Sadek Drobi

The journey of entrepreneurship has a way of cultivating its travelers. In some cases though, that journey is as physical as it is professional.

Sadek Drobi, the founder of headless CMS Prismic.io, is one entrepreneur who found himself traveling across several borders to seek knowledge, experience and entrepreneurial freedom.

'Surreal' Dreams and Sinclair Computers

Originally from Syria, Drobi started going against the grain from an early age. He quickly grew disillusioned with school, “I failed in the traditional school system that was — and is — completely focused on memorizing literally entire texts, which is far from being one of my skills.”

Instead, Drobi expressed an interest in computing, an industry that was still in its infancy, even in the most developed areas of the world.

“My parents had noticed my early interest in computing, and my father brought me a programmable calculator and a Sinclair computer. [Bear in mind] this was in the '80s when even proper TVs were unavailable in Syria,” Drobi continued.

With his Sinclair computer in front of him, Drobi began dreaming of a life revolving around the emerging digital world — a concept totally alien to his family. They insisted, first with his forward-thinking father, that Drobi should focus on school and leave his “surreal” dreams alone, lest he never finds a real job.  

“Well, it turned out my father was a visionary, and [the rest of my family] were all pretty wrong,” Drobi remarked.

The Road to Silicon Valley

Despite Drobi’s aversion to traditional schooling, he decided to study his way into the technology industry. Thankfully, his parent’s supported his decision.

“My parents were ready to sponsor my studies in Armenia to further my education in computer engineering. Armenia gave me the space to rediscover myself and recover from school doubts I had. Spending time with software and programming felt like playing more than studying. It was pretty much like puzzle solving, which I really loved.”

After earning his computer engineering degree from the State University of Engineering of Armenia, Drobi set his eyes on the Université Paris Dauphine:

“I moved to Paris to get a masters degree in software engineering. I quickly understood that there was a huge opportunity in the French market for software development and architecture. Thus, my professional journey officially began,” Drobi told CMSWire.

CMSWire spoke with Drobi to find out more about his path to entrepreneurship. 

A Well-Traveled Entrepreneur

CMSWire: After studying in Armenia and France, you went on to hold architectural positions at VIDAL, Valtech and LinkedIn. Did those positions give you the technical skills and experience to co-found Prismic.io? What else did your time at LinkedIn, in particular, teach you?

Drobi: My position evolved quickly indeed into dealing with architecture. It felt fun to identify structural changes that can make huge problems simply vanish. It’s all a matter of perspective and software has very few rigid laws, that themselves get challenged every year with innovation and technology advancements.

At Zengularity, we created the Play framework, a web framework that enjoyed a lot of popularity and success in big and small startups seeking rapidity, scalability and performance. This brought me to work for companies like LinkedIn, Twitter and Apple to help them boost their architectures and scalability for their APIs and apps.

At LinkedIn, I met a lot of interesting people and started learning more about successful startup cultures. However, what gave me a truly different perspective was actually meeting with Donald Fischer, a VC who, at that time was the CEO of Typesafe, the company that acquired the Play framework.

I really appreciated his way of reasoning: the value he gave to his team and especially his analytical approach to the market. I fell in love with market exploration and analysis. This is probably what led me to think of creating Prismic.io.

CMSWire: You co-founded Prismic with Guillaume Bort, but he has since parted ways with the company. Can you go into any detail as to your history with Bort, and why he left Prismic?

Drobi: Our journey with Guillaume actually started while we were working together on Play. Guillaume is an impressive developer, ultra-productive, smart and pragmatic. He is able to deliver at a surprisingly fast rhythm and that was key to get out the first version of Prismic.io. Guillaume had to leave two years ago for family reasons. That was a big loss at the time.

But in every event, no matter how bad it seems, you need to look for the hidden opportunity. In this case, the opportunity was to start over and think: Which market should I target?  What kind of culture should I build? And what kind of founding team Prismic.io needs to achieve it?

At that time, I used my contacts in the Valley to reach out to founders, partners and startup marketing pioneers to explore the subject of renewing a startup’s governance in order to make a fully informed decisions.

I started building the new Prismic founding team looking for three essential things in my everyday partners: have a set of skills different from mine, are open to discussion, and are brave enough to criticize me when they disagree. I wanted to build something bigger than me or them individually. So, the collaboration had to be in the foundation of my new company.

CMSWire: Why did you choose to build a headless CMS? How has the headless CMS space changed since the inception of Prismic.io, and how do you expect it to change in coming years?

Drobi: Headless CMS isn’t a great discovery itself, it is rather a necessity that everyone is discovering every day. Probably we were the first to recognize the opportunity, but the idea comes from the emerging trend of “stick an API in front of whatever product you’re dealing with.”

We’ve decided to create an API-based CMS because it seemed as a solid foundation to challenge a huge market, delivering more value to both developers and marketers.

Headless content management is about two things:

  1. Offering the backend for content management as a product
  2. Publishing an API that allows developers to build whatever website or app they want, using any technology or design.

To be honest, I personally dislike the term “headless,” since it is disconnected, dull and very limiting. I guess the opportunity is way bigger than that, and we need to take the challenge to the next level.

If you observe the technology market, developers have become much more skilled and marketing departments are demanding much more from these developers. The CMS space has become more aware of all the opportunities offered by an API-based CMS, but everyone is still stuck with the impossible equation to solve: use the traditional CMS vs. choose API-based CMS and rebuild all other CMS functionalities in house.

Our job in the next years is to solve new problems. The answer “you’ve got an API, do it yourself” is lazy and insufficient; we should provide out-of-the-box solutions to new business and marketing challenges. I think we can start conceiving the Wordpress of tomorrow. This wouldn’t happen easily, we need to work very hard, but the momentum is there.

CMSWire: You co-founded Prismic.io in 2013, but in June 2017, 'New Prismic.io' emerged. What is 'New Prismic.io', and what's next for the platform?

Drobi: New Prismic is the company behind the product Prismic.io, its creation signals the complete independence of Prismic.io and its new founding team. We’re now a profitable company with a wide variety of clients of different sizes from freelancers, small and medium companies to very big enterprise.

What’s next? Well now we’re preparing to take Prismic.io to the next level. We get a lot of advice from different friend VCs, and we want to accelerate our creation of value. We’re expecting an exceptional 2018.

CMSWire: What advice do you have for entrepreneurs in the tech space today?

Drobi: Pop culture made everyone think that the initial idea is what makes a startup successful — this a very dangerous myth. A journey of a startup, is a journey of exploring opportunities. The initial idea is nice to gather a team and some money around it, but don’t stick to it too much. You need to keep an exploration mindset and look for data to understand your market and customers.

Also a startup journey can be very enjoyable, you learn tons of things about markets, people, networks, value, business, architecture and many other aspects. But it is certainly very exhausting. It is long, and you should find a good and long lasting rhythm of work. I play a lot of badminton to keep in a good physical shape.

Last thing, surround yourself with smart people and smart discussions. Stay in touch with founders and partners, they have a lot of experiences and they can save you the trouble of learning by yourself sometimes.