For this interview we chatted with Brian Calhoun, CEO of SilverStripe, the Gold sponsor for Webstock 2010.
1) What’s the brief potted SilverStripe history and how did you come to be involved with SilverStripe?
We’re a web development company based in Wellington and we were founded in 2000. We open sourced our web Content Management System in 2006 and that’s when the company really started to grow. Since the open sourcing, we’ve been averaging 70% year-on-year growth and we’re going to grow by that much again this year. When we open sourced our CMS and framework we wanted to allow people all over the world to grow and enhance the web in exciting ways. We’ve also been helping New Zealand government adopt our technology. Last year we opened SilverStripe Australia in Melbourne. And we have a lot of exciting things to announce over the next few months.
I started working for a client of SilverStripe’s in 2006. As I got to know the SilverStripe team and product I really started to get excited about how I could help out. Over a span of about a year, I joined the company and worked my way into the CEO role. There was a great fit between my experience in Silicon Valley and what the company needed. I was originally attracted by the team and the possibilities of the software, and I’m even more excited about our prospects today.
2) How important has being based in Wellington been to SilverStripe’s success?
It’s been crucial. There is a wonderful ecosystem here of creative design firms, government, entrepreneurs, large and small businesses, all who use the web more and more every day. Wellington is also small enough so that you can walk to most clients or meet partners for a coffee down the block. Having that easy face-to-face contact is important because even with all the current communications technology, a meeting among people is still the most high-bandwidth form of communication. We’re expanding internationally, but we will always be based in Wellington.
3) You’ve described SilverStripe as a platform, rather than a CMS. What do you mean by this?
When we started we needed to provide a way for our clients to manage their own content for their websites. That’s how the CMS was born. Since then, web sites have gotten more complex to where the owners of sites need to do more than just update a “What’s New?” area of their site. For example, they might need multiple administrative interfaces for their customers, partners, and employees. Or they might need to add an ecommerce integration or a connection to a back-office system. Because of the changing nature of the needs of our clients, we started to talk about our framework, Sapphire, more and more. It’s always been there, under the covers of the CMS, but people who build websites need something more powerful than a CMS for their sites in today’s web world. Sapphire is a modern, clean, fast, extensible framework on which you can build anything for the web.
4) To someone who’s never been before, how would you describe Webstock? And why did SilverStripe decide to become major sponsor?
Webstock is inspiration. There are more great ideas floating around at Webstock than at any other time or place on the planet. That’s what we love about it. You get this wide cross-section of web industry professionals that you just can’t get anywhere else. And I’m talking about the attendees. The speakers are world-class, but it’s the event as a whole that really shines. We decided to be the main sponsor because we believe strongly in pushing the boundaries of what the web is. We believe in promoting Wellington as a great place for web innovation. And we wanted to give back because we’ve gotten so much from Webstock in the past.
5) You gave a brief talk at Webstock 08 on “Being human” and this is a focus of SilverStripe’s Webstock sponsorship. What does this mean and why is it important?
We all stare at computing screens for many hours a day. It’s easy for any of us to fall into the trap of elevating technology beyond what it is: a tool. Put another way, why do our clients pay us money? They pay us to solve human communication problems. Those humans happen to work for a particular company, or live in a certain region, or have some other commonality, but in the end, we in the web industry are still solving human communication needs. Our mantra at SilverStripe is Be More Human. It’s a reminder to us to focus on the human needs of our clients and each other as employees. We thought it might be fun to explore this concept a bit at Webstock so that we all can make sure that humans win.