Sramana Mitra: I was recently talking to the founder of HubSpot. His observation when they started was that people were trying to do inbound marketing by starting blogs and then tying together some level of CRM. He said that nobody had an integrated solution, so he chose to build one.
None of the categories that constituted this integrated system were number one. They were number four or five, but they were the only ones that had an integrated system. What approach did you take in designing and determining what product to go to market with?
Jeremy Swift: Part of what we’re trying to do is we were coming in to disrupt an established category that was largely owned by the Salesforces, Oracles, and the Adobes of the world. This was not to serve hundreds of thousands of small businesses. This was really about how to help really big businesses that have tens of millions, maybe even billions, of data points on their customers.
How do we help them unlock that and do something with it and bring it all into one central place where that data can be used to drive a very sophisticated personalized messaging experience to that consumer so that the consumer feels known by that brand. It was so hard for brands to do that because the data was fragmented. It was living in different places.
You had our first-party data which was, at that time, called analytics data. We use analytics data to give us insights. Actually, all of that data is just customer behaviors. That data should have been unlocked with our thesis to be leveraged for driving personalization. The data points should be unlocked within a marketing platform to be able to help the marketing team. It wasn’t at that time. It was all fragmented. That was the core premise.
We had to be a customer data platform to consolidate that data. It wasn’t just to bring data together for the sake of bringing data. It was all in the spirit of being able to drive outbound communication in a very sophisticated manner on that data.
Sramana Mitra: Now in 2014, you are a more sophisticated entrepreneur. You know there is competition. What was your competitive analysis?
Jeremy Swift: It was interesting because we looked around the market and we saw some mobile players. All they strictly service is the mobile market. There are email platforms. There wasn’t really anything sophisticated around SMS at that time that piqued our interest. There was nobody thinking about the IoT market from a marketing lens.
There were a couple of companies who we thought were triangulating around this. One was Iterable up in San Francisco. They started a year or two before us. We got to observe them a little bit and saw that it seemed like they were thinking about this in a somewhat similar fashion. There were a few other point solutions. Maybe they weren’t thinking about this as comprehensively or holistically as we are.
We thought that they are at least thinking about the idea of first-party data. That was an important thing. It can be scary and daunting to be the only one stepping out into a category especially an established category. We were a purpose-built cross-channel platform. The market was owned by Salesforce and Oracle. We were going up against these big billion-dollar companies and trying to preach a different message. We were trying to tell brands that there is a different and better way.
When you’re drinking the Kool-Aid of what Salesforce or Oracle is telling you versus a small startup, it’s hard to sift through fact from fiction. Do I really believe this small startup relative to what Salesforce is telling me? The fact that we have competitors or companies starting to preach a message of the value of first-party data, that was critical to our success.
Sramana Mitra: In creating a category, competitors are helpful. They legitimize the category. Being alone is hard.
Jeremy Swift: That’s spot on. They keep you sharp too. When you know there’s somebody else out there who’s vying for success, it keeps your competitive spirit. Competition can absolutely keep you sharp. Not only is that a win for you as an entrepreneur, but the ultimate winner is the customer. The clients and customers that we serve, they win by having more competition who drive all of us to be a better version of ourselves.