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HubSpot gathers the inbound marketing faithful in Boston

Posted by Scott Kirsner  August 28, 2012 11:25 AM

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HubSpot, the fast-growing digital marketing company, picked an interesting week to hold its annual user conference: this final stretch of August that tends to be booked with last-minute vacations and back-to-school scurrying.

Still, the Cambridge company managed to lure about 2,800 people to the Hynes Convention Center for sessions on "Email Marketing That People Love," "Mobile Marketing," and "Closed Loop Social Selling Strategies."

HubSpot coined and helped popularize the term "inbound marketing," which refers to creating useful content in order to get discovered online by prospective customers, rather than buying traditional advertising. I caught up with CEO Brian Halligan earlier today. (Halligan is in the photo above. You'll see Cyndi Lauper in the background; she performed a song at this morning's opening session.) A couple bullet points from our chat.

    • HubSpot wants to help spread the gospel of inbound marketing "the way Nike powered the fitness revolution, or the way Whole Foods is associated with healthy eating," Halligan says.

    • I asked Halligan about the perception that HubSpot's brand and awareness of the company in the market may have outpaced the company's revenues. "That's a high-quality problem to have," he says, "but we're catching up to where people think we are." Revenues over the last twelve months were in the neighborhood of $50 million, he says. Halligan adds that the company's Q2 revenues this year increased 90 percent over Q2 2011.

    • Halligan says he and co-founder Dharmesh will talk tomorrow morning about "the next six years of inbound marketing." (They originally coined the term six years ago.) Halligan didn't want to be too specific, but says the focus of HubSpot's future strategy will be about how to pull prospective customers "through the funnel" and persuade them to make a purchase commitment. Referring to how Amazon.com presents a different front page to every user based on what they've bought before and the products they've perused, Halligan hinted that future iterations of HubSpot's software will be about "radical personalization."

    • Last year's HubSpot user conference attracted 1,000 people. This year, attendance shot up to 2,800. "In a year or two, we want it to be huge — bigger than South by Southwest," Halligan says. "We see it becoming the biggest marketing conference on the planet." Halligan says that most of the attendees have at least used one of HubSpot's free offerings, like its Marketing Grader service, and the other half are paying customers.

    • HubSpot has about 400 employees, and is mainly hiring software developers these days. "Buying Performable [another Cambridge marketing startup] last year has really helped us attract really good folks. Birds of a feather flock together. And the Performable team has started to open source a lot of what they're doing, which helps build our awareness in that open source developer community." The Performable buy was "a huge bet for us," but Halligan says it is helping the company in its objective to become "a Google- or Akamai-like hub for engineering talent."

    • HubSpot hasn't yet set up satellite offices elsewhere, but it sounds like a European outpost could be in the works.

    • Halligan says the company has fielded inquiries from would-be acquirers, but he and Shah are still dedicated to trying to build an independent, stand-alone company. "We've held the line," he says.

Cyndi Lauper performs for conference attendees again tonight. Halligan and Shah unveil the next generation of HubSpot's software Wednesday morning, and that night there's a bar crawl down Boylston Street. The conference continues through Thursday.

Last year, the gathering was known as the HubSpot User Group Summit. HubSpot's Inbound Conference is not to be confused with the Inbound Marketing Summit, which comes to Boston in October.

(Below, Halligan chatting with Lauper backstage. HubSpot evangelist Laura Fitton is in the middle, likely tweeting...)

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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