Interview with Aleksander Farstad, founder of eZ Systems and eZ Publish open source CMS

By Ivo Lukač -

In the first interview here on Netgen Blog we have Aleksander Farstad. He is the founder of eZ Systems with their main product eZ Publish open source CMS and was the CEO from 1999 to 2009. Currently, he is the Member of the Board and VP of Business Development.

"The stronger the community, the stronger the product and the stronger the company the stronger the product...this is adding up." - AF

NG: Hello Aleksander and welcome to our blog. Let's start from the beginning. Back in 1999 you founded eZ Systems and soon after that released your main product eZ Publish CMS as open source software. Running a software company was quite different back then, open source was not even close to mainstream, so how come you decided to share it? What were the main reasons for such an unusual action?

AF: In the end of the 90s we saw the first open source companies being established. Even though we at that time did not know how the business model would work out, we knew it would be the business model of the future for the software industry for one simple reason, it created the most value for the customers. It was disruptive! We figured we over time would find a fair way to make our share, without compromising the core values of open source, and so we have.

NG: 12 years after, eZ Systems is a respectable business with many offices all over the world, with respectable client portfolio and with numerous community. Knowing from personal experience how hard it is to run a consulting business while making a product: what kept you going all this time especially in the early years?

AF: When you believe in something you never ever give up. We have been and we still are in this for the long term. When you set out to build a new business on a new technology, with a new unproven business model in a global highly competitive market, you know you are not in for a quiet ride.

NG: When you look back, are you satisfied with the outcome? Do you think you could achieve more? Any regrets?

AF: Of course we are proud of what eZ and its ecosystem has accomplished so far. Building this has been alot of trial and error, as there was no one else to look at. But this is merely a first start, we now have a proven technology platform and a proven business model. When I handed over the company to Gabriel, I told her that you have a 4,2 version of the software, 1.0 of the business model and a 1,0 beta version of a company. So this marks a start, not an end.

NG: When you look at the situation on the market now, how do you see eZ Publish CMS in relation to other open source CMS-es like Drupal on one side and commercial CMS products on the other side?

AF: eZ is and has always been the high end alternative towards to leading commercial open source CMS. What eZ and other open source CMS has in common is the open source model. As always we have been ahead of the market, but as it now matures we also see that the market understands this as well.

NG: In you opinion what is the main advantage of eZ over other products and what part of eZ would need improvements the most?

AF: The key of eZ Publish is its unique content model in combination with its open standards, APIs and being a true content management system with full separation of content and layout. Making eZ Publish not only into a very flexible enterprise platform, but in the CMS world by far the leader of the Multi-Challenge (Multi channel, Multi sites, Multi language, Multi user...)

NG: Regarding all the changes during last 2 years (replacing consultancy model with the subscription model, splitting the code to Enterprise and Community version, etc.) are you satisfied with the current ratio between the open source part (including eZ Community) and the business part (eZ Systems)? Will there be more strategic changes in the near future?

AF: These are the results of a process started in 2007. Now our business model has come together. We are now more open source than ever, but we still have a strong scalable business model.

One of the mistakes of the past is that we rather have done most things ourselves, than involving the community. Going forward we want to involve the community even further, as we know this is a key critical success criteria of our business model.

NG: eZ Community is usually very eager to see new feature and improvements in the product, so I need to ask: are you going to focus more on the product to improve it even more now the business path is set? 

AF: Of course, both from continuously improving the open innovation processes with the community, and by adding resources to our own development team. So to sum up; the stronger the community, the stronger the product and the stronger the company the stronger the product...this is adding up.

NG: Due to the fact that we always have a shortage of eZ developers, how would you encourage people to start working with eZ Publish? What would be your key messages to them?

AF: It is simple; If you are a developer with eZ Publish knowledge and expertise, I can guarantee you that there is a job for you out there. Unlike other open source CMS eZ is in the enterprise market giving totally different opportunities. So if you do not have this knowledge, get it! I promise you an interesting and well paid job.

NG: Where do you see the eZ Ecosystem (eZ Systems, eZ Publish, eZ Community) in 5 years? Do you see yourself as an important part of it?

AF: In 5 years eZ is one of the top 3 players in the Web CMS industry globally, open source or commercial, and the eZ Ecosystem being at the heart of it. I do of course want to be part of this.

NG: How do you spend your time when not dealing with eZ*?

AF: I travel a lot with eZ all around the world, so when at home in Norway, I spend time with my family and love exploring the rugged nature either by skis in winter, or by sailing, diving, hiking or climbing in summer.

NG: Thank you for your time!

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