Interview with Brian Halligan (HubSpot)
HubSpot provides a marketing software platform for small and medium sized businesses.
I interviewed Brian Halligan, HubSpot co-founder and CEO to find out more. This interview is the ninety eighth in a series of DW interviews. Big thank you to Brian for the interview!
How would you describe HubSpot in under 5 words?
All-in-one marketing software.
For those that don’t know, what is inbound marketing? How can marketers embrace inbound marketing? What is a great example of inbound marketing?
The way humans shop, learn, and spend their time has changed dramatically in the last few years in two important way. First, humans are sick-and-tired of being marketed to and are getting increasingly good at blocking marketing out through DVR’s spam protection, callerID, etc. Second, people spend tons of time in Google, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, etc versus watching TV, reading mail, and talking on the phone. …The idea behind inbound marketing is to transform the way you market to match the way modern humans live today by pulling them in versus interrupting them with emails, cold calls, ads, etc.
What were you doing before HubSpot? What inspired you decide to start working on HubSpot?
I was an Entrepreneur-In-Residence at a venture firm and my job was to go around to the portfolio companies and help them grow. All of the companies had a similar “marketing playbook”: hire a PR firm, buy Google Adwords, hire telesales reps, go to tradeshows, etc. My realization was that the playbook was broken — the market stopped responding to it.
While this was going on, Dharmesh Shah, my eventual co-founder was in school and spent a few hours a week blogging at OnStartups. His blog was getting 10x more interest than most of my venture backed startups! Wtf?!?!
That’s where we came up with the idea of helping folks shift from the traditional outbound marketing playbook to the new inbound marketing playbook which was better aligned with the way humans live, shop, learn, yada, yada.
Who are the other co-founders of Hubspot? How do you all complement each other skills-wise?
I met my cofounder, Dharmesh, while we were studying together at MIT. I think there are two things that have worked well for us. First, we have a complimentary skillset — I am from a sales-ish background and he is from a tech-ish background. Second, we get along and tend to see the world in a similar way.
Who came up with the name?
Dharmesh came up with the name. …The idea is we want businesses to turn their website into a “hub” on the internet that is pulling people in from Google, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. I also like the double entendre (Boston is the “hub” of the universe).
HubSpot has been named Inc.500 2nd Fastest growing software company and ranked #17 in the Forbes top 20 most promising companies. What are the main factors that have led to HubSpot’s growth and success?
Well, I think we saw the massive shift that needed to happen in marketing and it turned out we were vaguely right about it! After that, we worked hard to build a product that people love and a process to bring customers on board and delight them that scaled. …Frankly, there’s been no “one thing” — lots of little things done right and wrong along the way and lots of course corrections along the way.
You literally wrote the book on inbound marketing (you co-wrote ‘Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media and Blogs’). How much of a challenge was this? Any plans for more books?
This was actually a pretty big challenge — not for the faint of heart, it turns out. Every spare second of my life for about 4-5 months was consumed by the book.
We are working on another book now that is a broader and more modern version of the Inbound book. Pumped about it!
Last year you closed $32m in series D financing from Sequoia Capital, Google Ventures and Salesforce.com. Overall, HubSpot has raised more than $65m in venture capital. What is the secret to securing venture capital?
Having a hockey stick growth curve doesn’t hurt!
Congratulations on being awarded Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year in 2011. What appeals most about being your own boss?
Huh? I must have missed a memo. When you are a vp of something, you have one boss. When you are a CEO, you have a board. In my case, I have 6 bosses on my board! Smile.
If you had a time machine, is there anything you would go back and do differently?
This is going to sound weird, but I wish we actually had less access to capital in the early days. It would have forced us to be a bit more disciplined. It would have forced to solve everything with software versus relying a lot on humans.
Where do you see HubSpot in 5 years time?
I see it as a standalone company, not part of something bigger. When we started the company, we set out to build something that our grandkids would be proud of.
Are you able to keep a work-life balance?
What book are you reading at the moment?
Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer.
Who would you say is your biggest competitor?
Point solutions: Google Analytics + Constant Contact + WordPress + SEO consultant + Marketo + IT person.
Marketing hasn’t changed much over the last 50 years, but during the past 5 years it has changed a lot. What trends in marketing do you foresee in the next 5 years?
I kind of think the marketing industry today looks like the horse and buggy industry in 1912. Back then, there were 16,000 companies making horse shoes, saddles, whips, etc. There’s basically none left as that industry was wiped out by the auto industry. …The changes over the last 5 years are just the 1st inning.
What one piece of advice would you give to startup founders?
Go big or go home.
Finished reading? Check out HubSpot!