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A Point Of Inflection... and Reflection

Lately I have seen a number of posts in our Forums pointing out the fact that I have been much less vocal in community channels in recent months. Some people have even speculated that the reason for my absence may be related to the fact that we recently received Series A funding and that my role in the project has been significantly diminished - that I have been "castrated" or "muzzled" and that a "gag order" may now be in effect for the original project founders. Some folks have even gone as far as to suggest that I did not author the Founders Message in the last Community Newsletter sent out in February to coincide with the launch of Professional Edition - that it was actually written by "Marketing" or "Public Relations" consultants. All of these items seem to point to the same phenomenon - that there is currently a high degree of fear and uncertainty amongst the members of our community. And honestly, this is a perfectly natural reaction when you consider the magnitude of the recent changes in the DNN project.

So first off, let's get one major misconception out of the way: My role in the DotNetNuke project has not changed.

Yes, we received Series A funding late in the fall of 2008. And yes, we now have investors on the Board of Directors of DotNetNuke Corporation. And believe me, I have definitely heard more than my share of horror stories of how VC's have destroyed various technology companies in their lust for a quick exit. But the reality of the situation is that the early stage investment game is based on an equal combination of cutting-edge technology AND a committed team of entrepreneurs who can execute the plan and take the opportunity to market. So as project creator and company founder, it is not even an option for me to take on a diminished role in this venture - the investors are demanding that I continue to play a central and key role. So my title of Chief Architect is more relevant than ever, and there is also an expectation that I will continue to be the main spokesperson and evangelist in the community.

So if I am expected to play a central and key role in the organization, some of you are probably wondering how this works logistically with our new CEO ( we announced the appointment of Navin Nagiah as CEO of DotNetNuke Corporation a few weeks after the funding announcement ). Did the VC's parachute their own CEO candidate into the company as a condition of doing the deal? How does this affect overall the chemistry of the company? Does this guy understand open source? The reality is that Navin had been working with us as a business advisor for 10 months prior to funding ( ie. he was not dropped on us by the investors ) and he had already established a great deal of trust and respect with the founding team members. Navin actually came from CIGNEX, a Systems Integrator which was the largest sponsor of the open source web content management project, Plone. Navin and I are in constant communication on a daily basis. Navin is ultimately responsible for the overall business operations, finances, and administrative aspects of the company. And he relies on me to do what I have always done on the project - manage the product and engineering efforts.

So why have I been so quiet in recent months?

Well, I can definitely assure everyone that it has nothing to do with the investors trying to gag me or censor any information. We are really lucky to have investors who really understand open source software. August Capital, represented by Vivek Mehra,  holds the esteemed recognition of being the first VC firm to ever invest in an open source company ( Cygnus Solutions, which was later acquired by RedHat ). Sierra Ventures, represented by Tim Guleri, also had a past open source investment - in SourceFire Inc. who successfully nurtured a popular open source network intrusion software product to an IPO in 2007. Last but not least, our independent Board member Larry Augustin  is a software industry visionary and highly regarded open source business strategist. These guys understand the value of a huge, vibrant community and do not need to be convinced that transparency and communication are vital to success. And in fact, at our last Board Meeting in late April, I was actually put on the spot and asked why I have not been blogging regularly ( yes, they pay attention to these things ). My answer was honest ( but rather weak )...

I have been REALLY busy.

Seriously though, I don't think people realize the magnitude of the changes we have experienced in recent months. Prior to funding, DotNetNuke Corporation was a company of 5 distributed engineers, each working out of home offices, relying on minimal resources and infrastructure, and each investing superhuman effort to try and keep the various parts of the project and community operational. We definitely achieved a certain level of success working under these extreme constraints, but we knew that it was not a scalable model and we worried everyday that the whole endeavour could implode. This was a driving factor in seeking funding and you cannot imagine the relief when we were able to get a favourable term sheet just before the U.S. economy took a turn for the worse.

So once the money was in the bank, shouldn't it be just like stepping on the gas pedal - ie. instant acceleration? Well, it really shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that this is definitely NOT the case. Based on our situation prior to funding, we had a ton of work to do to establish the basic business foundation before we could even think of our next steps forward. I have included a graphic of an inflection point above because I believe it is a fair representation of what we have experienced to date - and I am hopeful it is also an accurate indicator if what the future will bring as well. Sometimes you have to take a few steps back to get your situation in order before you can charge ahead on the next leg of your journey.

For DotNetNuke Corporation, this inflection point has involved creating an 18 month operating plan needed to be approved by the Board of Directors, solidifying our business model and business strategy, hiring additional resources on both the technology and business side to complete our team, defining clear roles and responsibilities for all members of the organization, establishing 2 physical locations to serve as centers of gravity for the organization - a business office in California and an engineering office in British Columbia, procuring hardware and equipment and configuring appropriate network infrastructure, and dealing with accounting, legal, human resources and other administrative requirements.

I am pleased to say that for the most part we have now completed this exercise and we are now focussed on growth. I think the fact that we were able to get this done in 3 months while at the same time continuing to release product and serve the community is a testament to the fine team we have assembled. But I am not going to claim that it has not been without its share of hiccups. When it comes to a project of this magnitude it sometimes feels like we are trying to steer a cruise ship, every change in direction needs to be slow and deliberate to ensure the overall stability of the vessel and its passengers are never compromised. I believe in recent months we may have brushed up against a few icebergs as we charted a new course but I think we are finally starting to see some open water where we may be able to push the engines to full throttle.

Currently my time is fully devoted to the DotNetNuke 5.1 release cycle. These are exciting times for me as I finally have a team of dedicated, full-time engineering resources who are able to tackle some of the large scale enhancements which we have traditionally had to postpone due to a lack of resources. With such a talented team at my disposal, the next challenge is ensuring that we have enough detailed product requirements in the pipeline to ensure rapid and continuous development cycles. In addition, we are also focussed on implementing more robust QA procedures which will build upon the high quality standards we have always delivered in our products. So there is definitely a lot going on, but I must admit I am thrilled to be able to get back to the project's roots and focus on delivering incredible value and innovation to the community.

What can I say - I am really excited about the future of DotNetNuke... and I need to be more vocal as we move forward on this journey...


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