Edition 28: 10,000 Pound Gorilla

Go Public / Be Disrupted

I picked up Behind the Cloud - the Salesforce story a week or so ago. It’s an interesting read despite the general ‘we did everything right’ tone. Salesforce & Marc B have built a billion-dollar (163.31B) company so you are allowed, hell even expected to be smug about it.

One of the most interesting takeaways was that Salesforce started as the nimble startup disrupting Siebel & enterprise software marketing, but today they themselves have become the 10,000-pound gorilla.

To borrow from Batman (Chris Nolan) You either get acquired or live long enough to go public & become the 10,000-pound gorilla. Another example (close to home) is Shopify. They’ve created a marketing (along with Magento) but have slowly evolved into the platform everyone wants to chip away at. Elliot is an example.

I am not in the eCommerce space but I follow it relatively closely (along with Media) & Elliot has been shouting & poking at Shopify (they are a 3/4 person company) - mainly around pricing. It’s the story we’ve seen play out in the ‘website/CMS’ space - WordPress displaced HTML tables, Squarespace displaced a sub-segment of WordPress customers who needed more simplicity & fewer complications & now Webflow is taking up the middle ground b/w WordPress & Squarespace.

The other thing that struck me was how much of Drift’s early marketing was similar to Salesforce (no forms / no software, mock protests [that went south] & the PR / celebrity founder). Drift has since likely realized forms aren’t evil, are better for some things & aren’t going anywhere so they’ve changed their core messaging to real-time fulfillment [Now].

More on Away - Steph is now the Co-CEO. If she was a dude, this conversation would be different & I am still baffled the other co-founder hasn’t spoken up or said anything about it at all. Sales have not gone down - luggage still sells with good aspirational branding around it.

This is something I’ve thought about too (myself + for client/in-house roles) - the person doing the search is searching for something in their context but not necessarily using search modifiers but in some cases (local) you want specific ‘near me’ or ‘in Toronto’ etc. But again in some cases (I work with Knak that’s an Email Builder for MAPs) its very specific to ‘Marketo Email Templates’ etc.

I will say this though - bidding on general terms while trying to capture a specific (vertical/industry etc) demand is hard. You need to actively negative keyword out a lot of the search terms to help spend/bid on the most relevant ones.

Closing thought on this - this is why you need multiple channels/strategies. For example, Facebook can be used to reach coffee owners who are most likely in the market for an email marketing tool for their coffee shop or similarly for Display ads (often overlooked) to help get your brand in front of the right people when they might not actively be looking to buy.

5.3 Billion. Chump change for Visa (448.51B MKT CAP) but man, it’s an incredible buy. Plaid builds APIs that let your Mint talk to your bank account and they’re not the sexy front-facing / b2b / end user-startup. They sell to developers but they create the plumbing for fin-tech & now Visa owing those pipes gives them a ton of leverage + possible acquisition into fin-tech.

More on plaid:

source: https://www.saastr.com/build-a-platform-ecosystem/

Tech-enabled Marketplaces. Atrium laid off all (?) their on-staff lawyers. I wrote about it previously (?) but here’s a great conversation I had with Amrita (Superside / another tech-enabled marketplace) on that.

Shopify (as expected) launched a small financing program for commerce store built on their platform

It’ll be interesting to see this play out over time & to see if it grows. There are lots of online lenders and a handful focused on commerce/DTC brands (Clearbanc - Canadian) - what I find interesting is that likely 90% of this money is going to ads + Shopify in the first place.

Clearbanc (if I am not mistaken) uses Shopify data as part of its mix to determine who to loan to, with Shopify owning the platform + financing it makes a ton of sense. Stripe has Stripe Capital, Square as something similar. When you own the ‘source’ you essentially have a monopoly to build/expand your services/product portfolio putting those who build on top at risk (circa 2000’s Facebook vs Zynga & other social apps).

A good listen - Lerer Hippeau investor Caitlin Strandberg: Venture funding isn't to be spent on Facebook ads - the interesting bit was - most DTC companies are ‘marketing’ companies because the product is similar/the same & the core differentiator is brand/marketing.

Merci is a incredible thinker. She ran Product at Slack before moving to VC & boy this long read is worth it.

“Managers are often the people who purchase tools but they are not great early core customers: they have a lot to lose by pushing a tool that doesn’t take off and they don’t share the day-to-day problems of their team.”

Some parallels to Martech. Everyone & I mean EVERYONE say’s ‘OUR ICP IS VP OF MARKETING OR SALES’ but the end user who actually WILL use the tool day in & day out gets ignored. Selling to executives in crowded. Start with the marketing managers / bdrs - sell to them. Make their life better & let them be advocates. Easier said than done but something to think about.

I am not a Calm/HeadSpace user & ‘mental fitness’ to me just means 10 hours of sleep but an interesting conversation here:

Food for thought:

I rarely used to talk about my work - now its a ‘sales channel for me.

This thread by Pete is awesome. Lots of learning for me as a consultant/agency who goes from hourly billing - retainers - project work & now balancing retainer/project work.

Another lesson - empower your partners. So many companies that want to talk to me about partnerships end up being me being an outsourced sales guy with a quota.


Zoom’s story & the fact this guy is sitting on the biggest stage in SaaS and has an accent really spoke to me.

The soundtrack for this edition was Queen.

Till next time!


Edition 27: Crash & 🔥

DTC Bubble - Politics & the Human Condition

Here’s a great story of $40,000 & a failed startup idea. There’s lot of gold in here but the key point for me was creating value for all stakeholders aka the ecosystem.

I have a few of my own crashes & burns under my belt but here’s one that was published back in 2013. The actual company crashed & burned a few years before that.

I think this is the marketing playbook now - everyone is looking for the quick wins to justify their jobs / marketing spend without taking into consideration the longer term benefits of investing in marketing. It’s not marketers at fault all the time. There’s lots of bad marketers but also there’s a lack of understanding what marketing actually fucking does!

I usually pay attention to what DHH says. He’s a smart man. But ads as a business model are not evil. There’s still some caution and fear-mongering around using ‘targetted’ ads post FB/elections. But let’s be honest, without ads, a lot of the internet as it is won’t exist today. Ads let people blog, keep the services running that we rely on (free email, search, blogs, newspapers, music, videos, etc) - how many folks out of the billions who use the internet can / would or could afford to pay $5/mo for 100’s of services. I know for a fact that a lot of folks in Pakistan (rural like where I am originally from) would not have access to nearly the information they can if the internet was paywalled. Ads let us have a free & democratized internet.

Are ads themselves evil? No. Is Facebook using 2FA via phone number then using that to target folks with ads a shady practice? Yes. Is it downright evil? No. But I can’t point fingers because I make my living on the internet & 20% of it is running ads on the internet. It’s become the cultural zeitgeist to talk about privacy.

In some ways, I feel like by taking away ads & putting the internet behind the paywall - we are enforcing elitism on what otherwise should be free (via ads) & available to everyone.

Here is the Spotify podcast article.

Spotify also hinted at taking this technology and applying it outside of its exclusive shows. “This is just the beginning,” says Dawn Ostroff, Spotify chief content officer. That means it’s possible the company will take on big ad networks, like Midroll, to sell ads for other shows and share in the revenue

I did cover this before it became official in a previous edition.

How can I end without talking about DTC & Casper's IPO?

Yes, the biz model is lopsided & there’s probably a handful of factories churning out these mattresses in a box and other DTC products. I still think DTC itself is a bubble - but is all Commerce over the internet DTC? Is this the same ‘bubble’ as drop shipping with better branding? Send me your thoughts or twitter!!

But I am guilty of arm analysis. The fact is, its incredibly hard to build a company & take it public & I have never done it ever & likely never will (who takes an agency public right?) but here’s some commentary from Twitter (LinkedIn was very quiet or I don’t follow the right folks):

Some interesting listens/ reads:

Sales / Sales Ops:

Facebook & Commerce:

Biggest takeaway

Sales is about Customer value creation not revenue. 

Preorder Susan’s book! If you don’t who who Susan is - she wrote the blog post that triggered the changes at Uber & around the tech industry among other places

And some politics & the human condition that are incredibly moving:

Till next time.

Soundtrack: Top 40 Pop / 70’s Rock.


Edition 26: Networked Virtue Effects

Only Buzzwords

Promoting stuff really works eh. I managed to hit 60 subscribers through a combo of LinkedIn & Twitter posts!

Onwards to our regularly scheduled programming.

Completely agree with Ruth & one reason I lean towards the ‘BDRs/SDRs’ should report into Marketing, not the Sales side of the equation (and maybe call them Market Development Reps?)

Ada (support tool) started off as Volley (Q&A tool) incredible how they left that behind to become a support tool that’s used by enterprise customers.

So which side of the fence do you sit on? Here’s one thing that rubs me - Inbound takes time to get right. When you first start your shouting into the void. Over time as you start repeating yourself till you have no more voice left, people start listening & the inbound engine kicks in. Till then you have to do some of the outbound stuff - marketers have this notion that outbound is ugly & turn their nose up at it. It really doesn’t have to be when done right. Ignore those LinkedIn posts about BDRs hitting up prospects 50 times & those annoying ‘did you get eaten by a lion’ emails. You can add value by going outbound.

Inbound can be a mixed bag of different folks with different intent so you have to treat them separately in different ways & you can’t drive em all to the coveted demo page. Most of all you need to invest in it & give it time. Hubspot’s Inbound marketing took years to build (the term + their own inbound marketing') but you already knew that.

Where I disagree with Ruth though - High-Value Accounts won’t just pop by your site through pure inbound that’s leaving it up to chance.. You have to do the ABM stuff parallel with an outbound play & align both on messaging, frequency & timing.

I doubt any company (in tech) doesn’t use Slack but here’s an interesting take - Shared Channels (think about inviting customers to a closed slack channel for support or me being added to clients slack channels for easier albeit annoying at times communications) is almost like the ‘Sent by Hotmail’ back in the day or Powered by Intercom on web chats. Slack’s customers are driving WOM & adoption through shared channels - and once a person who doesn’t use slack experiences it, they can take it back to their own company. Same for Trello & other PM tools & referral programs that drove growth for Airbnb etc.

I am waiting for Jason from Basecamp’s take on this.

SEO is incredibly hard but incredibly scalable. I remember doing an SEO strategy + execution for Organimi back in the day (Org Charts) and one day I woke up - 13 months later to find Organimi outranking Visio (biggest competitor circa 2010) and it was a glorious moment. It’s gotten way more competitive now with LucidChart / Pingboard & the likes so like all marketing - its not a set it & forget it thing.

No we didn’t write 11 ways to build an org chart type articles - neither did I do any active link building by spamming people. We just re-organized our entire website around Org Charts & Creating Org Charts which propelled the home/product page to the coveted #1 spot in the search results.

Ironically now it’s at #4 for Org Chart Tool with Canva right above Organimi!

I wrote about this a little. The manual / human touch becomes more important in the age of more automation & putting SME’s front and center to solve customer problems & consultative selling/success. Here’s where I wrote more.

One of my 2020 predictions is a Vidyard acquisition. In the meantime here’s a podcast on GoVideo which I believe Wes worked on during his time there <?>

Other interesting reads (s):

Not a fan of adding more buzzwords or made up JT’s but interesting POV on Cheif Marketing Technology Officers.

Is Superhuman the most hyped VC focused product? It reminds me of Allbirds sometimes.

I read this about how they engineered product-market fit & it’s brilliant but then can they cross the chasm into the mainstream market. There’s alot of mixed reviews in the wild. I was an ex-customer, till I told my wife I pay $40 (CAD)/mo for an email client & she thought I lost my mind. She was right of course.

Coming to Year 3 in March. This resonated heavily:

The soundtrack was Monsters & Men.

Till next week.


P.s Have you seen the new 42/Agency site?

Edition 25: Everyday I am Hustling

Party Rock Anthem.

Can you change the world working 40 hours a week? that’s what twitter was blowing up about over the holidays (of all time).

Here’s the thing - Jason (basecamp) started the conversation (i think) and everyone from MLK to Ghandi were brought up (see below)

Tobi (Shopify) who has recently become more vocal on twitter (did he hire a new PR person) chimed in as well. It was a … something to watch from afar. Generally, I don’t jump into these things. 1) it’s counterproductive 2) twitter is very black & white and the naunce doesn’t come through, especially when the twitter mob is outraged on both sides on the debate.

Here’s the tweet from Jason

Now step back for a second. Take into account Jason is the founder (co-founder?) of basecamp - a PM tool that is trying to be the opposite of Slack & the high velocity always-on, a work culture that’s been developed in the last decade of instant gratification. We want our amazon deliveries the next day & we also want an answer from our co-worker the next min. Jason & the whole basecamp 'marketing strategy’ is based on the premise of It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work. In the world of Slack & always-on expectations, basecamp is building an audience & mindshare around their company/product & thinking by preaching the opposite (yes that’s marketing). It doesn’t just extend to rhetoric, the’’ve based product/design decisions around that philosophy too. My entire point? Good marketing is when companies have strong opinions on topics that are important to the conversation happening & it relates to the product they are building. I am still debating on how to properly word it. But the corollary is - if you don’t have strong opinions & original thoughts, you risk drowning in the sea of sameness. Think about those articles that teach you SEO & just tell you to re-write the same damn article that’s ranking #1 but make it longer or something. That’s bad marketing & that just leads to you sounding like everyone else.

Related Basecamp note - the founders are super vocal & visible and marketing savvy, I am curious how the new director of marketing role is playing out. I really enjoyed his interview on their podcast - super-smart humble guy.

Here is a debatable/bad take.

MongoDB has 52 marketing 130 sales and a previous CMO Meagen Eisenberg put MonogoDB on the map in alot of ways. The above post sort of implies that it all happened on its own - without any help and also (IMO) takes credit away from the folks who built up the marketing engine. OpenView is a VC firm that’s heavily invested in the Product Led Growth term & popularizing it. I am all for smart marketing & hammering the message home but they shouldn’t imply it just ‘happened’. Like all companies trying to ride the ‘next wave’ the above take by Blake is trying to convolute MongoDB’s success to serve their own marketing. More about PLG another time - but if you are curious go ahead and read this book by Wes Bush.

I’ve never quite understood analysts relations & honestly I thought it was all pay for play. I am taking about Gartner/Forrester & their reports. Here’s a great breakdown of Analyst relations by Tom Wentworth.

Related I think the big Analyst firms are slowly being disrupted by the democratized review platforms like G2 but they still don’t hold the ‘prestige’ as the big analyst firms yet:

Here’s a question: should writing/content be free? I dont believe it should be but I also think knowledge should be widely shared - but for years I played around with the idea of micro-payments & use Blendle, sub to the Information / NYT & even played around with the idea of putting this newsletter behind a $5/mo subscription just to see what happens. Another option is to ‘release’ a paid Facebook Ads course via Substack that I’ve had in Google Drafts for 2 years. I started writing it as a series of emails but then lost steam and left it. If you want to give it a read & give me your thoughts - here you go.

I’ll say this though - I am glad marketers haven’t discovered Substack. The primary audience for Substack is still VC/journalists & it’s the quality bar is has been extremely high.

Here is a masterclass in marketing. I debated sending this to my entire family (they’re computer scientists, physicists & doctors & my mom is a full-time grandma now) in the hope they’ll finally understand what I do for a living:

Amen: ABM is more than banner ads - it’s about a coordinated sales & marketing - hell, even more, leaning towards sales:

B2B is far behind when it comes to paid media & ecomm folks are probably on the cutting edge. Lots of B2B folks still create campaigns with link click objectives - but once you get the basics sorted there’s no magic sauce except maybe creative. Here’s a great thread on creative for paid social:

Some interesting articles:

Retail from MorningBrew (not a subscriber)

Why branded magazine are possibly coming back.

Slack should get acquired.

The New Payday Lender Looks a Lot Like the Old Payday Lender

Happy 2020!

The soundtrack for today - Imagine Dragons.



p.s please share your thoughts/comments & feedback. It helps me keep going :)

Edition 24: Sponsored Podcasts

Note: Started writing this on the 18th. Now its almost 2020

It’s almost the holidays so that means things are slower & I can write this.

I had lunch with Amrita last week and one of the things we talked about was podcast advertising. Not long ago I bought the domain - sponsorapodcast.com with the idea to create a marketplace to match podcasters with niche audiences with advertisers looking to reach that niche. I haven’t worked on it since I bought that domain but as I think about it more, I think podcast advertising is going to move from the big agency/brand world to programmatic ads. If you’ve been following Spotify, they’ve bought Gimlet/Anchor & are increasingly moving into the podcasting world (both are a media company & a tech company with Spotify hosting podcasts, etc). When Spotify Ads launched it was in early beta & you could only target by music genre or playlist. A few months ago they rolled out targetting by podcasts (not within podcasts but folks who listen to podcasts as a category. I can see the world where Spotify can place ads within podcasts since Anchor already offered that functionality. Combining Anchor (which they own) with Spotify’s ad inventory/bidding & you have a programmatic exchange for podcasts.

The elephant in the room is … Apple.

Apple is likely the biggest player in the podcast player space and it’s unlikely they’re start inserting ads in podcasts you listen to since it isn’t part of their core push in subscriptions and I don’t see them going for subscriptions based podcasts (they’re heavily invested in media with AppleTv+, audio subs aren’t likely a big enough market) but companies like Luminary are already trying to build a premium audio company with subscriptions & exclusives. In the same breathe - Gimlet is likely going to do Spotify only exclusives in the near future which will require a Spotify sub to listen to.

Podcasts are a lot like the journalism/blogging world - there’s always going to to be free stuff but the premium content will be put behind paywalls (think NYT & The Information & WSJ).

Recently in the Martech world - one martech company acquired another martech company without disclosing financial terms. I always get skeptical esp when it happens in martech. I am talking about Terminus (programmatic ads/abm) acquiring Sigster (email signature tool). I have zero knowledge outside of the press releases but I’ve used both tools in the past and very surprised by the acquisition to be honest. Terminus is facing some competition from other cheaper/agile upstarts (ListenLoop/ Metadata) and they’re likely struggling to keep their momentum going. Like all martech tools, it’s one tool too many to do a small job - it wasn’t till recently they integrated with Salesforce to push/pull data.

Sigster is an email signature tool - sure it integrates with some marketing automation & other tools but in the end I imagine its incredibly hard to build a business tackling a small piece like email signatures syncing across the company for $10K/year price tags.

The acquisition was odd because both product roadmaps seem so different. It makes little sense for Terminus to acquire sigster and I don’t see how the two products will intersect short of placing programmatic ads inside folks email signatures. My guess - it was an acqui-hire of sorts. I wonder how the two companies will merge together in time and what that will look like.

It’s easy for me to do an armchair analysis and this is by no means to discredit the incredible hard work both companies have put in.

Of note: Both companies had Edison Partner as its lead in the last financing round. Sigster had raised a total of 11M and Terminus 30M. The acquisition cost was likely in the 10M-15M range (an educated guess based on no information). They also just appointed a new CEO. I expect more changes in 2020 in the whole Marketing Technology landscape.

It’s easy for me to do an armchair analysis and this is by no means to discredit the incredible hard work both companies have put in.

Attribution - again. I did do a breif demo with the CalibreMind folks. I’ll put detailed thoughts together another time but all attribution models seek to create a perfect world when such a thing doesn’t exist & its not as much about the tool or capturing/reporting on the data as much as it is about ‘what the hell are we going to do about it’.

There’s a general …. head roll when it comes to paid acquisition in saas these days. Alot of folks talk about it as if its a bad thing but Lenny’s breakdown shows paid drives of value for marketplaces. Of course paid needs to be done right with the economics in mind.

A collection of interesting takes. Next time I’ll talk about the 40-hour work debate & how it genius of BaseCamp to ‘have strong opinions’ & more companies need to do that. It’s marketing & it works. We live in the attention economy, you cant get attention & time if you regurgitate what everyone else is saying.

I went in a bit of a different route this time. I’d love to hear what you think.



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