By ReBecca M. Knight
photogRaphy By eRic levin | September 29, 2014 | People
Brian Halligan spearheads breakthrough marketing technology and the Silicon Valley of the East with his company, HubSpot.
Brian Halligan’s customer centric vision of the future is transforming the world of marketing and turning the Hub into a tech hot spot.
Some people consider it a coincidence when, after researching a product online, they receive an e-mail offering exactly what they were just looking for. But Brian Halligan knows it’s no fluke. It’s the work of HubSpot, his Cambridge based company, which provides marketing research software that has some industry insiders touting Halligan’s baby as the next Google, Amazon, or eBay. But HubSpot and Halligan are headquartered far, far from the Golden State. “I’m tired of people talking about Silicon Valley,” he says. “I want to bring Boston back.”
HubSpot’s future looks bright. Founded in 2006 by Halligan, 47, and his MIT Sloan classmate Dharmesh Shah, 46, who now serves as the company’s chief technology officer, HubSpot has to date raised $100 million. It boasts more than 11,000 customers in 56 countries and has 700 employees, working mainly in Kendall Square. Last year the company’s revenue rose 48 percent to $77.6 million, and in late August HubSpot filed for a $100 million IPO.
Halligan at Inbound 2013, his company’s four-day conference.
Of course, there’s a reason for this: HubSpot is rapidly transforming the way small and mediumsize companies attract, retain, and connect with customers. “Humans have radically changed the way they shop for things,” says Halligan. “Cold calling, mass e-mailing, advertisements—those don’t work anymore. It’s now a question of: How do you pull people in?”
HubSpot offers content management tools for creating and managing blogs and landing pages for midmarket companies; search engine optimization applications that help potential customers find those blogs and landing pages; and dashboard tools that analyze how well this process of customer engagement is working. In addition, HubSpot provides consulting services that help managers learn inbound marketing tactics, which aim to attract and engage potential customers instead of interrupting their lives with traditional advertising. For example, say a consumer is looking for beginner yoga classes. If she Googles the topic, up will pop local studios and blogs (which are HubSpot customers) with targeted options—and maybe she’ll even receive that perfectly timed e-mail from a studio in her neighborhood.
The HubSpot offices.
The company also hosts an annual four-day conference at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center called Inbound. In late September of this year, the event featured speakers like Martha Stewart and Malcolm Gladwell. But one of the most popular speeches was by Halligan himself—who packed the room, no problem.
“HubSpot is truly a disruptive technology,” says Beth Best, a marketing executive at ConforMIS, a manufacturer of customized knee implants. “I see it as a profound game-changer in the way in which we market and engage with our customers. We can see in real time what’s happening with all of our campaigns, allowing us to make smart investments that effectively target our multiple stakeholders.”
Halligan’s professional vision took root early on. He grew up in Westwood, near Route 128—dubbed “America’s Technology Highway.” His dad was an engineer at General Electric and later ran marketing for BBN Technologies; his neighbors had jobs at local powerhouses like Digital, Prime, and Wang. After graduating from the University of Vermont with a degree in electrical engineering, Halligan landed a sales job at Parametric Technology, a Needham-based software company. There—at the age of 25—he was asked to build up the company’s Asian business, first in Tokyo and eventually in Hong Kong. When he moved back to the US, he did a stint at Groove Networks, a software firm that was acquired by Microsoft, and then enrolled in the MIT Sloan School of Management.
Part of Halligan’s collection of sports memorabilia.
It was there that he met his cofounder. Recalls Halligan, “Dharmesh—in a moment of uncharacteristic extroversion—came up to me in a class and said, ‘Let’s work on a project together.’ We just clicked.” As students, the pair entered HubSpot in a business plan contest and… drumroll… did not win. But they kept hammering away at the idea each week. Michael Cusamano, a professor at MIT Sloan, taught both founders and has watched HubSpot from the start. “Brian strikes me as extremely thoughtful,” he says. “He realizes the world is changing.”
After they graduated, Halligan and Shah rented a small office at the Cambridge Innovation Center, hired some programmers, and began to pitch to potential customers. Today the office features a soda fountain and cereal and candy walls (all free) and teems with young graduates, sporting flipflops and shorts, who know that at any given time they could find Halligan sitting next to them for the day—working but listening to his staff, too.
“We just kept iterating and cranking, and slowly but surely it turned into this,” Halligan says, stretching out his arms and looking around at HubSpot’s trendy orange-hued offices. “Every day we got a little bit better. That’s what we’re still doing today.”