Startup Marketing: Lessons in Growth from Mike Volpe

When it comes to growing a team from 1 to 100+ marketers and supporting a company’s growth from startup to IPO, Mike Volpe has been there, done that. The former CMO of HubSpot recently discussed the hurdles and lessons of spearheading the SaaS company in a fireside chat with Kyle Lacy of OpenView Venture Partners. We’re sharing his insights so you can learn the hard lessons of product and growth marketing the easy way.


Learning to Scale

The explosive expansion of HubSpot had its challenges. Business needs and team structures changed every six to twelve months. Mike’s job changed along with them and he’d begin seeing processes and structures that needed to improve as the company grew.

In some cases, department meeting structures needed to change. Weekly meetings weren’t conducive to a group of 100 people, so they had to switch to smaller weekly meetings with only monthly meetings for the entire group. Other times team dynamics were shifting and people’s positions needed to move.

Creating direct relationships between teams remedied growing pains. This often meant physically seating teams in different departments next to each other so they could learn from each other all with a simple premise: “Empowering, enabling, and encouraging them to solve their own problems.”

Always Be Recruiting

Your team defines the success of your organization, so Mike used inbound marketing tactics in recruiting. When HubSpot was looking for individuals with the qualities of a CMO (we’ll tell you what those are), they held a panel: “How to Become a CMO in the Next 5 Years.” Doing what he referred to as stealth recruiting, he was able to gather the right people in the room and meet them in a low-pressure environment.

Finding the right leadership meant every conversation was an interview, and he kept a list of people he wanted to recruit for his team. He sought out professionals with strong communication and management skills, as well as expertise in the area they would oversee. Newer employees were seeking mentorship from their managers so they could rise to those positions. This enabled HubSpot’s team to be marketing generalists that know a little bit about every tactic in marketing with greater depth in one or two specialties.

Inbound Strategy

“The heart of an inbound marketing strategy is to build a home, not rent it.” Everything HubSpot does–social media, blogging, podcasts, webinars, you name it!–continues to generate revenue for days, months, and even years after it’s created. Mike was deliberate in this approach to creating longevity for HubSpot: “Fundamentally, you need to build something that has long term, ongoing value for your business.”

He also has a simple measure of success for any company, particularly a startup’s, marketing strategy: “If you cut your marketing budget by 100% today, what would happen to your pipeline over the next 3 months?”

Measure the impact of your current materials if all new efforts stopped today. Leads should continue at the approximately the same level for about 3-6 months before it drops. This method has created tremendous loyalty to the those orange spokes.

HubSpot even created a feeling of allegiance in marketers who were never their customers.  Anyone can learn marketing tactics and methodologies from free resources like their blog. This has created a huge following for HubSpot and the numbers at their INBOUND conference quantify it: as many as 40% of attendees are not paying users of the platform. It’s a testament to the event and the incredible content HubSpot continually provides.

The heart of an inbound marketing strategy is to build a home, not rent it. – Mike Volpe

Qualities of a B2B CMO

If you want to be like one of the people who attended Mike’s “How to Become a CMO in the Next 5 Years” panel, he recommends you develop leadership skills and expertise. It’s important to not only guide a team, but also understand the day-to-day challenges in marketing.

The tools and tactics are changing, so he encourages staying fluent in the new stuff. Social media, SEO, and mobile are all still emerging fields, and professionals can learn about and capitalize on them by moving fast. Quantitative skills are increasingly in demand, and familiarity with code goes a long way in improving strategies. The role is moving towards more of a marketing operations or marketing systems position because of the increased importance of technical proficiency.

The Future

If Mike had to do it again, he’d create a company with the ability to upsell and cross sell much earlier. It’s easier to increase engaged customers’ plans rather than acquire and retain new members. Understanding existing users goes a long way in improving a product and building a stronger business.

It’s easier to increase engaged customers’ plans rather than acquire and retain new members.


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