Application Development

Achieve Speaks with Greg Knaddison

Mar. 7 2013
Achieve Internet

Achieve Speaks with Greg Knaddison, of, about Drupal, Agile Methodology, Service Application Development and the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens

We are lucky enough today to have a special guest, Drupal elite, Greg Knaddison, Senior Developer at  Achieve was at SANDCamp this year at UCSD and Greg was a keynote speaker who was nice enough to answer a few questions after his presentation.  We struck up a conversation on A/B testing and after a chain of emails he agreed to answer a few questions for a blog. 

greg Knaddison,, web application servicesGreg Knaddison has years of experience with sustainable business distributions using Drupal and venture funded product companies.  Greg was the founder of Growing Venture Solutions for 5 years before it was acquired by Acquia.  Greg is a web infrastructure and security expert and authored "Cracking Drupal", the authoritative textbook on Drupal security.

So without further delay, let’s get to it!


Ben Schluter (B.S.): What’s your background?

Greg Knaddison (G.K): In college I studied information systems at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. I followed a somewhat typical route of joining a big-5 accounting firm doing consulting work only to quickly move to a boutique software company in Denver. Since 2005 I’ve been working with and contributing to Drupal in a variety of ways.

B.S. What have you done?

G.K. I’ve worked doing large-scale data analysis and web application development for everyone from giant telecommunications companies (AT&T, KPN), to giant publishing companies (Economist), to small and medium size businesses and non-profits. In 2006 I founded a company, Growing Venture Solutions, which eventually was acquired by Acquia. In the last few months I joined the team at Within the Drupal community I’ve worked in a ton of different areas as my skills and interests grew and evolved.

B.S. What are you passionate about?

G.K. I really enjoy finding and fixing problems in sites. Whether that means identifying a security vulnerability or optimizing a checkout flow, the pleasure of making something better is a huge motivator for me. I also love helping people learn new skills and have an “ah-ha” moment where they see a better life in front of them by using technology.

B.S. What are you doing now?

G.K. As a part of a 4 person tech team at a small startup, I do dozens of different things: server setup and maintenance, automate our processes using Jenkins, build the actual website, implement and analyze different tests for other members of our team and a few other things that can best be classified as being a digital janitor.

B.S. claims that you can get “VIP access and rewards …around your favorite brands.” So I love the Baltimore Ravens, would I get a discount on Ravens tickets when I use my branded pre-paid card (if I had one)?

G.K. We would love to offer a Baltimore Ravens card and that’s definitely the kind of perk that we hope to give people. The sky is really the limit in terms of what a card can get you. We’re building a platform where any brand that has a passionate fan base can come to us and we’ll help them design a program for engaging with their community. Our vision is creating an engagement platform that is profitable for the brand and enormously satisfying for the fans.

B.S. How was the transition from developing application (services) to products (

G.K. For the most part, we would get into each project at Growing Venture Solutions and try to understand the customer business as much as possible and then behave as if we were an extension of the in-house product team. The transition hasn’t been that different aside from the fact that every day I only have one product to worry about instead of potentially 2 or 3. That said, there are so many parts of the product at that I need to work on so it’s still likely that I go from one part of the product to another. One thing I’ve always loved about working with web technologies is that I get to learn new industries and new fields as I move from project to project. Right now I’m learning a lot about financial services, debit cards, and physical mailing. Obviously a lot of the security things I’ve learned via the Drupal Security Team are coming into play and some of the experience I got responding to customer operations issues at Acquia are helpful (e.g. site offline from too much traffic).

B.S. I like how you put that, “extension of the in-house product team” our developers here at Achieve think like that as well.  You are a Lean Startup (book by Eric Ries) advocate: How have you Applied the lean startup mentality to product development in traditional services businesses (i.e., development firms)?

G.K. At GVS we would periodically do retrospectives and try to figure out how we wanted to change our business. Often we’d say “we need to do more work like X...” As soon as the meeting was over we would do a few things:

  • Update our contact form to include that work as a specific kind of work we did.
  • Write tweets and blog posts about that topic and start doing presentations at meet-ups and camps about it to establish our position as thought leaders on the topic.
  • We would figure out the modules needed and review them, providing patches where we could to earn good-will with the maintainers.

Those things could be done in just a few days of work effort and the result was that we would often start to get new clients in those fields. Sometimes the work never materialized and we’d have to make a decision: keep investing and try new tactics OR abandon the field. With security work, the passion that Ben Jeavons (leader of Security Review services for Growing Venture Solutions) and I had for the work meant that we were willing to keep investing and try partnering more deeply with Acquia’s sales team to make it happen - ultimately that’s what led to the acquisition.

B.S. Lessons learned implementing Lean Startup methodology, what works, what doesn't work?

G.K. I think it all works, you just have to actually read the book. The book’s ideas seem to have gone from “cool thing” to passé with most folks not actually reading it.

B.S. Greg I really appreciate your help and insight.  I look forward to putting it to use here at Achieve as we start to dive into product marketing and development.  The Lean Start Up has been passed around many times throughout our office and it has finally ended up in my hands and I am eager to start reading it and putting it to practice.  We are implementing some of the strategies that you practiced at GVS, identifying work in a specific market, tweeting and posting topics to that market in an effort to position ourselves as thought leaders and the strategy is slowly gaining traction which is exciting. 

G.K. Thanks, happy to provide some ideas - I hope they’re useful! I encourage your readers to take a look at the About page to learn more about us. We’re always interested in signing up more brands, so if anyone reading this has suggestions or connections, please let us know!

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