97: The Drupal Digital Agency - Meet Tim Deeson

I recently spoke with the Managing Director of Deeson Online, Tim Deeson about how choosing and using Drupal has given his agency the tools it needs to provide great, large scale digital experiences for large, multinational organizations.

The sound quality is not the best at some points during this recording. I am still figuring out how best to produce these "video podcasts"; apologies in advance. The things that Tim has to say are very much worth your while, nonetheless! I've included extensive excerpts in the notes below, too.

Conversation video - 13 min.

Early days and discovering Drupal

Tim started Deeson Online in 2001, adding it to the Deeson Group, a communications agency his grandfather started in 1956 and the content publishing company his father had started in the 1980s. Some clients began asking for websites and Tim's business was born. After five years of bespoke PHP builds, Tim "felt deep down that something wasn't right. We were reinventing all of these wheels." He and his colleagues started looking for a platform to do all the drudgery, so they could concentrate "on the fun, interesting stuff that adds value for customers." After several months of auditing, Drupal was their choice.

Why Drupal?

"We were looking for flexibility and control. We wanted to be able to learn and do things ourselves. We didn't want to be stuck in someone else's licensing model where we were just reselling packaged features that we didn't have any control over. We wanted something that would give us the power and flexibility to grow as a company and not be restricted by another company's roadmap. It gave us freedom and independence."

"Most of the CMS's out there were over-engineered blogging platforms, whereas we recognized that with Drupal, you can do anything. We felt we weren't going to bottom it out if we grew a bit and started working with larger clients. We weren't going to bump our head on its functional ceiling."

Drupal and business growing hand in hand

"We've grown as a company from working with a few small clients to working with multi-national companies. They're deploying these platforms that we build to millions of people in some cases. This means the quality and the processes need to carry on ramping up. I think we've been really lucky that Drupal – being pushed by demand and by opportunity – has been growing into that enterprise space in a strong way. We've been able to grow with it."

"We've been able to recruit people at the top of their technical and engineering game and make sure we're providing them with a platform that has this sophistication. We're aiming to be best-of-breed at how these problems are solved. They're problems that all CMS's and all software generally has. It's been interesting to see how the Drupal community has stepped up and been so keen to address them."

On selling Drupal

"Drupal is a tool for a job. A few years ago, we still had to address a lot of fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) about open source." Now that happens much less. "But Drupal still has that sales and marketing job of getting out there to educate people what it's good at, what it's capable of. The challenge for us is getting away from saying 'Drupal can do anything!' Saying that to the end user isn't really that helpful. They want to know what it can do for them. As a community, we've still got that challenge ahead of us. We've got to demonstrate how great it is. Telling them 'it can do anything' is actually just scary and not very specific."

Competing with other agencies

"With the large, commercial, enterprise CMS's, I think people are used to being led by one provider. The Drupal community is much more complex. There's no sales rep who is going to tell you how to do everything. Open source itself is a complex concept. [Other digital agencies] will slowly get it, often they're led by a project a client specified Drupal for and they say 'We've got PHP developers, we'll just call it a Drupal development team'. And then comes the learning curve ... Drupal is a framework and a platform on top of everything else and you need to understand that."

Tim is very 'open source' about talking with other agencies about his secrets for success, "On a commercial basis, agency to agency, there's always that competitor angle where people are protective and sensitive. I never worry about that kind of thing because anyone can download Drupal. The knowledge is all out there. Either your agency has the requisite skill-set and approach that will mean you'll succeed with it or you won't. There's no secret sauce ... There's nothing that says 'We can't tell you what color we paint our light switches. That's not something that worries me."

It's all about the execution!

Get in touch with Deeson Online

"At Deeson Online, we're always really happy to share our knowledge, expertise, and experience, so always come and talk to us. We help competitors, clients, people in the street, you name it. Come and ask us a Drupal question or a "How do I get digital done well?" kind of question."