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SPARK OF THE CORPORATE

Brian Halligan rewrote the concepts of marketing through his inbound marketing software company, HubSpot. He came up with a completely different approach through which customers come banging on your door instead of you getting blocked in the caller ids, spam protectors and email filters of the customers. The CEO of a Cambridge based tech company, a senior lecturer at MIT and the author of two books on marketing strategy, all rolled into one, is known to be a very cool CEO with his post modern company culture. An extreme extrovert, a corporate visionary, an active angel investor and a classic sales guy, he made the right use of the complimenting skills of his techie co-founder, who was his classmate at the B-School. The duo set out to create an online marketing platform changing the way the world looks at marketing forever.

Early years...

Parametric Technology Corporation, an early start up then, hired him out of the college in 1990. A year and a half later, this sales and marketing guy was asked to move to Asia to start Asian arm for them. At 25, he moved to Hong Kong. Having landed in the country without knowing anybody, he built a company of about $100 million, with 300 or 400 people incredibly fast. After a decade with the company, he left in 1999 as the senior Vice President – Sales of the Pacific Rim. He joined PTC when it was $3 million in revenue, and it was $1 billion when he left.

Halligan returned to the US and ran sales for Groove Networks as it's vice president from 2000 to 2004, which was later acquired by Microsoft. He then enrolled at MIT for Sloan Fellowship before moving up as a venture partner at Longworth Ventures. As a venture capitalist, he worked closely with many small startups helping them build scalable sales and marketing machines. It was then that he came across that people are interrupted with outbound interruption-based marketing and got tired of the ineffective marketing strategies.

The Spark...

While at MIT, he met the co-founder and current CTO, Dharmesh Shah and the two discovered that both were enthusiastic about similar themes. Post college, they ventured out to different pastures. Around the time when Halligan came up with the concept of inbound marketing, Shah's blog, onstart-ups.com, which he had been updating through his B-School days, was attracting more and more traffic. They joined hands to start an inbound marketing software company, rented an office and employed a few developers. They started the HubSpot blog. Shah and the team of engineers developed a set of programs and kept the ball rolling. Inbound marketing was not only less expensive, it was more effective as well. Halligan, who knew how to sell, made sales calls to pitch potential customers and learned that the idea was instantly received by them.

Starting HubSpot...

Halligan co-founded HubSpot in 2006 with his equally passionate MIT Sloan classmate. He wanted to transform the way the world does marketing and coined the term “inbound marketing”. The company helps businesses leverage the Internet, to get found by qualified prospects and convert them into leads and customers. Initially, both of them devoted a couple of hours to write two articles each a week on the HubSpot blog. It was optimized for Google and was promoted on various social media space. The remarkable optimised content of the blog posts gradually attracted traffic sending the link up on Google. The company has since taken the marketing world by storm. By 2011, HubSpot had a customer base of around five thousand plus small and medium-sized companies. In October 2015, it debuted on NYSE raising $125 million. In a decade's time, HubSpot reported $271 million in total revenue, 23,226 customers and 1,597 employees with headquarters in Cambridge, MA and offices in Dublin, Ireland, Singapore, Sydney, Australia, Tokyo, Japan and Portsmouth.

Personal life...

Halligan holds a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Vermont and master's degree from MIT Sloan School of Management. An avid reader, David Meerman Scott, Seth Godin, Clayton Christiansen, Geoffrey Moore, etc are some of his favourite authors. A Boston raised third gen Irish, he enjoys playing guitar and enjoys all kinds of sports like tennis, squash, running, and golf.

Halligan has co-authored two books, "Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs" with Dharmesh Shah, and "Marketing Lessons From The Grateful Dead" with David Meerman Scott and Bill Walton. An active speaker on marketing and business topics, he is also a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, teaching "Designing, Developing, and Launching Successful Products in an Entrepreneurial Environment" besides his full-time role as a CEO. His first job was delivering the Boston Evening Globe. His dream job would be the general manager of the Boston Red Sox. He acquired a guitar owned by Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia, paying $1.9 million.

Productivity hacks...

Staying organised is a priority for Halligan. He works from home every Wednesday, unless traveling. A monthly priority list goes up on HubSpot internal wiki at the beginning and the status of each priority is regularly updated. He naps or meditates every day to calm his brain down. He also maintains a folder with nice notes from employees or ex-employees that cheers him up on a bad day. He encourages the culture of working less and thinking more, which makes people significantly more productive and successful. It is the results that matter, not the number of hours people work.

Giving back...

Halligan is passionate about social justice and music. He donates generously to the Southern Poverty Law Center and Camp Harbor View.

Management style...

Halligan doesn't have a private office at Hubspot and sits out in the open with his employees. No one has got an office and they rotate seats periodically. Halligan doesn't have a phone on his desk. He likes to keep the organisation reasonably flat organization and has a fairly informal communication style. He wears a unique blend of laid-back and ultra-poised attitude. He is trying to develop a unique and innovative post-modern culture at HubSpot. A huge nap guy himself and a strong believer that the best ideas come from moments of relaxed attention, he has had a napping room built into the office to encourage the practise of taking naps.

He strongly believes that people are capable of doing more than what they believe about themselves and puts a lot of faith in people's ability. This CEO values capability over experience. In fact, if there is something the employees don't like in this three times named among 10 Highest Rated CEO by Glassdoor, it is that he pushes too hard on rethinking things. HubSpot was chosen as the number one best place to work in Boston in the midsize companies category by the Boston Business Journal.

His two cents for the future entrepreneurs...

Risk seeing is important. Conservative behaviour gets you nowhere. When you make conservative decisions, it increases your unlikeliness to succeed. When you’re a startup, you have to be willing to take a lot of risks.

Find a good co-founder who compliments your strengths and share similar values.

Don't worry a lot about stuff that ultimately doesn't matter. Spend 100% of your time on developing the product / service that is valuable and unique.

Associations and memberships...

Former member of board of directors of Fleetmatics
Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the MIT Entrepreneurship Center

Awards and accolades...

Awarded the Inc Founders 40 in 2016
Awarded top 10 Highest Rated CEO by Glassdoor in 2014, 2015, and 2017
Named as the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2011 New England Award

Quotes

Once a team has lost confidence in its leader, it is nearly impossible to get it back. If you replace the leader with someone capable, the morale rebounds almost right away.
The sign of a good team is that they can have a healthy debate, but once a decision gets made whether they won the debate or not, they need to line up behind it. If you don’t have that feature in your team, it is hard to scale.
If you’re not marketing on social media, you might as well be marketing inside a trashcan.
As painful as it was, leaning hard into our weakness was the only way to get from StartUp to ScaleUp.
Feedback is the breakfast of champions. Employee NPS has long been one of my most essential management tools.

Hope readers caught up the spark...

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