internet, Stauffer, ActiveLAMP and Facet Interactive discuss proprietary software vs Drupal. Make sure to check out the previous 3 parts to this exciting table talk if you happened to miss it!
Ron Huber: Proprietary software does a really good job of being everything to everybody. When somebody goes and pitches something for a proprietary side, they’ll say yes to everything, where in open source, we’ll say, well we do this really well, and it’ll integrate and that’s no problem, but we don’t sell it as the end-all. We sell it as it’s a solid player and this is what we can do with it and we feel comfortable because that’s just our way of approaching things. We’re a community of good people. Where on the other side, when they sell the internet of things, there are platforms out there that are, “Oh, we’re going to control the world,” and they won’t let you do anything but control the world. Everything has to go through their system. They can do everything and they get you on it and it’s too late once you realize that it only gets you about 75% of the way there. We have to sell it differently now.
Tom Friedhof: This is where the argument of the open web and silos comes in, right? And obviously, Drupal’s pushing for the open web, because with these silos - say your marketing platform is on Facebook, right? If you want to do anything above and beyond what Facebook allows you to do, you can’t. You’re stuck within their platform.
Jordan Ryan: That’s their audience.
Tom Friedhof: Exactly. And if you want to reach that audience, you have to pay for it.
Chris Stauffer: I believe that quote was, “If you didn’t pay for it, you are the product.”
Jordan Ryan: Right. That’s very true. You know, all those Facebook followers that you have can go in, and it’s a reality they think a lot of small business owners and medium-sized enterprises - they don’t realize, if that page goes away, your whole platform you spent all that money on is gone.
Chris Stauffer: I liked what both of you two just said a second ago, which was kind of that that’s one of the main value adds of open-source. I had a conversation on Friday with a particular client - er, gentleman - that’s been my client three times in the past, but his new start-up company is not my client. So he went with a quote/unquote open platform, and I’m putting air quotes around it, that would get him on all of these different devices. He’s basically doing an MCM. So you have video platform - they did all of these different things, and he was really, really stoked, and really excited when he first told me about it. And now he’s ready to go, and he’s ready to make some changes, and they told him no, and he can’t do anything. Whereas the initial platform that I was originally pitching him was, we’ll start off with responsive web, like normal, we could throw an Android or iOS layer on top. It’ll be nice a simple, and then you’ll be able to do whatever you want to.
Ron Huber: You pivot when you need to pivot.
Chris Stauffer: Right, you pivot when you need to. And now he’s sitting there going, “I can’t get them to do the things I want them to do.” And I’m like, “Dude, I would’ve told you you could do whatever you want.” You know? I got no limitations - you want it? We’ll build it.
Tom Friedhof: But there’s a cost to that as well.
Chris Stauffer: There is! There is.
Ron Huber: Because you don’t benefit from the other hundred clients that are also asking for something.
Chris Stauffer: I mean, yeah. The initial bid for him was going to end up being about a hundred large to just kind of do a very simple CMS with a simple video object and couple simple video apps layered on top of that. And it did save him a hundred grand upfront, but now he’s to a place where he wants to actually start monetizing his assets and actually start doing a lot of those different things that he’s unable to do, and he’s probably going to end up paying a hundred grand anyways. That kind of makes sense. Because he can’t take it where he needs to.
Jordan Ryan: I’m not knocking anyone, but if you’re building a business, you shouldn’t be building on someone else’s platform. You build your own.
Ron Huber: Very good point, right? Here you are, all your technology is owned by somebody else, and you’re assuming - of course - that company’s going to be around forever. You’re also assuming that you’re a large enough client that you can drive them into do what you need them to do. And, I don’t know, most of the clients are not that big. We are actually building a java application right now, because one of our large media companies, the third-party system that they paid for went out of business.
Chris Stauffer: That sucks.
Ron Huber: Went out of business, they gave them the software, so they’re running the software, but they have to replicate it, and they have to replicate it soon, because if it fails, there’s no way they can touch it. It just goes down. So we’re busy replicating the whole thing, so that they don’t have this point of failure. And it’s great, because we’ll build it, it’ll integrate into Drupal without a problem, which is a hundred of their other websites, and it’ll be able to sit in there and integrate without any issue. But it’s on a different technology, and very few other proprietary systems will allow another technology to come in and play nice. It’s a very powerful tool, but you gotta pay the hundred thousand dollars upfront, which is killing us, because that’s a big, big investment. If you can just sign on for twenty-five hundred dollars, and - boom, here I am - that’s great.
Chris Stauffer: And that’s basically what the guy did, by the way. I don’t think it was twenty-five hundred, I think he paid ten for the whole platform.
Ron Huber: Ten, but maybe that’s the business side of it. He should go ten, cause if you’re starting a business, you put in a little bit of money - it’s basically your MVP, and you get it tested, and then you move it over.
Chris Stauffer: For the time, I think he probably actually did make the right decision, but since he was successful, now it’s the wrong decision.
Jordan Ryan: But he has to know that going into it, though.
Chris Stauffer: He did.
Jordan Ryan: The context of having a conversation with those kinds of people, and when we have those conversations - “Look, hosting service, build your own - this will probably give you runway for six months if you don’t want to build it right now. And then prove that it works, and then come back to this later. But prove that it works, right?
Chris Stauffer: He did get a second round of funding.
Ron Huber: There you go. People have a hard time with just the minimal viable product concept. And it’s really not the developers, or the engineers; it’s a CFO. The CFO wants it all done, cause he wants to write one check, and be done with it. As much as we tell them, “How do you know you’re gonna need this six months from now? Cause you can’t even tell us your requirements today. We’re building you a platform for something that we’re guessing at, you’re asking us to guess at. We’re building it, it’s working, you get it running, and chances are six months, or eight months from now, you’re going to realize - hey, this piece that’s sitting over here is making me a lot of money, and I didn’t put any effort at all into it. Okay, now I’m going to pivot and go that way.” Well, you can’t do that. If you build the whole dream - the two-year plan - upfront, then you’ve built the two-year plan and 50% of it’s not being used. But sometimes, these executives - marketing, CFO, etc. - get so hung up on the overall, “We want to do it once.”
Chris Stauffer: “We want to do it once and it has to be done right the first time.”
Jordan Ryan: This is the experience that we’re supposed to have, right?
Ron Huber: Well, we do.
Jordan Ryan: That’s a sales point for CFOs.
Ron Huber: Right. But getting people to buy into that is the hard part. And I don’t know - this is where I think proprietary software really kills it, is because they already have a package. It might be twice as much, or a three-year commitment - which is just silly. They’re selling ten-thousand dollars a month or a hundred-thousand dollars a month on something that’s already built, and that’s what we want, whether they use it or not. I’ve been looking at this, trying to figure this out for years, and I just don’t have an answer for open source. But I do think it’s still - that’s a part of our big challenge, and where we’re going with that.
Tom Friedhof: The value proposition is freedom, right? It’s the open web. It’s the freedom to do what we want to do with the applications we built. When obviously there’s the cost.
Ron Huber: And ownership, right? They own it.
Chris Stauffer: I think one of the other things, too, that I’ve started to sell as a value proposition of open source is that there’s no vendor lock-in either. I can honestly look a client in the eye and tell them, “Look, my boys follow the rules, and if, at the end of the project, you don’t like me, hire Achieve. Because I guarantee his team could pick up my code, and just be like ‘alright’.” And they would just keep running, as long as we’re following the Drupal rules and Drupal standards, there’s no vendor lock-in.
Ron Huber: Better yet, you could hire internally. Anybody you feel like. We don’t really want to do your maintenance, right? We want you to do your maintenance. We want to build your next ambitious goal, cause that’s what we’re really good at. But to do your maintenance, you should hire internally or a sub-contractor, or get India to do it.
Chris Stauffer: My point, though, was more that you’re not locked in. I have this other client that hired an engineer to develop a 100% custom system, and the engineer was, on a scale of one to ten, about a two and a half or a three. And so the whole thing is completely a worthless platform, and now my team is going in and reverse-engineering the worthless platform, to then move them out of the worthless platform, into something that’s solid. And they’re literally having to pay, I’m going to call it a $30,000 tax, if you will, on just my boys figuring out what that last guy was thinking. And with Drupal, as long as my team followed the rules, I can look a client in the eye and guarantee them that will never happen. You could, to Ron’s point, hire internal staff. You could hire a competitor, you could do anything you want to, and you’re not locked in. Whereas the client that I was referencing that wrote the proprietary software, that only worked for them - that, realistically, was a couple hundred-thousand dollar mistake. Pretty much. Because by the time she’s done, the cost of her business, the cost of my bills, the cost of the bills she had previously - all of those costs are just ridiculous, compared to if she would’ve just hired us to do it in Drupal to begin with.
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