Scandinavia has long been regarded as a cradle of CMS innovation. And while that cradle has been rocked by the rise of Western competitors, the Nordic legion of web content management systems still holds a strong position in the minds – and hearts – of their users.
Heart. That might be one of the most tangible differentiators for Umbraco, a Danish platform that was originally coined “The Friendly CMS” by one of its community members back in 2006.
As this now-legendary designer was credited with observing: Everything about Umbraco is friendly. The UX, the community, and the pricing.
Turns out this tagline has stood the test of time – just like Umbraco itself.
In a global marketplace where CMS providers are struggling to establish or re-establish their identity (be it headless, DXP, or some bolt-on Frankenstein of neo-monolithic proportions), Umbraco is staying true to its core. It’s doubling down on its community, making complex technologies easier to use, and reminding us that open source is really about people – not just platforms.
For all these reasons (and presumably more), Monterro – the Swedish software growth investor that prides itself on turning Nordic software companies into global players – has just purchased a majority stake in the Danish vendor.
We had a chance to discuss this news with Umbraco’s CEO and self-proclaimed “Chief Friend Maker,” Kim Sneum Madsen, who has been with the outfit since 2016. While acclaimed founder Niels Hartvig will be parting company, Madsen will continue to man the reigns as Monterro’s operational and financial backing comes online.
In our exclusive interview, we discussed where the company has been, what’s ahead – and how open source is “not a hippie thing anymore.”
Expanding best-of-breed digital experiences
Umbraco has come a long way since its founding in 2005, and like the rest of the market, the company has adapted to significant change. But according to Madsen, what hasn’t changed is their persistent focus on making things simpler.
While describing Umbraco’s history, Madsen said there have been three key elements to their success: software, community, and company. The first decade of their growth was focused on making great software and aligning with Hartvig’s vision of open source. The second was focused on nurturing an active community that loved their product – and built on it in a big way. At last count, Umbraco boasts over 220,000 developers and users worldwide, which is an astounding amount of adoption by any measure.
With the software and community pieces firing on all cylinders, the company is now focused on the company, which is where Madsen comes in. While his mission over the last five years has revolved around “customer happiness,” his job as CEO will require a balancing of the elements to achieve scale in a competitive, mature, and increasingly commoditized market.
“We believe we’re in a very strong position with the balance of the elements,” said Madsen, speaking of the software, community, and company components. “We’ve reinvented the way our community works, we have a mature model for engaging community teams around the globe, and we can give them something to build on.”
To reach the next level, Umbraco has invested in expanding its product set. Along with its flagship open-source Umbraco CMS, they now feature Umbraco Heartcore, a headless offering; Umbraco Cloud, a fully-hosted ecosystem that boasts simplicity as one of its core attributes; and Umbraco Uno, a one-stop platform for non-technical marketers and creative agencies.
Along with its vast community of members, including a large partner network that offers customized solutions that integrate with Umbraco, the company now counts more than 700,000 websites worldwide – the majority in Europe and the U.S. – running live on its solutions. Along the way, the company has scored some impressive customers, including JP Morgan, Rubbermaid, Scholl, the NFL, and other market leaders.
Monterro brings extensive CMS experience to Umbraco
On the Monterro side of the ledger, the stars couldn’t be more aligned – and Madsen is thrilled with the outcome. He said the private equity partner stood out because of their financial structure, but also because members of their operational staff served in key roles at other CMS platforms, including Episerver.
“With extensive CMS experience and a true belief in open-source software, Monterro is a perfect match as we strive to meet the increasing demand for best-of-breed DXP solutions that make complex technologies easy to use,” Madsen said.
As part of its mission to turn Nordic software companies into global market leaders, Monterro has completed 17 investments and 17 add-on investments since 2012. These include operational experience from successfully developing and running companies such as Pointsec, Orc Software, and CMS vendor Episerver, now Optimizely.
“With Monterro’s valuable guidance and capital,” Madsen remarked, “we will continue to work closely with our active open-source community to bring the Umbraco family of user-friendly, flexible, and robust CMS platforms to an even greater portfolio of companies in even more countries.”
While the structure of Umbraco’s ownership has changed, Madsen affirmed that the company’s direction will remain the same. “Our ambition is to use this position and invest money back into the continued growth of all the elements that constitute Umbraco," he said. "We will continue to focus on creating world-class software that produces outstanding value for users and customers.”
Market consolidation and confronting the data challenge
One area we discussed was the breakneck consolidation echoing across the CMS market and the drive to shore up the data layer – a key requirement for Gartner in their assessment of modern digital experience platforms.
Earlier this year, we saw several DXP players purchase customer data platforms (CDPs) to address the “missing data link” in their vision of completeness. This includes Optimizely’s purchase of Zaius this past March.
Madsen said that data is important, and while Umbraco would love to claim itself as the “single source” for data, what’s important is the aggregation of all relevant data – particularly as it relates to GDPR and other compliance requirements. He said customers must be in control, and with CMS as the backbone of a digital business, this should be made simpler in the process.
The growth of Enterprise and the role of Microsoft
“As Umbraco has matured over the last five years, we’re seeing increased demand from Enterprise customers,” said Madsen. At the same time, he said they’re seeing more customers wanting to move campaign sites closer to marketers – which is where Umbraco Uno comes in. As an out-of-the-box solution, it’s providing shorter delivery times for a wider range of clients, from enterprise to full-service digital agencies to design shops.
We also discussed the legacy role of Microsoft and their history of .NET – which Madsen said continues to be a differentiator given Microsoft’s footprint in key geographies.
The rise of headless CMS
In our discussion of Umbraco Heartcore – their headless offering – Madsen reflected that it’s still very new as a stand-alone product. Like other traditional CMS platforms, their API nature has enabled connections and integrations before headless exploded in demand. He maintains that users want the freedom to build and connect as they see fit.
While the jury may be out on whether headless is a lasting trend, Madsen supports the need for agencies to have greater freedom over the frontend and focus on omnichannel. However, he underscored the need for the CMS to be structured around the workflow for users, so it remains easy for editors to do their job.
“We’ve always been focused on the content editor,” he punctuated. “It has to be easy, or they won’t bother.”
Mining growth from a strong open source community
What’s abundantly clear is that Umbraco’s fiercely loyal community has been a keystone to their success. Madsen knows this well given his history and proximity to partners during his tenure at Umbraco.
“Users and partners are intertwined, as developers often work for an agency,” he said. “Every developer working on Umbraco makes a living on our software.” This underscores the value of their open source community to their future growth.
Focusing on partners has had an intrinsic “one to many” effect on multiplying Umbraco’s business. Madsen describes their community as the implementers, which has allowed Umbraco to focus on perfecting their software.
We asked Madsen if there’s one thing he would want the market to know about Umbraco, and he again came back to the value of being open source – and the contributions of their community.
“Open source is not a hippie thing anymore,” he noted. “It has a far better development cycle. Developers can raise an issue and get an answer quickly from other developers. It is the true ‘outside in’ approach, not us inventing in a lab and taking something to market. This is all based on real-life experiences that our developers have.”
That sounds like a friendly CMS experience to us – and a true differentiator for an investor like Monterro.
Peace, love, and integration.
Danish Umbraco was founded in 2005 with the vision of making the complex simpler. The company offers a user-friendly best-of-breed platform for content management (CMS) based on open-source technology. With more than 700,000 installations, Umbraco is one of the most deployed Web Content Management Systems on the Microsoft stack. Its success lies in the open-source model, a unique community of more than 220,000 developers and users, and a well-established partner network of digital agencies. Umbraco has 100 employees and is headquartered in Odense, Denmark, with a branch office in Charlotte, North Carolina. For more information, visit www.umbraco.com