Top Tips From One of the Fastest Growing Small Businesses in the US

an interview with
Brian Halligan CEO and Co-Founder, HubSpot

Here are some of the highlights of my interview with Brian Halligan, CEO and co-founder of HubSpot, one of fastest growing small businesses in the US.

Identify an unmet need

“I was a venture capitalist before I was doing HubSpot, and I was trying to get the portfolio companies to use modern marketing to create blogs to pull people in through the search engines, social media sites, and the blogosphere, and I had a hell of a time making that shift. I had to hire a ton of consultants and a ton of IT people and buy 6 different software packages, and it was very hard to pull off. So that was the gap I basically saw in the market and thought, ‘How do we pull all this stuff together into one simple package and then transfer as much knowledge we can from our heads to their heads and get them to shift the way they market?””

Eat your own dog food

“We are the number one user of our own product. I personally use it every day. A key part of our growth is that we are able to use the product. We feel the bugs at just the same time as our customers feel the bugs, so we fix them as quickly as we can. We know what we want in a software. We’re on the cutting edge of all this stuff. Like Dan Zarrella, for example, is one of our employees. He’s a real cutting edge kind of guy. He’s more leading edge than most, so we try to learn as much as we can from him and build it into the software so that mere mortals can use it, not just Dan Zarrella.”

Replace messaging with valuable content

“The basic idea behind inbound marketing, this marketing transformation I’m talking about, is you want to create remarkable content that becomes a magnet to pull people in. So we create tons and tons of blog articles and the blog articles I wrote 4 years ago still are like magnets, pulling people in through Google. We write eBooks. We create a weekly TV show, HubSpot TV. And we build these Graders, which are basically little tiny pieces of our product that we break off and we offer for free for people to run their site through, and they get a diagnostic on it and they get a score, and based on that score – it’s 1 to 100 – if they get a crappy score, they say, “Well who are these HubSpot guys?” and they end up in our funnel and we show them a demo, take them through a trial and they end up buying the software. So it’s very much part of our philosophy of ‘How do you free up as much knowledge and content as you possibly can and use that knowledge to pull people into your business and try to convert them into customers?’”

Build a community

“There is definitely a big community forming and we do a couple of things to foster it. We have Inbound Marketing University where you can come and there are 15 online lectures you attend – and there’s a test at the end. If you pass the test, you get a badge and you get Inbound Marketing Certified, and those have been showing up on a lot of people’s LinkedIn profiles and resonate these days– our customers are dying to hire them. The second thing is there is an Inbound Marketing LinkedIn group that is very, very active. I don’t know how many people are in there. I haven’t looked recently, but it’s quite an active group in there that’s cranking away. There is a HubSpot partner group. There are a bunch of splinter inbound marketing communities that keep popping up, and we’re just trying to do our best to keep up with them and help them and foster them, and it’s been a big part of our success.”

Inspire a compelling culture

“Culture turns out to play a huge role. When my co-founder and I started the company…in the first two years of the company we didn’t mention the word culture. It wasn’t something on top of our minds. And then about two years in, we did a survey of our employees – the Net Promoters survey. We asked them two questions. Question number 1 was “How likely are you to refer HubSpot to another friend of yours to join us?” on a scale of 0 to 10. Then the second question was “why?” When we got responses from the ‘why,’ we probably had 60 or 70 employees at this point. The two big reasons people like or loved working at HubSpot was 1 – the culture. The culture? We didn’t know we had a culture. And number 2 was that they loved their fellow employees. So at that point we were like ‘OK, it seems like we got something here.’ Why don’t we try to institutionalize the culture and make sure that that doesn’t break. So we hired one of our old professors from MIT to do a project with us to clarify the culture and clarify the mission. Then we tried to institutionalize it in the company. When we do the annual reviews of our employees, the culture is part of that review. There are 7 points in our culture and we grade them. It has become a great part of who we are. I wrote an article about our culture that has been very popular on the Internet. It is called Start up Culture Lessons from Mad Men.”

Don’t try to do it all yourself

“[If you’re starting a business, the] first thing I would find is a great co-founder. It is lonely at the top. Don’t find just any co-founder. A mistake that so many entrepreneurs make is that they find co-founders just like themselves. When you look at the special stars of the early successful teams, like Jobs and Wozniak, there are usually two people with someone who can actually build something and someone who can actually sell something. So my advice would be to find a great co-founder who would compliment you and, very early on, figure out the equity split and figure out the roles, because so many companies die because of a founder conflict.”

Be open-minded about your idea

“Another piece of advice I would give to a founder is to be very open-minded about your idea.  There is a great book called Founders at Work, written by a journalist on the west coast [Jessica Livingston]. She interviewed about 100 entrepreneurs that were successful and I would say that 90% of the entrepreneurs started out with plan A and ended up making money on plan B or C. It took them a while to meander to the idea, so don’t get too stuck on your original idea. Be very flexible and take a while to meander your way to the right idea. The third piece of advice is not to raise venture capital too early. Make sure, if you are going to do venture capital, that your incentives are in line with the VC and that you really want to swing for the fences. Once you are backed by venture capital you are committed down this path. One you become venture backed, you are committed to trying to hit a home run, and you can’t go back to being conservative.”

One thought on “Top Tips From One of the Fastest Growing Small Businesses in the US

  1. Ar Traffictroop we have become a Hubspot partner and we love the software, we love the methodology and we love the way it helps us to help our clients.

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