IPO contender Acquia halts noncompetes for employees

Acquia chief executive Tom Erickson (left) and cofounder/CTO Dries Buytaert.
Acquia chief executive Tom Erickson (left) and cofounder/CTO Dries Buytaert.

At the end of last week, one of Massachusetts’ fastest-growing tech firms, Acquia, became the latest to ditch noncompetes as the push against the measures in the tech community picks up steam.

Noncompetes are agreements that many employees are asked to sign in Massachusetts, which legally prevent employees from working for competitors or starting competing firms immediately after leaving. Critics say the agreements have a negative impact on innovation in the region (and California doesn’t allow them).

Acquia, a Burlington-based firm that provides cloud-based hosting for Web content management system Drupal, said it would no longer make new hires sign a noncompete agreement and would not enforce the agreements for existing employees who signed them. Top executives will still be subject to the agreements.

Acquia cofounder and chief technology officer Dries Buytaert posted a memo about the decision that was sent to employees Friday. He said in his post that “it’s been a long time coming.”

It is the right thing to do,” Buytaert wrote.

Acquia, an IPO candidate that saw nearly $70 million in revenue last year, eliminated noncompetes amid a push by Gov. Deval Patrick to ban the agreements and a petition campaign by the New England Venture Capital Association to support the ban.

Acquia joins local tech companies such as FitnessKeeper, maker of the popular RunKeeper run-tracking app, in abandoning the agreements.

The companies are “declaring that noncompetes are a relic of an old economy culture that treats employees as bad actors rather than as talented innovators,” said C.A. Webb, executive director of the New England Venture Capital Association, in an email today.

But the agreements remain prevalent in Massachusetts. Webb reports that a survey by MIT professor Matthew Marx found that about half of tech sector employees in Massachusetts are required to sign noncompetes.

“Among venture-backed tech companies, they are pretty commonplace,” she said.

Scott Kirsner recently wrote that Gov. Patrick’s proposed ban may face an uphill battle in the Legislature, “since many companies are content with the way things are.”

But with the tide turning against them among some of the most prominent tech upstarts in Boston, don’t be surprised if more companies follow Acquia’s lead soon.

Kyle Alspach has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since 2005 and was one of the original staff writers at BetaBoston.
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