BuilderEngine: The Best of All CMS Worlds (Part 1)

BuilderEngine is a new content management system that aims to bring together the best of the CMS worlds of open source, enterprise and software as a service (SaaS). We spoke to Chief Executive Officer Keith Killilea, and the first part of our interview with Keith is below.

You consider BuilderEngine to be like the ‘Apple’ of CMSes. How is that?

Clear design. Intuitive controls. Just how you “ed” basically – how you edit the site.

For example, one guy had emailed who’d used WordPress, and was quite used to it. The BuilderEngine interface in itself is kind of similar to WordPress – still different, but it’s quite similar to make it familiar enough for people. But he couldn’t figure out how to edit a page, because he kept going back to the dynamic composer that we have, which is basically the composer like WordPress, and that’s one way how you can build pages. But we have two different composers: there’s the dynamic composer which is for dynamic modules like blogs, etc., but when you actually want to edit something on the page, you edit inline – you edit on the page. So you don’t have to go to the back end, edit, and then go to the front end. He discovered that – came back and told us he had discovered it – and he was like “Wow, this thing’s so powerful, I didn’t even know”.

Just from the editing side, it’s really fast for editing – what do you want, do you want content, do you want YouTube, do you want something else – whereas there’s plugins for WordPress or such systems. When you add something to a page, another block, you just pick from a list. You just pick what you want. And that just works a treat for end users, or administrators updating the site – not necessarily the web designer – so they really love that sort of stuff, and it looks slick.

Actually, one person was comparing BuilderEngine and had put it up against the default WordPress, because BuilderEngine right now can only compete head-to-head with all of them out of the box: whatever they deliver out of the box, and what we deliver out of the box. We cannot compete with all of the plugins yet. We need a community, we need to build all that stuff. But just out of the box, what do you get? And just looking at WordPress, even at the system settings, you see a few nice things in their system settings, but BuilderEngine is just a whole bunch of nicely-categorised options.

BuilderEngine is combining the ease-to-use of SaaS – for end users where they just edit here and quickly change a colour there, just that real ‘ease-of-use’ – with enterprise features – like a proper file manager, document system, versioning, which are not really in the open-source world. (I’m sure there might be plugins, but just out of the box, they’re not part of the system.) So we have these as part of the system, as an enterprise CMS compared to other CMSes and their main features, wrapped in the bubble of the open-source world. Within the open source version and what you miss out of the other platforms, we’ve got the enterprise and SaaS parts in there.

So it’s not trying to be… like a mobile phone with the best camera, but the rest is rubbish: we’re trying to be an all rounder, we’re trying to set a new standard that has what was in enterprise and SaaS and open source. They should be all combined – the main features – there’s always room for developers to add all the small stuff, but we’ll never add all the small stuff. This is how it should be, moving forward to Web 3.0. We can’t move from Web 2.0 to 3.0 with just more small updates out of the box for a system, creating plugins or whatever. So BuilderEngine is setting a standard: what you download and install straight away, these are the set of features you should have out of the box, regardless of whether it is open source, enterprise or SaaS. And this is only version 1! Go back to version 1 of WordPress, see what they got, even though it was a different time, and a different, lesser language.

It’s also got gaming engine techniques from the games development side I have; we’re trying to bring those into it. There’s still a lot more – there will be more updates and there will be more of the gaming techniques coming in.

So what do you mean now by gaming techniques?

Let’s say with gaming engines – I’ll try and compare as best I can – it’s not there right now but it’s what we plan to bring in more of. You go to your page lists, you see your parent pages, your sub-pages in the back end. So when you create pages, you should be able to link them up, and then add their linked features. Let’s say you want a secondary design system, compared to the front, for ease of use – you’re a designer, you’re a developer – we want to give you more control. So from the pages, you’d have a page there in the middle, and you’d say “I want YouTube on this page” in the features, so a new bubble pops up, like a whiteboard, and you can link to that page. So basically your bubble is your page and with supporting bubbles you can link in what you want to apply with different settings for each one. So in the gaming engine, that’s sort of like one of the GUIs that is there for the Unreal Engine or Unity. We want to kind of bring that in a lot more, because HTML 5 has a lot more fancy stuff compared to Flash so some of these things wouldn’t have been possible before. We’re not creating something completely brand new but it’s just…

…a nicer way of allowing people to make connections between pages on the site and…

…pages and features. The idea is it just makes it faster for a designer. Let’s say it’s a graphic designer, or even for a programmer. If it’s a graphic designer, they can just go ‘connect’ and ‘connect’. Like right now, we have the page list, and you have to click on it and you get a whole bunch of options and you can do some stuff, but it’s not as versatile as what we plan to add in. So the idea is not to have a thousand different types of ways to do it – there is through the code – but the front end, what’s there via edit really is for someone that’s updating the website to get there quickly, for new users who are not too familiar with Drupal and who can manage WordPress, that side of things. Even enterprise CMSes, for those who use Terminal 4 for example, there’s no reason why they couldn’t use BuilderEngine. What Terminal 4 has, we basically have all the main features that can be applied. So for administrators trying to update a site – I was talking to one to find out what is their process is for updating the website with another system, and they were finding it very confusing and time consuming just to get what they needed to get done. So the idea with BuilderEngine is it’s fast. In the Apple philosophy it’s like, you’ve got your app, you click on it and it just does what you want. And you don’t have a thousand apps all on your screen: you can pick what you want, swap in and out – just clean, simple, and less is more. So that’s what we were trying to do with BuilderEngine.

Screenshot of BuilderEngine’s file manager

So what about the apps side of things, because there are obviously plugins for WordPress and modules for Drupal. How does the module system work in BuilderEngine, and how is it different from the other module systems that are out there? How can you extend, or how will you be able to extend BuilderEngine in the future?

To extend it, there’s controls within the core that you can hook in external scripts, or you can build your own one, or hook in the ones we’ve built – we’ll be building a few of the key modules that everyone really needs. You don’t have to put your code directly inside the core: you can build it outside the core, and connect it – we have the connectors there to do that. It just means you don’t have to mess with the core too much, so when system updates come up, they don’t break the core. Even in saying that, we have an internal security check for people adding something to the code, so if they modify the core files or anything. In most systems, if something has a conflict of interest, it will at worst will put a site offline – everything breaks and says “Big Error”. In BuilderEngine, it just bypasses it and then says “You’re not allowed to access this”, which is the code basically saying this is not working, we’ve just shut that portion off. It’s quite good in that way – you can add your stuff, even to a live site – the website won’t come down at all. It will stay up if there’s a mistake made, and mistakes can be made, even by the best of us. It’s just one of the things we wanted to do right, that you could add your stuff without too much fear that you’ve destroyed the whole thing. That in itself solves an industry problem that is quite common. We also have all kinds of security measures for external threats – all the normal stuff – also, in the top line of every code file, it checks itself as well.

How about SEO?

For WordPress, you need an SEO plugin to properly put in your SEO stuff. In BuilderEngine, it’s all there: there’s no plugin needed, so you’ve got your title, your meta tags, everything else thrown in. With the SEO as well, there’s some extra stuff. We’ve got a thing called automated jobs, which is also going to be an expanded premium feature. You nominate jobs that you can run to resubmit your sitemap several times and do some other miscellaneous stuff. Let’s say with versioning, as you update pages or make changes to pages – pages are automatically versioned when they are saved basically – you can roll back and forth between them all. So you could have hundreds of thousands of versions, depending on how many people are administrating the site, for example, if it’s a corporate one. You can set your automated jobs to clean up – leave the last 10 versioned pages across the board and remove all the rest at a certain point and time – so automated jobs do a few features for the SEO, making sure things are clean. Versioned pages are kept away from the robots so you don’t have duplication of content.

The next part of this interview will follow shortly. More information on BuilderEngine can be found at where you can download BuilderEngine Version 1 for free.

Mr. “I’m Possible” Aims to Build First Billion Dollar Internet Company in the Middle East

Paul Kenny wants to build the first billion dollar internet company in the Middle East and North Africa. He’s off to a flying start with his e-commerce empire Cobone, a kind of Groupon-Amazon-Expedia mashup operating in three countries with over 1.7 million subscribers to date. He spoke at NUI Galway‘s Cairnes School of Business and Economics on Friday about his story: building a multi-million dollar e-commerce empire at the age of 25.

Before his talk, Paul told me that it was strange being at the front of the lecture theatre rather than at the back with all the rest of the students, where he would have sat just six years ago. After completing a BComm degree at NUI Galway and dropping out of the Masters in Electronic Commerce, 22-year old Paul jumped on a plane to Dubai in 2007 with his beloved golf clubs after being offered an internship with the Jumeirah hotels and resorts group.

After his internship, Paul was selected as one of seven out of a thousand entrants to be enrolled on a future leaders programme where he was given executive training. He stayed with Jumeirah in an online marketing role for over a year, but eventually fell out with his boss after failing to secure a pay rise to pay for some new car tyres (old tyres ruined on a desert trip), and then resigned. He got a marketing job with AMEinfo (and bought new tyres, sending a picture to his ex-boss), then after seven months he moved to the Emirates Group (Bigmouthmedia), and again left after just eight months.

So why all the jumping around, resulting in a patchy CV? Paul says he struggled with having a boss, with being limited and sitting in a controlled box where he had to watch decisions being executed much too slowly. A keen golfer, Paul Kenny thrived on competition, and realised that sitting somewhere in the corporate ladder was not for him. Growing up, Paul was surrounded by entrepreneurs from the famous Irish bookshop business that bears the family name, and would have been exposed to sales, marketing, IT and finance from a young age. But he was also motivated to be more than just one of the Kennys, to do something else.

While working in various marketing roles on search engine optimisation and marketing tasks, Paul realised that he was making a lot of money for people online, but not for himself. So in 2010, he founded Cobone (a play on the word ‘coupon’) in Dubai, to enable online group discount buying in a country that had virtually no e-commerce up until that point. It is now one of the biggest e-commerce sites in the Middle East and North Africa, second only to Emirates. Paul raised money from Tiger Global, from a Jordanian venture fund, and from two other European funds, noting that funds usually invest in the person and not the business. He also cited issues with the ‘ticket sizes’ for some other Middle East-based funds (paraphrasing: “the minimum amount of money I can give you is $100 million for most of the equity in your company”).

Paul Kenny had never raised money in his life and had never really managed people, but he wrote a business plan that in the first year Cobone would hire 16 people and have one office. Instead, the company hired 80 and had three offices in that first year, despite the substantial time required to get a trade license, office, bank account and payment gateway: as Paul says, “doing business in the Middle East was incredibly tough”. Amazingly, Cobone could not accept credit card payments from the majority of its subscribers, who did not actually possess credit cards. Their solution: this “e-commerce” company sent couriers on motorbikes to subscribers to exchange coupons for hard cash.

The growth of Cobone has been phenomenal: 30% month-on-month growth in its first year of business and 100% year-on-year growth in year two. 80,000 pizzas were sold in Dubai over a three-month period in 2012; 5,000 iPhones were sold over Christmas; $1 million were spent in the first month after the electronics category was launched; and 100,000 fashion items were purchased in the last week of December 2012. The company employs 115 people from 26 nationalities, with an average age of 27. But it nearly all fell apart in year two: Paul claims the foundations were not strong enough and things slowed up. He has learned from this mistake, amongst others he pointed out the following:

  • Keeping your ideas a secret: You probably have tons of ideas, but maybe you feel it’s best to keep them to yourself. Paul wishes that he had spoken to more people as a student. There are loads of people you can tap into in college – business leaders, fellow students, lecturers – and when you share your idea, it becomes more real such that you can learn more about it and can evolve it. If you can put yourself in enough situations and meet as many people as you can, then something is probably going to hit. It’s hard work, but you can create your own luck or serendipity, by meeting as many future partners, advisors or employers as you can.
  • Growing fast without a strong foundation: You can build a house very quickly, but if the foundation isn’t strong enough, it’ll fall apart. The same for business: make sure you are ready for that second year.
  • Not running fast enough: You have got to keep “running faster” than the person next to you. Paul says that Michael Bloomberg once told him that “you have to work harder than the fupper next to you”, or you’re gone. It’s better to take three steps forward, even if they are wrong, than to take none at all.
  • Thinking it’s easy to raise money: Maybe it is easier for some to raise money than others, but if you do manage to get funding and have an ambitious business plan that says you will make revenue in six short months, you’re probably going to get a shock if you don’t. Make the money you get last, understand what you are negotiating on, and don’t give away too much equity early on. You can get cash again, but equity never returns, and you’ll regret it especially if you make it big.
  • Going it alone: Paul was an avid golf player, where mentoring is essential. The learning from golf is that you need an advisory board for your business, made up of experienced individuals who can give advice on how they did it. Paul says he left it way too late for Cobone, but he is taking his own advice and has recently joined the board of the Galway Advertiser newspaper group.

Apart from correcting his mistakes, Paul says the experience of creating Cobone has resulted in loads of learning for him that he wanted to share:

  • Never, ever, ever, believe your own PR: Don’t believe what the media says, it’s all “not real”. If you start believing the hype, your competition will “bite you on your ass”.
  • Surround yourself with awesome people: This is a recurring theme in the tech sector, and Paul confirms that it’s very important to hire people who are better/more educated/smarter/know more than yourself.
  • The price is not right: Never accept the price that someone gives you first, as it is just not true. If you want something, keep bothering someone for what you want until that someone says yes. They probably will eventually.
  • The business plan, written by your customers: The business plan is of course important, but it will change. Paul said he had 17 versions of his business plan in the first year of trading. It’s also really important to evolve this plan based on what your customers are telling you, so flexibility and a gut feeling for going with what they are telling you is essential.

So what’s next for Cobone? According to Paul, it’s “definitely travel”, and they have already sent 100,000 people away on holidays. I asked him why travel, and he explained that its a multi-billion dollar business in the Middle East, where travellers spend a lot more on trips than their counterparts from the West. Cobone, although currently not profitable, will soon turn the corner and become profitable in the next three months. He also cited recent media hype about Cobone, but confirmed that there would be some exciting news in the next month about what’s going to happen with the company.

And as for things he didn’t expect, Paul Kenny says that the business has completely taken over his life. Working all the time means there is no work-life balance. It’s not for everyone, but Paul loves it: he now has 115 “children” who bitch, moan, fight, and cry, but they are together creating an empire that is changing the way people buy things in the Middle East. As a perceived master of all trades (accountant plus HR director plus financial analysis person plus a myriad of other roles) who should know everything about everything, Paul Kenny claims that he in fact knows very little, but he has that super smart support team.

Paul is content to be based outside of Ireland, and doesn’t feel the time is right for him to set up here. But he wouldn’t discourage others from trying to make it in their home country, especially if they can avoid corporate offices and set up their own companies. The key here is to look outside Ireland – perhaps by travelling and going outside one’s comfort zone – and then coming back. The market in Ireland is small, so people must look at the world as their market and build products for the world, not just for Ireland.

“Impossible” is a word that Paul hates seeing in the Irish media. He prefers “I’m possible”. With the right attitude – like Paul’s – you can do anything.