Why HubSpot Is a Field, Not a Factory

A few days ago I posted the following on HubSpot's internal wiki. I'm reposting it here for three reasons: (a) to share a few of the reasons I love working at HubSpot, (b) to add a bit to the excellent conversation Umair started and (c) to point out some of the things I think a growing company needs to do to be successful today.

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Umair Haque, one of my favorite bloggers, has a great post this weekend about Leaders and Builders. I highly recommend it to all HubSpotters, and wanted to share some of the things it got me thinking about: 

At HubSpot we talk a lot about changing the way companies do marketing — and we're in the process doing exactly that.

As we grow, I think we should also realize and focus on the fact that we're helping to change the way companies are built.

Factory

Think about the difference between HubSpot and companies that were
built in the 20th Century. The GM's, Microsofts & P&Gs of the
world are factories. They're rigid command and control hierarchies that
don't encourage experimenting or innovating. HubSpot and other
companies that are now changing the world (Google, Acmen Fund, Etsy,
Amazon) are fields. Instead of enforcing a rigid hierarchy, we
cultivate great people and empower them to do innovative, world-class
work.

Field

Why is the field better than the factory? Umair Haque's article
and blog archive spells that out. But here's what I think: Fields are
more efficient for the shareholders, more rewarding for employees and
better for the world.

Some examples of how we're a field:

  • Tremendous transparency. This wiki is wide open and it
    contains tons of real discussion, data and documentation. As a result,
    anybody in the company is able to participate in any conversation they
    choose.
  • A flat organization. Everybody at HubSpot does
    stuff. Very few people just manage. Look at the engineering team and
    the marketing teams — engineering is all engineers, regardless of
    experience; marketing is all inbound marketing managers, regardless of
    experience. That's awesome.
  • Agile Methodology. It's an
    example of the transparency and enables flatness. It also empowers us
    as individuals by giving us the chance to pick and define our own
    projects.
  • Data-driven culture. In god we trust, all others bring data. This kind of culture reduces political crap by 110%.
  • Access to data across the organization.
    Anybody can collect any piece of HubSpot data they
    want. This data is our Twitter API. By opening up and publishing it
    internally, it enables individuals to do all sorts of creative stuff
    that benefits the company, but that nobody would have expected.
  • We're building a cathedral.
    We're focused on building something that lasts and has a positive
    impact, not hitting some revenue threshold, then trying to flip the
    company.

All this is great, but it hasn't happened by accident, and it will
be increasingly difficult to maintain. As we grow we need to be very
focused on building a different kind of company.

Specifically, I think we need to focus on:

  • Flatness. As we build out teams we need to work to retain flatness.
  • Avoiding fiefdoms and turf battles. Instead we need to focus on getting shit done.
  • Education & Training.
    We need to empower people with learning; sounds like training is
    AWESOME for new employees. How can we build the skills of existing
    employees?
  • Open data. We need to give people within the company more access to company data.
  • Staying focused on the Cathedral.
    Each group is focused like a laser on our monthly numbers. But we need
    to make sure we pick up our heads and look around on a regular basis.
  • Hiring more rockstars. (All levels of experience.)

What do you guys think?

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PS, if this kind of environment excites you, you should work at HubSpot.

A Great Journalism Job — And Why It Won’t Go to a Journalist

At work right now I'm spending most of my time trying to find somebody to fill an amazing job.

I'm looking for somebody to take the HubSpot blog, which we've built from 5,000 subscribers to over 20,000 subscribers in the past year, and make it into a small business media property bigger and more respected than anything else out there.

This would be an amazing opportunity for a journalist. In a world of shrinking headcounts and budgets, this is a utter anomaly. It's an opportunity to build a new type of media company — and to have the full support of an organization with momentum and resources.

But I'll be surprised if we end up hiring a journalist for the job.

I want to, it's just that I'm worried about three basic problems with hiring journalists for marketing content jobs:

(1) Most journalists don't believe businesses can produce high-quality content. The traditional view is that businesses can only produce biased advertorial content. The idea of leaving a news organization to go work at a company like HubSpot is summed up in two words: selling out. Few can get beyond this dogma to see that businesses now have an incentive to produce high-quality content. Or that the hundreds of thousands of people who consume HubSpot's content love it, and are using it to build their businesses and their livelihoods. (I am proud of that.)

(2) Most journalists avoid the business side of publishing.
The news industry tends to keep its business and editorial teams separate. We don't have that distinction at HubSpot. The person we hire to manage our blog needs to be a writer, an editor and a product manager. Most journalists will look at that model and say it's a recipe for biased, low-quality content. In fact, it's one of the few new models of content production that's financially viable. We need a single individual who can churn out thoughtful how-to posts about online marketing — and assess those posts to make sure they're attracting leads for our paid product.

(3) Many journalists don't understand the physics of the web. Because of the extreme division of labor at big news organizations, many journalists don't understand how content moves across the web. They pump their copy into a production line, then go home. They never see how it drives search engine referrals, or travels across the social web. It's impossible to build a media company today without a deep, intuitive understanding of these forces.

Of course, these are generalizations. I know plenty of journalists who display one or more of these qualities. But as a hiring manager (and a former journalist) with one chance to hire the right person, I'm wary of somebody with a background in news.

Of course, I'd love for somebody to prove me wrong. I'd love for some great writer and story teller who's had it with the news business, to embrace the approach to content we're taking, wrap his or her head around the business of content and develop an intuition for the viral nature of the web.

Maybe that's you?

Our Company Web Site Is a Web App

Company websites are important.
Marketing Software
A well-designed, dynamic site that captures a company's spirit will generate business.  An ugly, static site that's thin on information will make you wonder about doing business with a company.

With this in mind, I was initially concerned about the redesign of HubSpot.com that we launched last week.

The
redesign moved HubSpot.com from a custom site with a unique look and
feel to a one-size-fits-all template. I was worried that without a polished,
unique design we would make a weak impression on visitors. I thought we
would appear smaller and less successful than we are.

I was
wrong.

As we planned the launch of the new site, I realized
that HubSpot isn't defined by the curved edges or faded colors of a
fancy design. Instead, the essence of HubSpot is in the data we publish
on our site. By moving from a custom design to a standard template
we've made this content easier to publish and more central to our site. (Plus, at the end of the day, I think the template looks pretty good.)

With these changes, our company web site has become a web app.

Just
like on Flickr, Facebook and Twitter, on HubSpot.com we publish content
to a standard template. And just like on Flickr, Facebook and Twitter,
on HubSpot.com our friends care more about the content of our posts than the look
of our profile page.

Many companies feel the need to communicate size and sophistication through a complex, custom-coded website.

I'm happy we've thrown that idea out the window.

We'll let our content, not our design, show people what HubSpot's
about.

(Apologies to Fred Wilson for the title of this post.)

HubSpot, the Company That Markets Itself

Lot’s of good HubSpot articles in the news today.

Mass High Tech has two pieces, "HubSpot Handles eMarketing Surge" and "Online Video Marketers Win Customers with Webinars."

There’s another in MarketingProfs by HubSpot’s
gold-medal-winning Olympic hockey player Colleen Coyne. And there’s a
great new video on the That’s Great PR Blog.

It’s fun to be at a company that produces Google Alerts full of great press on a regular basis.

But what’s really cool is the extent to which people within the company amplify all this news.

It’s only lunchtime here, but Dan Dunn and Mike Volpe have already posted all this news on their blogs. Pete Caputa, Yoav Shapira, Dan Abindoor, and Ellie Mirman are tweeting up a storm about all the articles. And lots of others are posting to places like Sphinn and Yahoo Buzz.

HubSpot is still a pretty small place, so it’s exciting to see the kind
of authentic buzz its plugged-in team can get going.

HubSpot, And Why I’m Thrilled to Be a Part of It

   
   
A few months ago I was talking with David Levine, the owner of Central Square Florist, about his web site and the ways he was trying to promote his business on the web. He asked me if I had heard of an internet marketing company called HubSpot.

"They’re
a bunch of MIT guys who really know what they’re doing. They have a ton
of content on their site, and you can really learn something there," he
said.

I hadn’t heard of HubSpot, but I
checked it out, and a few months later I’m thrilled to be working
there. I can’t think of a place I’d rather have landed after at great three-year run at Faneuil Media.

On
a basic level, HubSpot is just a fun place work. It’s a five-minute
bike-ride from home, they have good snacks in the kitchen and I’m
working with 40 or so smart, down-to-earth folks.

On a deeper level, the thrill of working at HubSpot is the thrill of an opportunity to build something big.

I say this for four main reasons:

(1) HubSpot solves a big, important problem.
If you’re a small- or medium-sized business, your traditional marketing
options are mainly direct mail, telemarketing, display advertising,
events and pay-per-click advertising (ie, Google). This is all
expensive, and consumers are getting better at avoiding your messages.

Instead of interrupting people who don’t care about your product, you
need to be there when people are searching for your product. HubSpot
provides a platform of tools that help companies do this by optimizing
their pages for search engines, monitoring keywords, links and pages,
tracking incoming leads and creating content.

When
I first learned about HubSpot, I didn’t see the value in all this — a
lot of it already exists in one form or another already. I pointed this
out to Brian Halligan
the first time I met him, and he gave me an answer that made sense
immediately: "We’re like the iPod — we pull together a lot of
different features, and put them together in a simple, robust package."

(2) HubSpot has lots of customers.
In its two years, HubSpot has built a roster of hundreds of monthly
subscribers passionate about their product. This is good for the
balance
sheet, but even better for the product. It means they’ve built
something useful. Now HubSpot can focus on scaling
and improving the product. And this will be much easier with an
existing base of customers to tap for referrals, data and feedback.

(3) HubSpot uses (and thrives on) its product.
HubSpot sells marketing software and uses its own software to manage
its marketing. More importantly, the HubSpot product and methodology
are one of the main factors in the success of HubSpot the company.
HubSpot’s, well-optimized, well-monitored, content-heavy site is a
lead-generating machine.

All software companies should use their own
products, but this is a unique case where the product itself is a huge
part of the company’s success.

(4) Heads at HubSpot are screwed on straight.
The people at HubSpot are modest, frank, data-driven and agile. They
know how build things. They’re more concerned with iteration and
learning than with product perfection. They understand online
communities and they participate in them. They understand content, and
they create it. They gravitate towards startups, and many have tried their own. Most importantly, they understand that the road ahead will not be smooth, and they’re prepared for it.

Last week Seth Godin published a piece about icons. He summed it up like this:

The challenge for organizations is this: the easiest projects to start
and fund are those that go after existing icons. The search for the
"next" is easy to explain and exciting to join because we can visualize
the benefits. But success keeps going to people who build new icons,
not to those that seek to replace the most successful existing ones.
HubSpot
is not solving a problem that’s easy to visualize. It’s a problem
that’s huge, but hard to define and a little abstract. That’s exciting,
because it means HubSpot has an opportunity to become a new icon.

(Btw, Seth Godin fans, don’t miss him speak in Cambridge in a few weeks.)