Dominique De Cooman of Dropsolid: Bringing together Drupal and Mautic
Agiledrop is highlighting active Drupal community members and interesting projects through a series of interviews. This time we spoke with Dominique De Cooman, CTO & co-founder of the Belgian digital experience agency and digital experience cloud Dropsolid about how they contribute to the Drupal community and what Drupal should be focusing on moving forward.
1. Please tell us a little about yourself and Dropsolid. How do you participate in the Drupal community and what do you do professionally?
I am the CTO & co-founder of Dropsolid. Professionally the CTO role here at Dropsolid is a business role that connects the business side of the customer suite and the technical side. From that role we design the services we offer to customers and the products we offer.
In the community, we are most active on the Drupal front and the Mautic front. Obviously, our infrastructure team also tries to contribute to all the infrastructure tooling we are using.
Dropsolid has 2 business units; one is the digital experience agency which delivers services to build great digital experience, all the way from strategy, development, maintenance, UX/UI, everything you need to build a great digital experience.
And then the Dropsolid Experience Cloud is a product Dropsolid puts into the market, that’s a suite of products – a DXP, as it is called by Gartner, which unifies content management, marketing automation, CDP and Drupal cloud tools to make it easy to develop, and it also works for Mautic to develop on Mautic as well.
2. What is your most memorable experience from the Drupal community?
Dropsolid is a sponsor of DrupalCon Europe, we’ve been a diamond sponsor since 2019, in Amsterdam. For me that was a dream come true.
I remember my first DrupalCon when I went to Munich. I had already been working with Drupal for 5 years but had never been to a DrupalCon, but after feeling the vibe of the DrupalCon and everything, I decided, wow, okay, I really have to try and create a company, an idea which Steven and I already had. So that’s how Dropsolid was born 10 years ago.
3. What are some of Dropsolid’s contributions to Drupal and its community that you’re most proud of?
In addition to our Experience Cloud, we have a distribution called Dropsolid Rocketship which is on drupal.org. It’s a collaboration between the product team and the agency team. So, what we try to accomplish with Rocketship is to create factory elements, where you as an agency can reuse components and try to make it as composable as possible.
You can build sites more quickly, which means that as an agency you have a competitive advantage over other agencies who don’t use such things – although, they can just download our starter kit, our distribution on drupal.org and use it as well. But obviously, knowing how to work with it is also an advantage.
So, there’s the factory element, and then there’s the experience element. What we try to do here at Dropsolid, is we try to focus on the editor experience. That’s why we chose to do a lot of work on Layout Builder, and we contributed a lot through our distribution.
Layout Builder is a module in Drupal that allows you to create layouts, which makes it basically very easy for content editors to compose pages using drag and drop and apply the concept of composable content and use reusable content blocks.
It’s like the next iteration on the Paragraphs module; Layout Builder takes it a step further by applying the inside out principle, where really, what you see is what you get.
And then on the other hand we also try to focus on the end user experience. We still consider ourselves a small enterprise, so we try to use as much work of others when we contribute, we don’t try to invent our own things, we’re just trying to build on top of things.
We’ve also been working on a headless starter kit. And that’s already there, we’ve used a lot of work that has been done by Chapter Three, who have Next-Drupal, which is Next.js with Drupal.
We haven’t contributed yet, it’s still in the development phase; but the goal is to make it work with Layout Builder, so you have your layout builder content editor experience and that just works out of the box with the Next.js front end. So if you change a layout, you don’t have to do extra front-end development to make that work.
4. How do you see Drupal’s position in the current and future digital experience landscape?
So, for us, it’s also a commercial need, but I think if Drupal can get this out of the box, that would be a huge blessing for all the small and mid-size enterprise customers a lot of agencies have that require much more out of the box, and need to compete with companies like Kentico and Storyblok.
Even WordPress is pretty strong these days. It’s still not Drupal, but customers are really impressed with some of the experiences it can deliver.
So, in a lower enterprise market, I think that’s something Drupal needs to have and that’s where we as Dropsolid are focusing on, to try to get it to that next level. One of my other dreams is that one day we will be able to afford a full-time core contributor, who can build both on Drupal and Mautic.
I think there is a great opportunity here for the Drupal community to move closer to the marketing community. If we can better understand what marketers value, what content editors value, I think that will be a huge win.
Because they’re actually the ones who are building the digital experiences these days. A lot of site builders are also marketers. A lot of these site builders not only build with Drupal, build the pages, build the experiences, build the customer journeys, they also have to work with the marketing automation tooling. So, they’re actually the same user.
I see that with a lot of customers, but we also see this internally – our marketing team consists of only two people, Els and Leen, who do a huge amount of work putting our two brands in the market.
They’re using Drupal and Mautic to do their job every day. And they said to us, look, we need good tools, we need to be able to work quickly, we need to be able to focus on our content, on our campaigns.
The tools can’t be an obstruction, the better the user experience is, the quicker we can work and the more value we can deliver for the company. This is also a reason why we thought it’s a really smart move to invest in Layout Builder.
But then the huge opportunity is to bring the Mautic and the Drupal communities closer together. I think they can learn a lot from each other. The Drupal community is notoriously very strong at contribution and at deep technical knowledge, with really strong developers.
If that power can be brought to the Mautic community, that would be incredible for a product like Mautic which is in my eyes still a young product, but has a lot of traction and is growing very fast. But five years ago it didn’t even exist, so it’s growing a lot faster, while Drupal is actually declining if you look at the sheer numbers.
However, the sites that are built on Drupal are a lot bigger and make a lot more impact, so if we could measure the impact Drupal is making, it would also be growing, but in sheer numbers, it’s declining. And that’s the trend because a lot of Drupal 7 sites were built for SMBs. All these sites are not being renewed into Drupal 9, 10 sites, so that’s declining, and Mautic is growing.
So I think that momentum Mautic has, as well as the understanding of what is important for the people who are working with these tools, i.e. the marketers, the content editors, is something that would be very beneficial for the Drupal community, if these two communities start learning from each other.
Because then we’re touching the subject of the open DXP; once you have Mautic and Drupal, you almost have the open DXP. If you add for example Apache Unomi, the open customer data platform, you basically have an open DXP.
This is where I think if Drupal and Mautic and all these communities can bring their strengths together, it can be a really killer product, especially because it’s open and it can still be delivered at a fair price, and the marketers and the developers are still in control of the solution.
And I feel that this resonates in the market; even yesterday I had a talk with a marketing digital director of a large employer organization here in Belgium with more than 100,000 employers who are members. I’ve known him for quite some time and he’s really a fan of Drupal and of open source.
And when he learned of Mautic and also about Unomi, that really excited him. “Oh, I can have this in my marketing stack as well, the same principles I have in Drupal?” I said, yes, and you’re in total control, the code is yours, the data is yours, everything is yours, you can develop on top of it, there are companies that can give you a managed service on this, that can give you a platform to work on. But you will still be the owner of all these things.
So, I see it excites a lot of people in the marketing space as well, and I think it could also bring an innovation momentum because there are a lot of challenges that need to be solved on the Mautic level as well.
And we see that also tied to us being a business and running into these issues offering Drupal to the market; I would hate to see Drupal just only be a high-end enterprise solution. It has so much value under the hood, and it only needs the right kind of packaging to stay very relevant to medium and smaller enterprises.
I think for SMBs, it will be very difficult because the competition is very strong there. But in the smaller and medium enterprise space, if Drupal gets the out of the box thing right with a great content experience and the great end user experience, that will be awesome. And I think it will be a difficult value proposition to challenge by proprietary systems.
5. What do you think the Drupal community’s priorities and goals should be moving forward?
We’re seeing Drupal becoming a really mature product; Dries also presented this in his latest Driesnote, where he said that we had to do a lot of things under the water line, but now we are past Drupal 8 and now with Drupal 9 and 10, the platform will once again be easier to use now the groundwork has been done. We can really focus on making Drupal easier to use, and I think that’s true.
So, the really big challenges, moving 7 to 8, I don’t know how we did it, but somehow it happened, moving from the old codebase from Drupal 7 to the new Symfony framework, it’s huge, but you can see this effort I think would also have to be made on Mautic and you need really strong developers and contributors to pull this off.
In the beginning, as a developer, I was more focused on code, trying to get code there and trying to get the people here to develop. But as I move more and more into a business-oriented role, I saw that actually, planting the right ideas is also very important; planting the right ideas in people’s minds and trying to shine a light on certain areas that need to be illuminated because they’re important.
I also try to speak at conferences and motivate everyone here in the company to do the same thing. We have a lot of people who have presented at DrupalCon – not only developers, but for example our account managers and service delivery managers who are not technical at all are also presenting at DrupalCon.
I think getting voices outside of the developer sphere into the Drupal community is super important to create the awareness of the business reality that Drupal is functioning in. It’s not just about the code, it also needs to be relevant for people to stay on board, and I think it’s very important to get non-technical people into the Drupal community.
6. Besides Drupal and Mautic, what are you most excited about in the technology space this year?
It’s something that we’ve already been thinking about a lot, but now it’s really in the media, it’s in everybody’s face with the whole AI revolution. Actually, Dropsolid recently got a really nice government grant from the Flemish government and we’ve built a whole AI clustering and classification algorithm on Apache Unomi to automatically create segments on data.
But the AI we used is a service that has been provided by the Google Cloud, it’s like a microservice you can use to set up your data pipelines and the whole thing, and it operates in the cloud.
And for me, that’s the only thing that is still not sovereign. Dropsolid’s product vision is to become the most open DXP with a low-entry barrier, and with a great experience for the content editors and the end users. But, to be the most open, I think, to do that, the entire platform has to be sovereign.
You need to be able to take all the components, and if the customer says, okay, here are my resources, here is my Kubernetes cluster, you need to be able to deploy it for them on their cluster and manage it for them so the whole thing is completely sovereign.
And the difficult part is to do that with data and with AI. That’s something I’ve been figuring out. I think it will be possible to do it, to also have the AI and the data part sovereign. It already works, because you can do it with Drupal, with Mautic, with Unomi – it can be done, that’s something that we’re already doing with customers.
And then you have the whole management layer on top of it, that’s still our product, that’s still SaaS. But the AI and the data component, we still use a microservice in the cloud. So to do that sovereign with the resources of the customer, I think that’s probably still a couple of years ahead business-wise.
But it can go fast. If you look at how quickly the world is taken with the whole ChatGPT thing, everybody knows about it, so everybody’s being educated by these smart chatbots. And then I think a couple of years down the road we will start to realize that these powerful things are actually running somewhere where we don’t see the code, we don’t control the infrastructure, we don’t control what is being put into that.
I think a lot of organizations will think, okay, we don’t want that. If we want to use this, we want to have it close to us. This powerful thing, we need to have it really close to what we are doing; it will not be relevant for everyone, but it definitely fits into our vision of being the most open DXP, so, yeah the data and AI stuff is the next step. That excites me, and I think it’s going faster than I anticipated.