Interview with Ben Haynes, Founding Partner, Director of Technology, Directus

Ben-Haynes
Ben Haynes, Founding Partner, Director of Technology, Directus

“Small businesses will have to decide if building a solid digital foundation is worth the upfront cost — will they be significantly growing or scaling in the next 3-5 years?”

Tell us about your role at Directus. What inspired you to establish a CMS-focused company?

I am the creator and project lead of the Directus Suite. The idea for Directus came back in 2004 when I was building sites as a freelance web developer. Most one-size-fits-all CMS options back then felt confusing, over-engineered, and far too controlling — so I delivered project content from pure SQL databases instead. Unfortunately, there was no easy way to allow for non-technical clients to manage that database directly, and I didn’t want to build custom solutions for every new project. So, inspired by tools like phpMyAdmin, I designed and developed a simple, safe and intuitive admin panel that functioned as a dynamic database wrapper.

Years later, with the advent of smartphones, digital signage, and IoT, I realized that the Directus CMS was the perfect solution for managing platform-agnostic content for any and all data-driven projects. It was at this point that I dedicated staff to the project and decided to make it open-source.

Tell us more about Directus’ technology and your target audience.

What makes Directus unique is what we call “database mirroring.” Instead of shoehorning content into a rigid or predefined system, Directus gives developers complete freedom when architecting and optimizing their project-specific data model. Furthermore, all of this can be done in vanilla SQL as opposed to a proprietary datastore,  which means developers have the option of bypassing Directus and working directly with the database.

This flexibility is extremely important for scaling dynamic projects since it completely removes any bottlenecks and exposes the full power and speed of SQL.

What are the differences in the challenges faced by SMBs and Enterprise clients, in adopting CMS to drive ROI?

Since Directus is free and open-source it doesn’t add any additional licensing fees. Being headless, however, Directus doesn’t offer a WYSIWYG template design tool — so the main cost will be the freelancer or agency designing and developing your actual project.

Small businesses will have to decide if building a solid digital foundation is worth the upfront cost. Will they be significantly growing or scaling in the next 3-5 years? If so, building things correctly now will save time and money — otherwise, a quick blog-style website might suffice.

For medium-sized and enterprise clients it’s a much easier decision. An open-source headless system will allow you to build foundational content that can be used by all of your properties, platforms, and projects. This will undoubtedly bring a quick ROI due to the savings on training, licensing fees, and other costs associated with creating and maintaining multiple systems and services.

How well do Directus’ products integrate with third-party APIs?

You can create interfaces that ingest from external APIs or pages that display data from other API systems. Directus itself is an API, so you can pull/push any content between services or use our webhooks to post based on events. In other words, it’s very API friendly.

Tell us about Directus’ services.

We offer Directus Cloud, a competitively priced Content-as-a-Service that allows new instances of Directus to be spun up in seconds. And on our agency side, we provide clients with paid premium consulting and support for anything from a little help setting things up to building full project ecosystems.

What is the best way to optimize Directus’ CMS?

There is no secret sauce, the best way to optimize Directus is to optimize the database that it manages. Properly architecting a relational database is enough, but you can go as deep as you’d like with indexing, caching, and rate-limiting.

According to you what is more important, building a great product or keeping your customers happy and why do you believe so?

We always intend to keep our paying customers happy. That said, Directus is offered as free and open-source, and we prioritize our product over non-paying customers. We get many people requesting new features that they need, but that does not benefit the majority of our users. If we were to try to appease all of these customers then Directus would be a bloated and messy piecemeal project. Instead, we check all recommendations to ensure that at least 80% of our customer-base will find them useful.

How important is the role of Artificial Intelligence in the CMS domain?

AI is an extremely interesting emergent trend that will certainly play a large role in the content management software industry. However, it is still a relatively young technology and CMS vendors should be prudent with any integrations. With AI, less is more, but you can still find quite interesting ways to take advantage of its power. For example, helpful suggestions when authoring long-form content or even an API feature to serve tailored A/B content based on a user’s interests, metrics, or other data

Which Sales and Marketing technology tools does Directus currently use?

We have a few homegrown tools, other than that we use: Slack and Intercom for sales/support, Xero for billing, and Stripe for payment processing. The only marketing we do is on Twitter.

What is that one standout feature in Directus’ technology that sets it apart from the rest?

The main USP is our “database mirroring” (described above). No other CMS offers such an open-data storage model.

As a business leader, where do you see the CMS industry in the next five years?

Businesses will continue to discover and switch to headless/decoupled content solutions. This will increase demand for these platforms and there will be an influx of new software. However, after five years, only the most intuitive, feature-rich, and truly innovative frameworks will have survived. At that point, the main difference will be self-hosted vs SaaS, which both have their advantages, so suites that offer both will prevail.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

  • G-Suite — Mail, Docs, Notes, Calendar, etc… ubiquitous for a reason
  • GitHub — Git code repository with issue tracking and project boards
  • Tower — Excellent git client for local management
  • Slack — Team communication
  • Sketch — Vector design with intuitive controls
  • Sublime Text 3 — Simple, fast, and extensible text editor
  • Sequel Pro — Amazingly fast and intuitive database client
    • TablePlus is a close second but lacks features and isn’t as intuitive
  • Paw — API testing, documentation, and organization
  • Snagit — Exact screenshots and video captures
  • MAMP — Easily manages local virtual hosts and stack

What are you currently reading?

“Shift” — Book II of the Silo Series

What is the best piece of professional advice that you have received?

Always motivate, reward, and reaffirm your hardworking staff with the three V’s: Vacation (break or time off), Value (bonus or gift), Voice (praise and congratulations) — it’s not enough to only do one or two of these. This valuable advice was passed down to me by my (self-employed) mother.

Who is that one person from the industry you would love to hear these answers from?

Ben Chestnut, the CEO and Co-Founder of MailChimp. MailChimp and its founders have always been an inspiration to me. They decided to not take VC and not rush their product, instead doing things the right way and growing organically.

Thank you, Ben! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

With a degree in communication-design and over ten years of independent web development experience, Ben has equal footing in the creative and technical realms. As the founder of RANGER, Ben worked closely with industry-leading clients such as Google, HP, AT&T, AOL, SoulCycle, IDEO, and Interbrand. Additionally, Ben was an electronic warfare sergeant in the Air Force, taught advanced web design at The School at Columbia University, and is the published author and illustrator of a book on 3D aircraft entitled Paper Pilot. Over the past ten years he also created and designed the increasingly popular open-source database management tool, Directus.

Directus Logo

Directus is a free and open-source suite of software for managing agnostic content. It provides developers with an easy way to connect data to projects on any platform, and non-technical users an intuitive way to manage that data.

Often described as a “headless” CMS, Directus only manages content. It doesn’t come with a website editor, template designs, or “presentation layer” built-in. That means that you have the freedom to connect content anywhere and everywhere, using the technologies you prefer.

If you’re looking for more information on our different repositories, the structure of those codebases, and why they’re organized the way they are, read our page on Contributing.

The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.

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