By Sramana Mitra and guest author Sudhindra Chada
[This is our second interview is this new series; the first was with Dave Fitzgerald of Brainshark.]
Mr. Mark Roberge, VP of sales, is responsible for sales at HubSpot. He has grown the team from one to more than forty sales reps in less than three years. Prior to HubSpot, Mark founded or held executive positions at startups in the social media and mobile sectors. Mark started his career as a technology consultant with Accenture.
Mark holds an MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Management, where he was a semifinalist in the 2005 MIT $50,000 Business Plan competition and was given the Patrick McGovern Award for his contributions to entrepreneurship at MIT. He holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Lehigh University. Mark has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, TechCrunch, and other major publications for his entrepreneurial ventures.
HubSpot’s vision is to provide a (killer) marketing application and provide great advice to small businesses enabling them to leverage these disruptive effects of the Internet to “get found” by more prospects shopping in their niche and to convert a higher percentage of prospects into customers. The company is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, directly across from the MIT campus, where it was envisioned.
SM: Mark, let’s start with some context about you and the company.
MR: HubSpot is an inbound marketing software company. It was founded on the premise that the way buyers engage with products and services or look for prices for products and services they are interested in has changed dramatically in the past decade due to the Internet. I believe that prior to the Internet, prior to the year 2000, folks had to rely on salespeople reaching out to them through direct marketing, through telemarketers, television advertisements, whatever it might be, to learn about the different products that are out there. When the Internet took off, buyers were more empowered to go out and look for the what they were interested in, whether it was in Google, whether it was a question they asked their Facebook friends or their Twitter followers or the people on their LinkedIn network, or whether it was through subscribing to blogs they were interested in.
So, what we realized was that everybody was convinced of the trend, but few businesses knew what to do or were equipped with the tools to be able to do it. This all started as a thesis we had worked on at MIT, and our goal as a company was to transform the way people viewed marketing, to provide small business owners, marketers, and others with the tools and knowledge they need to align their sales and marketing strategy with this shift in buyer behavior.
SM: And where at MIT was this kind of thinking happening?
MR: At Sloan [School of Management].
SM: At Sloan, I see. So, today HubSpot offers a piece of software to align with this type of thinking?
MR: That’s correct. It’s primarily driven by the software, but because we believe that 99% of business out there are not that technical nor are experts in marketing, we also provide a tremendous amount of education and support.
SM: Would you describe briefly what the software does?
MR: Sure. The software provides all the tools necessary for a business to be able to start a successful blog, start tracking keywords from the conversations people are having on social media [platforms] that they should be aware of, participate in this conversation, and get a lot more traffic from search to their website. Then when someone comes to the website, the software provides the ability to convert as many visitors as possible to qualified leads through learning pages, forums, and so on.
SM: Basically, your thesis is that you needed a blog to be able to harness the search engine traffic that is relevant to your particular business?
MR: Yes, blogging is most popular way. You need to be able to create consistently good content on your website to be able to rank well in search for the words you want to rank for. You cannot win the search game unless you are creating consistently good content on your website.
SM: Your thesis is that you need to create a search engine–optimized blog to support that process?
MR: Yes. There are three stages of our software product: The software helps you to drive more qualified traffic to your website by enabling you with a blog, social media monitoring tools, and SEO tools. The software allows you to convert more of that traffic into qualified leads by enabling you as landing pages and forum builders. Finally, the software helps you to convert more of those leads into customers by enabling you with e-mail marketing, lead nurturing, marketing automation, and close-loop analytics.
SM: What parts of this do you play in, and what space of blogging software; is it blog content management software? Are you competing with WordPress in that part of the process?
MR: Yes and no. If somebody just wants a blog and they have a technical friend or technical ability, they are probably better off going with WordPress. If ultimately they want to get more leads and sales from their website, they are probably going to need a lot more than WordPress, and that is where HubSpot can help. Certainly there are lots of players in each of the point solutions that we have provided in our integrated suite: WordPress and Blogger in blogs; Radian6 in social media monitoring, vertical response, and exact target media marketing; Amateur and Google Analytics in analytics; the list goes on.
There are a lot of providers that provide each piece. Our position in the marketplace is simple and integrated. We have taken all those pieces together, made them easy, and made them talk to one another, with the end goal of creating more leads and sales from your website.
SM: What do you charge for this?
MR: Our small product is about $250 a month, our medium product is $10,000 a year, and our large product is $18,000 a year.
SM: Whom are you trying to sell this to, and what are the segments that you are trying to sell to?
MR: Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that are looking to generate leads. So our core customer has between two and 1,000 employees. And they are looking for general leads from their website. So if you are big like IBM, you are probably not a good fit; you need Accenture to come in and do this implementation. You are probably better off buying other solutions. If you are an e-commerce site like ESPN.com, where you are looking to drive eyeballs for advertising, that’s not who we really built this software for. We have an e-commerce product in our labs and we have dozens of customers in e-commerce and they are doing quite well – we are looking to expand in that area – but our core customers are SMBs that are looking to generate leads from their website.
SM: And these are B2B companies mostly?
MR: Mostly, but real estate companies are B2C looking to generate leads, law firms are B2C looking to generate leads. There are quite a few B2C companies that look to generate leads through their websites, but the odds are it is B2B.
SM: Fair enough. So, is the sweet spot the $1,000 a year product or the $2,250 a year product?
MR: It’s spread quite evenly across all three.