What happens when you build your business on someone else’s platform and the platform changes?
Laura Fitton is the founder of Oneforty, an app store that was built for Twitter. It was acquired in 2011 by HubSpot where she’s now the Inbound Marketing Evangelist.
Laura Fitton, Oneforty
Laura Fitton is the founder of Oneforty, an app store that was built for Twitter. It was acquired in 2011 by HubSpot where she’s now the Inbound Marketing Evangelist.
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Here’s the program. Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner.
I’m the founder of mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart. The place
where proven entrepreneurs come to talk candidly about their stories and to
tell you how they did it.
You know, a lot of people these days now are building on different
platforms. Everyone wants to be a platform. Facebook is a platform for
social apps. Your iPhone or Android phone wants to be a platform for all
mobile apps. Well, Twitter, for a long time wanted to be a platform and
maybe still is a platform for short-burst communications. Well, what
happens when you as the entrepreneur who’s watching me build a business on
one of these platforms, and the platform just changes from under you. Well,
that’s what we’re going to find out in this interview.
Laura Fitton is the founder OneForty, an app store that was built for
Twitter applications. It was acquired in 2011 by HubSpot, a great company
that I hope we’ll find out more about. At Hubspot, she’s doing inbound
marketing. She is the inbound marketing evangelist.
Andrew: Laura, welcome back to Mixergy.
Laura: Hey Andrew, it’s great to be back. Thank you so much.
Andrew: I explained One-Forty as originally an app store built on Twitter.
Why don’t we just bring people up to speed if they didn’t see the first
interview. Where did the idea for One-Forty come from?
Laura: Sure. I’m this kind of crazy, really, really crazy . . . Through The
Looking Glass or Cinderella story based on Twitter. Five years ago now, I
had almost no connections. I was kind of a presentations consultant. I had
been a marketing consultant in some respect for about 12 years. I stumbled
on this thing. I blogged about how stupid I thought Twitter was. Then,
about a month later, I stumbled into some really interesting banes of value
in Twitter. Surrounding yourself with successful interesting people was my
first killer-use case for it.
Long story short, things just got crazy. I got to meet Guy Kawasaki and
convince him that Twitter was really going to be business school. This was
back in August 2007. It was kind of like being Cassandra at Troy. I was,
like, ‘ Yeah, there’s this thing coming!’ A lot of people didn’t really
believe it or thought I was overblowing it. I’m really, really lucky that
most of what I thought Twitter was going to turn into happened. Then, over
the course of all that time, I got to speak at tons of conferences, tons of
media interviews . . .
Andrew: You were like an unofficial, unpaid evangelist for Twitter. You
were the person who told everyone else, ‘This is where the value is. Here’s
how you can use it. Pay attention to this company.’
Laura: I was by no means the only one. I don’t want to claim that kind of
credit, but I certainly was one of the more insane. It led to a lot of
great stuff for me. I have no complaints whatsoever. Wiley approached me,
this yellow and black books, the Dummy series. I wrote the one for Twitter.
Seth Godin included me in a book about leading tribes, and I didn’t even
know he knew who I was. To speak at conferences all over the world, got
quoted in, you name it, any business publication, and ended up in a
position in December 2008, it was, where I was just completely subsumed
with my ability to keep up with all the different apps that were launching
into the ecosystem. I was trying to help businesses understand Twitter. I
was one of the first to put that flag in the ground. I remember sitting
with agencies in New York in September 2008 and trying to help them
understand what was going on about conversations about their brands. That
was about two years too early. That consulting business totally failed.
Andrew: It did?
Laura: The idea that there were all these apps.
Andrew: By the way, our connection is so-so today, which is why your video
is not coming in perfectly and why we might have an overlap as we talk, but
the business didn’t do well? I didn’t realize that.
Laura: Pistachio Consulting.
Andrew: I didn’t realize that.
Laura: Because I relaunched it in September 2008 and the market tanked.
Lehman Brothers went out of business within days. I had about $40,000 worth
of consulting lined up. Mainly with agencies in New York and everybody
backed off and freaked out thinking, “Where’s the economy going? This
Twitter thing is just a whim”‘
Andrew: Laura, when they freaked out, you as the entrepreneur who was
running this business, again, this is pre OneForty, pre HubSpot, when they
were all freaking out and leaving you, how did you react to it? Candidly,
now that there has been so much time that has passed.
Laura: I was terrified. If you look back, one of the more interesting
things that happened through me was that in December 2008 I did, what was
then, a pretty massive campaign for Charity Water. Since then, there’ve
been much bigger ones, but I raised $25,000 for Charity Water as a
birthday/Christmas wish and I was desperate that December. I was one year
into my separation. My old consulting business, I had basically shut down,
so I had one last client and they finally petered off that month. My new
consulting business wasn’t working. I was a single mom sitting on top of a
huge mortgage with a house that was underwater. I was stressed about it
being my first holiday and I just threw my heart and soul into this water
issue to not go insane and be depressed. Luckily, that thing really took
off. It got crazy [??], on the Huffington Post, Arianna singled it out as
one of her top five stories on Christmas Day.
Andrew: You, a person who believes in Charity Water, were able to get so
many people online to donate this much money for a cause that got you
attention, got Charity Water attention.
Laura: Part of the reason that worked was there was, again, we’re going to
get back to Twitter tools and how I really feel they still will change the
world. At the time, there was a PayPal for Twitter. There was something
called Tipjoy that let you tweet money. It was a pledge you later had to
fulfill, so we were only asking for $2 per tweeter and fundraising on
Twitter was still a very new thing. We raised $10,000 of it, $2 at a time
on Twitter. But even Evan Bizz [SP], donated. Everybody was like, ‘Wow.
This is cool. We can tweet money to each other.’ As I was doing that
campaign and as I was trying to keep myself from falling on the floor, I
read James Alchercher’s [SP], blog a lot and he writes all the time about
the periods in his life where he was just lying on the floor crying. I
would have been lying on the floor crying if I hadn’t had something like
that to throw my heart and soul into.
I remember Todd Defren, at SHIFT Communications, the PR firm that I was
sharing office space with at the time, and sharing office space means they
gave me a free desk. He came in, he’s like, ‘Why are you doing this big
campaign? You need to focus on your business right now. It’s toast.’ I’m
like, ‘Todd, I got to keep going.’ This was all happening at the same time
that I first got the idea for One Forty and a lot of the pain point was I
just could not keep up on which tools I should be recommending to
businesses for their Twitter engagement and also that I felt that software
integrating Twitter’s data would completely change the world and I think it
has and is and I think we’ve barely touched the surface. I will say that an
app store didn’t prove to be the way to get there and Twitter’s own
behavior had a pretty big impact on whether or not that was ever going to
be achievable, but you don’t necessarily need an app store to create a lot
of software innovation.
Andrew: You ended up, you were very feisty. One of the things that I loved
about the first interview was you said, “Look. Tech Stars didn’t accept me
in the first round, but I found a way in.” That was so inspiring to hear
how you found a way in. Sure enough you were in Tech Stars. One of the
early programs got a little bit of funding from them, got a lot of support
and a lot of open doors as a result of it and then you’re off and then at
some point you recognized that an app store wasn’t the thing. How do you
even get to that realization considering how you told everyone, “I’ve got
the thing.” It’s hard when you say, “this is what I stand for. This is what
I think you should be investing in,” and you get all these people behind
you. It’s hard to realize, “This is not right.” I would be too stubborn and
I think I might just bang my head against the wall for a few months before
I recognize it. How’d you recognize it?
Laura: It helped that I had a VC telling me it for about a year.
Andrew: So for about a year you had an investor? Who was it who told you
this and how did they tell you for a year?
Laura: Jeff Bussgang of Flybridge. He would lean back and say, ‘So what
else are you looking at in case this app store thing doesn’t fly?’ He would
just gradually turn up the volume of that question over time. He was very
magnanimous in how he handled it. It did take a long time to awaken to that
realization and it was fairly painful. I had another friend look at me and
say, “Laura, Twitter is your bad boyfriend. If you keep driving by his
house and showing up at his apartment, he’s going to make out with you, but
he’s not calling you. He’s not making dates. What are you doing here?
You’re throwing so much energy into that ecosystem.”
Andrew: How did Jeff analyze it? I admire some Venture Capitalists’ ability
to analyze a situation and to see things in it that the rest of us are
completely missing and it sounds like, in this case, Jeff was dead on. A
year before the entrepreneur was running the company, recognize that he
recognized it. What was he seeing that I didn’t see at the time, for
Laura: Understand, during the last 18 months of 140, time extended and
contracted. What I’m calling a year could have been three months for all I
know. It’s hard to read exactly how long it was. I specifically remember
July of 2010, I guess it was. That was about six months after our
interview. The questions starting to filter in and then they gradually
became more pointed over time.
Andrew: What were the things that he noticed that I wouldn’t have noticed
from the sidelines?
Laura: He knew the inside, he knew the numbers weren’t growing, he knew the
developers weren’t flocking to us to see their apps. He knew that it was
really unclear, even if we got heavy traction, we got good traction on
listing all the apps, we just got no traction whatsoever on selling them
through us or having any commercial participation in the way the apps were
being listed. He certainly saw that, but it was also just the whole world
was seeing, I believe, Chris Dixon’s specific line was that, “Twitter took
an Uzi to its ecosystem.” I was very good friends with Ryan Sarber [SP],
and able to do a lot of diplomatic work between Twitter and its ecosystem
and really hold things together as the first announcements of app
acquisitions came and that big conference, what was it called? What’s the
developer conference called?
Andrew: TERP [SP], I think.
Laura: TERP. The night before TERP, I literally pulled 33 of the more
important developers in the ecosystem into a room and we sat down and we
talked and then we brought in Ryan for Q&A and it really did still look
like there was going to be a commercially viable way for Twitter to make
tons and tons of money on letting people innovate on their data. I still
think they’ll get there. They’re doing it via Gnip now and via DataSift
rather than directly, and I respect that decision. That’s an important
strategic decision that Dick had to make. Twitter was having quite a bit of
its own management turmoil at the time, obviously behind the scenes that
came out later.
Andrew: What you’re seeing is . . .
Laura: Who’s going to go?
Andrew: . . . you’re seeing, “You know what? App developers are listing
their apps in our app store but we’re not selling enough of it. No matter
what we try, we’re not getting more sales of them. And Twitter is basically
announcing that if you’re an important app, we’re going to subsume you.
Either your functionalities or we’re going to buy your business and take it
over and if you’re not important, you’re not important.” Their approach to
their ecosystem totally changes, you said, they took an Uzi to it. These
are the things that Jeff might have noticed ahead. Sorry?
Laura: Chris Dixon’s words, not mine.
Andrew: Excuse me. Chris Dixon. Jeff might have noticed it ahead of me
sitting on the outside and you would have noticed it ahead of me, but there
was some awareness there that this is what was going on. Now I understand
the facts, let’s understand a little bit of the emotion. When someone says
to you as an entrepreneur, “What else are you looking at if this app store
doesn’t fly?” I know I get hurt when people say that to me. “What are you
going to do other than interview?” When I was starting my first business
and I told someone about how exciting it was to be in online greeting cards
or newsletters, or whatever it was that it was at the time, he said,
‘You’re so excited. Companies would love to hire someone with your
excitement.” I go, “No. What do you mean?” “Well, if this company doesn’t
work out, when this company doesn’t work out, you could get a great job.
Don’t sell yourself short.” Anyway, I was hurt by that. Entrepreneurs are
hurt when people say, “What else do you got?” How did you feel at the time
when you first heard, “Hey, maybe this isn’t the right idea?”
Laura: There’s a fascinating interplay that nobody writes about and that I
never quite got my brain around between all the dogma out there about, “You
need this visionary founder with the strength to run through walls and the
clarity of vision to see what’s not happening yet and the passion.” [??]
startup and pivot all over the map and totally follow your customers, and
those two things don’t mesh. They just don’t, and everybody pretends they
do. Not to be defensive, because I actually hang a lot of the stuff about
[??] not taking off on my own character flaws. Like management
difficulties, stuff like that. I think it’s very interesting that, I think
for the entrepreneur, the hardest thing is you’ve known you were right and
people didn’t get it for three years and when a new thing comes up where
you actually are wrong, it’s a little hard to know that you’re now in the
space of something that you don’t know. Does that make sense?
Laura: The whole time I was saying, “Twitter’s going to be an important
business tool.” People were like, “You’re ridiculous. Twitter is the
silliest, pointless thing.” You get so used to people calling you out and
saying you’re totally wrong and then coming back six months later and being
like, “Oh snap,” that when you are, in fact, wrong, and this is one of the
challenges of an entrepreneur. I wanted to know if I was wrong, but it was
hard to get a clean reading on the compass about when I was and when I
wasn’t. Yes, it hurts. Like I said, even after all this stuff, I still
think software integrating Twitter’s data will continue to change the
world. We’ve already seen it change the world, but it will continue to. It
will dig deeper into our economy, it will change access to social services
for really marginalized people. That is still true. That is still
Twitter integrated software. Just an app store wasn’t the way to get there.
Once we [??] an app store wasn’t the way to get there, we scrambled to
figure out what else can you do with an app store, if you’ve already built
one? That was a really interesting process and I accepted it and I
literally went out on the war path trying out 12 different ideas and
talking to 30 different people and we looked at doing white label app
stores, we looked at a bunch of different things and what we finally came
up with was Social Based, this very specialized project management software
to [??] a social media team function when really only a couple of people at
the company fully got social and they were charged with running a huge team
of 5-40 others who would have to engage on social everyday.
We built this thing Social Based that really played off of all our
strengths and we probably would have continued as an independent company as
opposed to going for the [??] acquisition if we [??] more traction and
cohesiveness as a management team. I really think my greenness and my
inability to know how to excite and motivate my employees and keep the
management team really singing, I think you can undergo a pivot and you can
survive poor signaling with VCs if you have an amazing management team
that’s kicking butt, but if everybody’s tired, if everybody’s getting
frustrated with each other, if it’s not clear that the CEO knows what
they’re doing from a management perspective, which I was transparent about
from before I raised the first dime for 140. “Look, I’ve never had an
employee or a boss.” It just gets hard. I think you can overcome [??] if
you have traction, but we didn’t have traction. We had a great product
Andrew: What were your challenges as a manager? I think a lot of
entrepreneurs are challenged as managers because it takes two different
kinds of skill sets, it seems. Entrepreneurs need to be visionaries, need
to be willing to hear people disagree with them and still do what they
think is right. Managers need to bring people together. They need to be
more about other people’s opinions, so what are some of the things that you
noticed in your business that were challenges for management?
Laura: To be completely transparent about this, I am often socially tone
deaf to people really close to me.
Andrew: How does that come out? Because I don’t see that in you.
Laura: Well, I do very well at a distance. I do tons of speaking, tons of
public presence, but I think one on one dealing with a close up team
member, I just haven’t done it a lot and I step on toes, and I don’t always
read the situation well. For all that entrepreneurs that entrepreneurs love
to turn their noses up at big companies, I mean HubSpot’s not even big,
we’re 300 people. I am on such a fantastic learning curve here in terms of
learning all the interpersonal dynamics stuff, the team stuff, how you make
everybody else look like they have credit for what you’re doing, that stuff
is so important and I think the true maverick, lone wolf entrepreneur
misses out on a lot of opportunity with blind spots around that stuff. I
think a year or two inside a really big company is fantastic experience for
Andrew: Do you have an example of a time when you were tone deaf or not as
strong a manager as, in retrospect, you could have been?
Laura: Oh, God. I just had no idea how my spurts of energy affected the
Andrew: Oh, really? What do you mean by that?
Laura: I would come back, typically off a trip, and be like, “Oh my God,
here’s a really exciting idea that we can run after!” And I just didn’t
understand why the ripple didn’t continue rolling through the pond.
Andrew: Why didn’t it?
Andrew: Why didn’t the ripple continue rolling through the pond?
Laura: I think a lot of times those things came off as completely
distracting. Like, “Oh, I was over here doing this thing, and now you want
to rip me in this direction.” I think people felt a little overwhelmed by
it, and I didn’t see that overwhelm. I was like, “Why don’t they understand
how great this idea is?” Rather than bringing them along and letting them
feel the idea was theirs, and be like, “Wow, you just came up with this
amazing idea.” I just had no idea how to do that. I was just like, “If I
rant and get excited and say here’s this thing, everybody will follow it,”
and that’s just not how it works.
Andrew: How does it work, then?
Laura: I’m learning.
Laura: Core listening skills are very important skills that a lot of
maverick entrepreneurs probably don’t have. Single tasking skills, as
opposed to sitting in all of your meetings on six other things, ignoring,
checking your phone. All that subtle stuff, eye contact, listening,
patience, asking lots of questions as opposed to making statements and
If I ever do another startup, which I really am dead set against, once
again, it would be with somebody who is a fantastic operator and not afraid
to chill me out when I get going. Because I think, when you’re very excited
and passionate, and you have all this hype bubble around you, it’s probably
a little intimidating for the people close to you to say, “Hey, bring it
down to earth right now. Here’s what’s really going on.” I need that, I
crave that in the team around me, and I had a fantastic team around me,
they just didn’t know how to deal with my weirdness.
Andrew: [laughs] That’s big of you to recognize. I hope I can recognize my
challenges the way that you just pointed out your management issues.
Laura: [laughs] I’ve had some time and space, and also, in the last nine
months of 140, I brought on someone to function as a CEO, he never took on
the title. He really taught all of us a lot what is and isn’t functional on
a management team.
Andrew: Who is this person, and can I interview them?
Andrew: I would like to learn this.
Laura: He kind of stayed on the down low, so I don’t know. I’ll ask him.
Andrew: If I would have done this interview with you, maybe not the day
after the sale to HubSpot close, but within a week or two after, would you
have had all this realization, or does it take months of distance to really
put it in perspective and understand what happened?
Laura: A little bit of both. The big waking up around what our fundamental
challenges were was definitely happening between January and May, it really
started to crescendo in May of 2011. But, certainly the more time that goes
by, the more maturity and insight and good humor I can have about it. But,
don’t let me paint a disaster scene. We had this amazing product, we got it
into market, people were really excited about it, we attracted the interest
of HubSpot, we talked to a lot of different companies, we decided HubSpot
was our best choice. Obviously, we were running out of fuel in the plane,
so it was a landing.
Andrew: How much cash was in the bank, of the $2 million or so that you
Laura: There’s actually still some. We haven’t finished closing out all the
accounting and sending it back. So, we didn’t go to zero, and I know some
entrepreneurs do. They go to zero and they go to minus three months. But it
was important to us to respect our investors enough to have an orderly wind
down and not leave them with any open liabilities. They had taken such a
huge risk on us. All told it was about $2 million. So compared to the
rounds that are getting raised now it’s not like we burned through a lot of
money. We went three years on $2 million.
Andrew: For the team and other expenses.
Laura: Yes. The other thing that’s funny in respect. When you and I did our
first interview, I had no idea about this. We talked about how I kind of
got in trouble as a tech star, because I was in California instead of
Boston. And I didn’t make it in at first and all that stuff. We were
actually the highest raise by any tech star ever, Boulder or Boston, at the
time we were talking.
Andrew: I didn’t know that.
Laura: Until Sungrid which raised $5 million. So at the time you and I were
talking I had no idea until an article came out a year or two later talking
about a bunch of tech star rounds. At that time we were still the second
most raised ever. I’m sure now that’s [???]. But it was so funny because I
had watched tech stars Boulder for years. And these guys were heroes in my
eyes and legends, like Matt Gallagan and all these guys. And here I thought
I was the black sheep of the Boston program, which was the brand new
program. Only later did I find out that at one point they really kind of
pinned a lot of hopes on us.
Andrew: You know I’ve got notes here to ask you about how you came up with
the 20 ideas. And how you figured out social base was next, why you decided
to sell, or how the sale went on. But you just pointed something out to me.
There’s something about you, Laura. You’ve got some kind of contagious
energy where you do get people excited to work with you. In this example we
talked about how you got people to invest money in you. But you also got
David Cohen and tech stars to be excited about having you on and bringing
you on. As a non-developer in a program where I think they were looking for
developer entrepreneurs, what I’m wondering is how do you do it? I know
there are people who are listening to us right now who are saying I would
kill to be able to excite people the way that Laura does. Help me break it
down. What is it that you do that maybe somebody else can learn from and
Laura: Right. I think the thing that’s easiest to emulate. There’s two
things that I can come up with, because I think about this a lot. I try and
figure it out, and I honestly do not know. But there’s one thing you can
emulate, and one thing you totally can’t. The one thing you can emulate is
that when it really sizzles for me, and believe me it does not always
sizzle, it just looks that way from the outside. It’s when I’m a lightning
prod. It’s when something strikes and it’s so clear to me. Oh my god this
is a good thing. And then the law’s craziness kicks in and I’m earnest and
silly, and I’m not afraid what people are going to think about it. But
until I get that oh my god this is real, I can’t be as convincing. I can’t
have that contagious excitement. So a lot of it is from the fact that I
have no poker face, and I was totally picked on as a kid. So I’m very
earnest. I’m like this is what I’m excited about, this is why I’m excited.
And I don’t really give a shit what you think, right? Which you can see
where that becomes a problem in terms of management later on down the road.
Andrew: I could see. But I could also see people being the opposite. They
have this great realization that oh the world needs to work this way. And
then they start to second guess themselves. What happens if the world works
a different way? What happens if people think that I’m too excited? You
don’t allow yourself to do that, and that’s why you can get carried away.
Andrew: And other people are drawn to that, and they get off it. And you’re
saying too that there’s a part that you don’t understand. What’s the part
that you don’t understand? Or, that you can’t pass on?
Laura: The part I can’t pass on is like honestly, just one quick anecdote.
When I was in college I was really involved with a national student
environmental activism group called Student Environmental Action Coalition,
SEAC. It’s a long story that I won’t tell here. But I stumbled onto their
national council as a freshman in college. Largely because I had been
involved a little bit in high school. And even before I had the council
seat I didn’t really have a role. No one knew who I was.
We had this huge conference out CU Boulder, a huge speaker thing going on
out on the lawn. There were probably 6,000 to 8,000 students, maybe 4,000
students spread out on this lawn. And then we had all these high prestige
speakers coming up on a podium for a couple hours. And it was like a music
festival in the summer. The audience had completely lost the thread. There
was a drum circle in the back that was super loud. No one could hear the
speakers, and it was just evolving into chaos. And you know how
entrepreneurs look at situations that are breaking down, and they just jump
up and do something? I ran up to the podium between speakers, and I just
pulled the audience back to the podium. I don’t know what I said. I don’t
know what I did. But I was just like, hey y’all, like, (?) it’s great
speakers, duh, duh, duh. That drummer sounds awesome let’s kick ass at it
later, and, here’s our next speaker.
And I ran back down and someone’s like who the fuck are you? How did you
just do that? And, I had never done public speaking before, so, it wasn’t
like I was like now right then, hours and hours on huge stages. I’m not
afraid of audiences. I love playing with them and saying hi and getting
their eye contact. So, clearly that was just there. I didn’t even do
anything with it for like another 10 years career wise. So, I can’t help
you out on that one, but, it may also trace back to the pretty severe
bullying that I underwent in elementary and high.
Andrew: What do you mean, what kind of bullying?
Laura: I just was very different than other kids. Again, maybe there was a
drop of Aspergers. We didn’t do that diagnosis in the ’70s. I am sure I was
not reflecting socially well back and forth with kids. I was very prone to
tears, so, that makes me a great target for bullies because they can get
such a great reaction. I really didn’t know what to do with myself half the
time. So, I just felt like, you know, it was funny, I talk to people from
my high school now and they’re like oh you weren’t nearly as much of a
loser as you think you were. But, seriously up until senior year of high
school I felt like I was the class misfit, outcast, you know I was
terrified anytime I walked into any room. I didn’t date at all in high
school, or, college. That’s still something I’m learning how to do because
I got divorced right before OneForty. I had a talk with Dan Martell[sp] we
were walking through San Francisco during the early days of 140. He was
like you have this crazy knack to make people love you. I’m like that’s
crazy because my whole time growing up that was the single biggest problem
I had was I didn’t how to make people love me. I was like maybe I just
stopped caring. You know.
Andrew: So, you think that is what it is? ‘Cuz I was going to say how does
bullying you, how do being that person get you to be that person who we see
today, and who is shaping this story?
Laura: I stopped being afraid of stupid stuff like bullies.
Andrew: I see, and, so if you stopped being afraid of what a bully is going
to say that’s going to make you cry, you’re not afraid of what’s going to
happen when you’re up on stage and telling people hey come watch this
Andrew: …when you’re talking to an investor about your company I see your
not afraid of how they put it down.
Laura: I guess one more piece is I’ve been lucky enough to have a few
pretty big ladle fulls of adversity, but, none of it so horribly tragic
that I couldn’t recover it from it.
Andrew: For example, what adversity?
Laura: A very premature baby, not very premature, like six weeks premature
baby and at the same time a really massive blood infection that had be on
IV antibiotics for six weeks with the preemie. I had a minor stroke. I’ve a
sibling commit suicide. I’ve had you just like pretty minor stuff that all
got better. We had a couple of really serious things happen to us when we
first moved to Massachusetts, right around the time my career was starting
to take off. First, where my daughter got pretty severe lead poisoning
right before I got into (?) and stuff like that.
Laura: Second, were I had and infant daughter, and I did tell this story on
stage at one of the 140 things I was kind of subtext of the talk, but my
nine month old had broker her arm twice and the state gets involved at that
point. Life for the parents gets really awesome as you can imagine. So, we
went through some pretty hairy stuff and that’s actually what ended the
marriage was just we couldn’t support each other through what we were going
through. But, I survived it all and it wasn’t that bad compared to what I’d
seen others go through. It left me with absolutely nothing to fear in terms
of (?). Like, if the state has taken your children from you unjustly even
for just a few weeks and even if they just gave them to your parents, and
you knew it was unjust but you were helpless to do anything.
Andrew: How do you explain to the state what happened? It’s just if your
child breaks his or her arm twice they assume the worst.
Laura: Yeah, they did their job at the hospital. They basically put me
under armed guard for four days. All the nurses comments, I’ve gone through
some of the paperwork ‘cuz I’ll just file it away, but I’ve gone through
some of it recently all the nurses were like we totally trust the mother,
we’ve watched her 24 hours a day. Like, I couldn’t even pull the curtain
around my bed I was totally in a fish bowl.
Andrew: What happened to the arm?
Laura: It was broken, we had no idea how it broke because it was during the
time that she was being cared for by a nanny.
Andrew: Oh, wow. OK.
Laura: We weren’t even home with her at the time. I was out of the state
and my husband was at work. So, we honestly don’t know what happened. To
make a log story short, Children’s did it’s job and I looked at the doctor
in the eye over and over and I said I get what you’re doing. I get why
you’re doing it. I will fight to the end of the earth ifs someone touched
my daughter and hurt her to help you figure out what happened. They were
like she’s being to cooperative we don’t get it. Like I was (?) But,
anyway, going through something like that, like, you’re not afraid of much
else. It was a gift in a way because it only disrupted our family for a
short period. It helped us get clear that our marriage wasn’t a lifelong
one. So that was a good outcome of it. I think once you realize that most
of the averse things that happen to you are actually a bullet you dodged of
something much worse that could have happened, it gets easier and easier to
grow from the stuff and really gain a lot.
Andrew: That’s a tough way to look at it because I think a lot of people
wouldn’t say, ‘Hey. I dodged a bigger bullet.’ They’d say, ‘Why did this
bullet come to me?’ That’s a pretty impressive leap.
Laura: I was lucky in that a friend of mine had gone through something so
much worse. First, she actually lost a baby who died at nine months from a
brain swelling. Then she went through Hurricane Katrina and lost her home
in Louisiana. Then her new child in North Carolina, [??] years later, broke
her leg while at daycare, again, not even under the mom’s care, and that
friend ended up having to hire a round the clock nanny for six months and
couldn’t be alone with her child for six months and had DSS workers looking
at her and saying, “This looks suspicious, because you already lost one.”
If she could survive that, I could deal with the ripple we had.
Andrew: I hate to go back to business, but I think we should. Twenty ideas.
How do you come up with 20 ideas and how do you validate them so that you
can narrow it down to one?
Laura: I had an amazing, he’s now at KISSmetrics, Jason Evanish. I had an
amazing customer development guy, just systematically calling everybody who
was anybody in social media tools and anybody who is everybody, everybody
who is anybody in social media marketing. The big brands who were doing
[??] the smaller companies, hundreds of hours of customer development
interviews around what their pain points were.
Andrew: What was his name?
Laura: Jason Evanish. E-V-A-N-I-S-H. Heaton very wisely picked him up.
We’re [??] is very sad to have lost him, but he did a lot.
Andrew: He was huge in customer development.
Laura: He knew Heaton and Dan and Dave McClure because when I hired Jason,
I basically plugged him into those three and said, “Learn everything they
know and apply it to our business”
Andrew: You trained him and you said, “Look. Call up our clients and talk
to them,” and find out what? What were you trying to discover from, not
just your clients, it seems like you went even broader than your clients.
“Call the people in our space who we want to do business with,” right?
Laura: We didn’t have clients at the time. We were still an app store at
the time. Some of the other ideas came from raw brainstorming. I walked
into one of the TechCrunch disrupts, saw what Halsted [SP], was working on
in terms of, it’s slipping my mind now. We talked about it earlier. [??].
Saw what Nick Halsted was building in DataSift and went, “Oh my god. He’s
going to need an app store,” and [??] the VP of Engineering said, “We
should do white label app stores. This is a great idea.”
Andrew: When you guys called up potential customers, what would you have
Jason ask, or what were you fishing for in those conversations?
Laura: We were looking for the main pain points in terms of social media
marketing engagement. By then it was clear, we had already pivoted from
just Twitter’s world to all social media tools, so we were the Yelp for
social media software. We [??] doing that much of the pivot and then it was
just look through that space and see where the pain points lie. Should we
build a new tool? Should we aggregate some tools together? Should we
continue down this Yelp business model?
Andrew: But it was all about where are these people who we want as our
clients suffering? Where is their pain right now? Why do you want to know
their pain specifically and not the dreams of software that they would
want, or where their business is going, or what they’re currently paying
too much for? Why specifically their pain?
Laura: Pain makes things a little easier to sell. If you can fix a problem
rather than just, so many people in this social media field are just
trained to optimize and improve, rather than fix really fundamental things
that are still broken.
Andrew: How have you seen customers react when, what I’m trying to get at
is, one of the things I noticed in my conversation with Heaton Shaw, I just
read the transcript recently of our interview. He basically said, “Look. If
you find a serious enough pain, your first product doesn’t have to be
great, it just has to relieve a little bit of that pain and people will
forgive everything else. If you screw up completely in the solution,
they’ll forgive it all because they think that you care about their pain
and that you’re going to work with them to solve that pain.” That’s what he
was going for. Sounds like you’re going for the same thing.
Laura: Let’s pretend I gave you that for an answer.
Andrew: We’ll both steal it.
Laura: I said, let’s just pretend I gave you that for an answer. Really
Andrew: What are some of the pains that you uncovered when you had these
Laura: The absolute chaos in managing all the different channels, the
uncertainty and lack of confidence around which tools to buy and to
dedicate your time on. We found that people were using between ten and 25
different tools to manage their social presence. We definitely saw the
white label app store’s opportunity, and it was funny because Ryan over at
app store is a friend of mine. [??] had the best for both of us. We met at
Gary V’s big Tahoe thing right during this time when we trying to find our
pivot. When we both almost at the same time hit on the white label app
store, it was like “oh shit”. I remember emailing him right after the first
press ran about his and saying “Hey man, I love you and I’m not stealing
this, we have been trying to develop this for two months, just so you
know.” He was like, game on. It was all good.
We looked at market sizing and decided we didn’t think we could make that
one go. Lots of wild brain storming, got it down to nine, pursued three of
them seriously, and settled on social base. Which was a dedicated dash
board to manage your team, manage the project, project management around
social engagement. It’s still an unsolved problem, when I met with my VC
after all was said and done, Jeff [??], I am still looking for a company
that will build something to solve that problem. I think you found two
fantastic business ideas in the time that you did 140 and we just couldn’t
make social base grow fast enough to be a stand alone company in the time
frame that we needed.
Andrew: What is the thing that Social Base helps alleviate?
Laura: Jeremiah [??] has a paper, he is an analyst at [??] Group, he
watches the social media marketing space very closely. He has a paper that
talks about the career death spiral that becoming your company’s social
media help desk at the time, social was so unscalable, there were so few
tools. It really helped, one person at a large company who really knew
social to disseminate that ability and that knowledge, and that high
functioning skill across a broad team. You would literally talk to people,
I think I talked to someone at the state department who has just spent all
their time fielding phone calls from 300 different departments.
I’m like, OK, what do we do with our twitter account now? What should we be
doing on Facebook? Oh my God, someone just went after us on a blog, what do
I do? Scaling social is still a massive problem. People have rightly said
for years, social isn’t a department, it’s a career skill. If you had
telephones on every body’s desk but nobody knew how to use a telephone, or
how to have the right manners when you are on the phone, or when to call
somebody. It is just a different means of communication. Scaling social and
organizing social and making it accountable is still a huge problem.
Andrew: OK. All right. Maybe if there is one person who knows how to handle
it, that person can’t handle it all. You still need the boss to sometimes
come in, you still need somebody to handle the smaller issues. What social
base was going to do was basically route the social interaction to the
person who needed to handle it and let everyone else see how it was
Laura: Not just routing, we actually didn’t specifically route the
individual social interactions. We gave you the list of tools you needed
and the list of tasks you needed to do every day. You as the person in the
organization who was clue-full, could bring in team members and assign them
and say, OK. Don’t forget in the course once a week you need to go in to
Raven and do such and such. Every day you need to go in to Hoot Suite and
look at this, this, and this. Three times a day you need to do this, this,
Andrew: OK. Got it. Now you’ve got instructions for what to do.
Laura: It’s a project management system and the tool launches from the
task. The task shows up, it’ll link to the tool. You launch it, you
complete the task, and then the person who assigned it to you knows it’s
done. That way a single person who is clueful can designate out a bunch of
stuff for a centralized team.
Andrew: You mentioned earlier that you didn’t get the traction you wanted
with it. Why not?
Laura: I don’t know. We didn’t have much time that it was in the market, as
we were running out of money and trying to raise.
Andrew: I see. And did you try to raise money for it?
Andrew: OK. What happened there?
Laura: There was a little bit of signaling going on, we were trying to
raise a very small round. Our current investors weren’t putting in much of
it. So, that’s challenged. If we had had better traction numbers on the
product we totally could have over come that challenge.
Andrew: I see. But, once your current investors aren’t enthused to come
back in, every one else is wondering why aren’t they. Then it’s not the…
Laura: They were being honorable, they were in for a little bit. It was
kind of damning with fake praise. With such a small round, why would they
be in for so little? It’s your job as the entrepreneur to find a way around
it and I didn’t.
Andrew: How did you connect with HubSpot and the other potential acquirers?
Laura: We’ve known HubSpot forever. Darmesh [SP] was one of our earliest
angel investors. He’s the co-founder of HubSpot. Huge fans of theirs and
when they acquired Performable, we had definitely been trying to talk to a
lot of different companies to see if there was a place where it made sense
for the product and/or the team to find a home over the course of the
entire [??], we knew how much time we had left. HubSpot just kept emerging
as one of the most interesting. They were doing all kinds of stuff, so when
they finally acquired Performable, I picked up the phone and I called Brian
and I started talking to him about how we could work together and he said
[??], is your company for sale? I was like, ‘Uh.’ [??] an amazing place.
We just won number two this year for best place to work in Boston by two-
tenths of a point. It was so close. The other team is awesome, too. We’re
excited to have a good challenger now. The fact that they had won number
one at that for a couple of years running meant a lot to me in terms of
thinking about where we should go, of the options we had. It was fantastic.
I directly called Brian. Talked to him a couple of times. It all happened
very, very quickly.
Andrew: Was it an asset sale or was the whole business sold?
Laura: More of an asset sale.
Andrew: They get the assets and they get the team, but the company itself
stands on its own with its own debt and its own cash?
Andrew: How did the investors fare in the sale?
Laura: The investors were incredibly supportive. I did something that I
would recommend every entrepreneur do [??] similar situation, even though
it really sucked. It was like eating castor oil. I picked up the phone and
I called every single investor and I said, ‘This is the call where I tell
you how many weeks we have left. I tell you about four options we have. I
tell you that none of them are great. I ask you if you have any sudden last
minute ideas that I should pursue and then I thank you for giving me the
opportunity to learn on a fair portion of your dime.’ They all laughed and
we had some amazing conversations. Several of the ones I was most afraid of
calling made me cry. They were like, “You had an amazing run. You made the
money last so long. Don’t worry about us. We’re going to have the outcome
we have and we’re not that worried about plus this, plus that.” It was an
amazing experience. it was very [??].
Andrew: This really is a great space to work in. The tech industry at this
point in time, it may not stay like this forever, maybe 50 years from now,
or ten years from now it could change, but this is just an amazing time to
be here. We got to find out about what’s going on now at HubSpot because
the way I see it, this is the company that maybe is not most
underestimated, but we don’t talk about HubSpot as much as we talk about
companies that aren’t worthy of the attention and HubSpot clearly is. I
think it’s because the consumer world doesn’t understand it as much. We
don’t know what HubSpot is. You and I talked before this interview started
that some people think that HubSpot makes eBooks because eBooks is what it
uses for inbound marketing, as gifts that potential customers, to educate
them. For anyone who doesn’t know what HubSpot is, what is HubSpot?
Laura: HubSpot is all in one marketing software. It’s actually way more
straight forward than we’ve made it seem for the past five years. Full
disclosure, and I’ve told all my bosses here at HubSpot this too, even as I
was selling 140 to them, I did not know what the [??] they do. My first few
days on the job, Brian knew I was fried. He sent me on vacation, mandatory
vacation for two weeks. I get back. I show up at Dream Force in San
Francisco. We’re all running around in these orange track suits and I’m
like, “Explain to me what exactly HubSpot does because I don’t know.” I got
seven different answers and we’ve now solidified on one single answer. It’s
all in one marketing software.
It’s about 25 digital tools that you are already using in some form or
another, maybe you’re using a free one, maybe you’re using a CO [??], maybe
you’re using Google Analytics or WordPress or MailChimp, or 20 other types
of things, all integrated together. Marketers’ lives these days hearken all
the way back to the early ’90s, late ’80s sneaker net, where to network two
computers together you had to pull a floppy disk out of one, walk across
the office and stick it in another computer. That was networking. That is
the state of the marketer’s lives. If they want to know what’s going on
with their keywords, they’re going into SEO [??] or Google Webmaster tools
to figure out, “What should I pursue in the first place?” Then they’ve got
to pack that in a suitcase and carry that over to their blogging software
and remember to create content around those keywords.
Then again, back into the suitcase and run over to your analytics software
and see how those keywords are performing and nothing talks to each other
and it makes your job so much more inefficient. I was talking to a really
big name, I can’t say yet, who’s really interested in our company right
now, wants to start using it in his work and he looked at our slide where
we showed all the different brand names of tools that overlap with what we
do and he’s like, “I used probably 19 out of those 25 tools in the last 24
hours.” We’re like, “Yeah. We’ve got it all in one.” That’s the first
thing, just overcoming the, “Are you an agency? Do you provide marketing
services?” We’re software. It’s actually real straightforward.
The software is complex and wide ranging and that’s where it gets confusing
because I mentioned MailChimp as an example, we have amazing email software
we just launched that replaced our own use of ExactTarget inhouse, but you
don’t have to use it, you can still plugin MailChimp. We have open APIs. We
have 60 integrations in our app store. Today is a huge day for us here in
Cambridge as we announce a strategic partnership with HootSuite so that all
this end to end really accountable marketing that HubSpot customers do, now
flows all the way into a really high end social media management system.
Actually solving a lot of the problems you and I have been talking about
here in terms of the pains in the enterprise, in brands, whether trying to
engage on social and make it actually accountable to, are you generating
leads, are you following up on the leads, are you generating customers?
Andrew: Let me see if I can come up with a scenario. Let’s suppose that
somebody is selling beads and the way that they’re selling beads is by
creating free booklets about how using beads in meditation can make you a
freer soul, and so on, and make you a happier person. They need a place to
publish free articles that bring people over to their site. They might go
to WordPress, they don’t have to, they can use HubSpot to publish those
articles. They get traffic to those articles. They collect email addresses
so that they could then take that relationship a little bit tighter. To
collect email addresses, they might use AWeber, which I use, do they use
MailChimp, which a lot of people are using. They stick a form on their site
and the form, of course, says, “Give me your email address. I’ll give you
this free book and I’ll continue the conversation with emails as I trickle
You don’t need that. It’s available within HubSpot. If you want to, you can
still use HubSpot to publish your free post, but also use MailChimp, but
you don’t have to. It’s in here. You get the email addresses, the next step
is to give them some content. If I give them some content, I want to see
how exactly are people interacting with it. I can go into MailChimp and
look at each individual email’s results or I’m guessing HubSpot gives it to
me all at once. Yes, you’re nodding, so I can see how people are reacting
to my content. Then I get them to buy. Boom. You also help me sell to them,
right? There’s a place to sell my content on HubSpot?
Laura: There’s lead nurturing. There’s abandoned shopping cart nurturing.
If you have selling rate on your site, we have eCommerce tools. We have our
own so we do all our marketing using our own software. So we have our own
software plugged into SalesForce.com so that we know, “You pulled in all
these leads [??], if I get a lead off of a PR hit.” So TechCrunch links to
us, they write about us, we get a bunch of visits. How many of those visits
become leads? How many of those leads become customers? And how much money
does that customer generate?’
Andrew: I know how much each customer that comes to me from TechCrunch is
worth versus each customer that comes to me from Mixergy. I see. You said
it also ties in with SalesForce, so if I have a sales team that then also
creates, it helps me promote my meditation weekend, it needs to call up
people They can look and say, “Oh. This guy came from TechCrunch, he’s
going to be very powerful. We should call him first, or this guy comes from
Mixergy, let’s call him last after we practice on the TechCrunch people.”
All tied into HubSpot. Use the parts that you want, but you don’t have to
use it all?
Laura: Exactly. They’ve been coming to your site for [??] years, they
downloaded these eBooks, they spend most of their time on these pages. [??]
this many other people from their company have come to your site over time.
There’s lead nurturing. There’s marketing automation, there’s lead
intelligence, there’s even prospects, even before someone converts on your
site, we can look at the IP address and get a sense, like, “OK. A ton of
people are coming in from this company and all the intelligence that’s
gathered over time when they do convert comes with them.” So the
salesperson can look and see like “oh wow, thank you so much for being a
fan of ours for years, we really appreciate how engaged you’ve been, how
can I help you now?” [??]It’s really [??] that people have come to us, so
Andrew: The thing is, for some reason it’s not, I guess like I said
earlier, it’s not a consumer product so it’s not on a lot of people’s
radars. Like OneForty, you can use it for work but you could also use it
personally so you might, you know, while you’re watching Jon Stewart at
night on your laptop, you might be checking out 140 finding an app yourself
thinking, oh you know what next day at work I should find that app
HootSuite and use it in our office but here there isn’t any of that. Maybe
while you’re using WordPress personally you might say maybe we should use
WordPress for our company but no one’s using HubSpot personally and that’s
why we’re not aware of how freaking powerful it is. 7,000 customers strong.
Laura: 7,000 customers have been bucking the macroeconomic trends for the
last you know, 5, 6 years we’ve been in existence. That’s the really
Andrew: What was that part? We lost the connection for a moment, 7,000
customers that are bucking what?
Laura: Who are bucking the macroeconomic climate of the last 5, 6 years.
Think about [??] we have so many customers who come right away and say my
business wouldn’t even exist anymore if I didn’t have the kind of leverage
to attract customers to me. Businesses who we’ve heard from who cut their
advertising budget from 800,000 dollars a year to 60,000 dollars a year
because it’s so much more effective to use inbound. Use this systematic
process of get yourself bound.
Andrew: All right. OK. And here’s the other thing, before I even say the
philosophy of inbound marketing, I got to address this that I know my
audience has been trained to think.
Andrew: Is Andrew doing a commercial all of a sudden for HubSpot? And it
does feel to me a little bit like I’m advertising it but I’ll explain why
I’m doing this. This is a key piece of technology that I know is helping
businesses grow that my audience and frankly I don’t fully understand. I
interviewed Dharmesh Shah, the founder of HubSpot, the co-founder. I didn’t
fully understand what the product was. I was at a conference talking to
some really bright people who were friends of his everyone in this space is
friends of his because he either invested in them or invested in their
Andrew: And what I heard people say in the conversation was, why do you
need HubSpot in a world with WordPress, they are selling HubSpot to people
who are too dumb to know that they could use WordPress for free. So while
they were pointing fingers.
Andrew: Of others being dumb, we were all being dumb about what HubSpot is.
So the reason I’m saying this to the audience is I just want you to
understand that there’s this piece of technology that’s incredibly powerful
that it’s about time we understood, that it’s important for me to get the
word out to you about it.
Andrew: And frankly Laura’s life isn’t going to change if I get her another
sale from this, frankly HubSpot is not going to change if I do this but I
know your life will change for the better in this space if you understand
this thing. All right and the philosophy behind it is often overshadowing
the product itself. The philosophy is inbound marketing and we know
Dharmesh is the author of inbound marketing, is the guy that created
inbound.org. So what is the philosophy and now that we know what it’s
overshadowing and we understand the bigger product which is software here.
Andrew: We should understand the philosophy.
Laura: The philosophy is that world has changed and, you know, people are
able to block out marketing they don’t want to receive and so marketers
should be setting out to create marketing, you know, the challenge I like
to put, position, you know, every marketing material you create, would
somebody pay you just to receive it? Would somebody pay you to receive that
blog post or that eBook, or god forbid that brochure that you’re going to
create and hand to somebody? Would somebody pay for that email you’re going
to send? Are you really providing value to the people you’re trying to
attract? And if you’re not luckily due to the changes in technology you’re
going to fail, you’re going to perish.
So, fundamentally the power dynamic has changed. I talk a lot and have been
talking for years in my twitter for business talks about one to many,
forced, big audience advertising, media is [??] right? The balance of power
has fundamentally shifted that if you’re not doing something people want to
receive, you’re just going to [??] to know that. You know any, even if you
do the most innovative social media advertising in the world, it’s still
advertising and when you stop paying them it stops driving traffic. Where
if you’re focusing on the three steps of [??]
Andrew: Oh shoot, sorry, Laura. For some reason, our connection has been
pretty bad throughout the conversation but we could, at least, hear you and
now suddenly for some reason we’re dropping every few words.
Laura: Oh no.
Andrew: Let me suggest this, is there a place where people can go and find
out about inbound marketing? The idea behind inbound marketing, I’ll give
it really short, but I think people should go to HubSpot somewhere and find
it. The idea is instead of buying ads that interrupt people doing stuff
during their day, what you do is you basically offer them something of
value that they want, and then that starts the conversation and
relationship that may or may not end in a sale but often does. You guys
created this philosophy, created software that empowers and allows this
philosophy, but anyone can use it, no matter what software they use.
Where do they go if they want to understand it better, inbound marketing?
Laura: I’ll give you a Bit.ly link actually because that’s easiest to
Andrew: Ah, bit.ly/inbound101. All right. I’m not going to test this
technology any further. Instead, what I’m going to say is… Well, first of
all I should say, I didn’t even give a plug to my own thing. I should tell
you guys, if you want to take this relationship to the next level, if you
want to learn from entrepreneurs step-by-step if you want to build your
business and see why thousands of entrepreneurs have already signed up for
Mixergy Premium, just go to MixergyPremium.com, and you’re going to see the
kinds of courses we offer. That membership is what keeps Mixergy going, and
I should do a better job of promoting it more often. If you go to
MixergyPremium.com, you’ll see what it’s all about. All right.
Laura: One last thing I’ll put out there. To learn what inbound is, [?] go
Andrew: Marketing. what .com?
Laura: Grader, like road grader.
Andrew: Oh, marketing.grader.com.
Laura: Marketing.grader.com, enter your website. Within a millisecond
you’re going to get like a 95 point critique of how your marketing is. It’s
totally free. You don’t even have to give us an email address to get access
to this tool.
Andrew: All right. That’s a great place to start.
Laura: You get a report and it has tips to somewhat try to improve your
marketing. You can sign in and create an account and have an everyday
dashboard telling you everyday what to think about in your marketing. That
is how we do inbound. We built a piece of software that so useful to the
marketer that millions have signed up, and we never have any problems. We
haven’t asked them for an email address. What’s more they use it and
they’re trying to implement all of these tips and tricks, and it’s training
them in what inbound is. It’s more than likelihood they’re going to want to
have one [?].
So, we just provide value. We don’t really care if you ever become a
customer. Hopefully, you’ll try that and see how: what could I do for my
company that’s equivalent to what HubSpot has done with MarketingGrader.
Andrew: All right. We’ll leave it there. Thank you for doing this
interview, Laura. Thank you all for watching.
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