HubSpot Is Good People
A Reflection On My Time At The Company.
I always like to hear stories of what people were like before they became famous. Now that HubSpot is a big company, I thought it would be interesting to tell folks about HubSpot’s origins and what its founders were like before the IPO and massive success.
One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received is that you’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with, but by “good”, I mean honest, ethical, forthright, and caring. As humans, we’re subject to the influence of others, and as long as we can manage to surround ourselves with the right people, there is a chance we will become active contributors to the communities we engage.
HubSpot, at least for me, has always been that community. The people I’ve met and apprenticed under while working there during the early days have been influential in my life — both professionally and personally.
Brian, Dharmesh, Mike, Patrick, Colleen, Dan A, Dan D, Dan T, Ellie, Yoav, Pete, Jonah, Karen, Sam, Mark R, Jim, Alyssa, Faramawi, Nader, Owen, Rebecca, Mark G, Brad, Drew, Bonnie, Chris, Prashant, Tom, Heidi, Ben, Kyle, Jen, Brian K, Brian R, Buck, Rick, David, and the many more who I will (regrettably) think of right after hitting publish are all great people, have all been tremendously influential in my life.
Through the HubSpot Alumni Group, I continue to engage with new people who I never had the privilege of working with during my tenure at HubSpot. Having met them, I have no qualms about also classifying them as great people. The alumni group is a testament to the strength of character present at HubSpot.
I have always considered my time at HubSpot as a privilege, and one of the best decisions I have made in my life (after marrying my wife and having kids, of course).
Our Humble Beginnings, And My Treasured Experiences
It was an exciting time at HubSpot. We had a deep commitment to each other and to the customers we were serving. Everything that we did back then focused on what was directly in front of us. Helping our customers grow their businesses was our goal, and when it came to solving their problems it was all hands on deck. Though the deck wasn’t very big at the time and we could all still fit in a room.
How small was HubSpot?
Well, when I first met Dharmesh, there was only a handful of other folks in the room. Brian, Patrick, Colleen, Mike, and Mark. It was managed office space, small, and zero frills. A solid three months worth of mail was piled up on Dharmesh’s desk, and he was always too busy writing code or blog posts to bother opening the mail.
My, how things have changed.
Our humble beginnings didn’t discourage us, though. In fact, it encouraged us as we strove to sign (and retain) our early customers. It wasn’t uncommon to have everyone sitting in the same room, talking for three or four hours about what product updates needed to be prioritized to convert our customers into product evangelists. While we worked through a spreadsheet projected onto the wall every single week, we talked in great detail about each and every customer, one-by-one, until we could reach a consensus.
What were they struggling with?
What product updates need to be prioritized?
What features needed fine adjustments?
What would it take to convert a customer into a product evangelist?
Do we need a bigger box?
As you’d expect, meetings were painfully long, and the tiny conference rooms built for eight started to get more crowded with every hire. There was a reason that happened. We were determined to treat our initial customers like family. Heck, a few may have even been family. We knew that if we could solve their pain points, there would eventually be hundreds, if not thousands, of companies lining up to work with us. We imagined it. How couldn’t we? It felt good. It felt like we were on the cusp of trapping lightning in a bottle.
HubSpot, since the very beginning, has been committed to helping small and medium sized businesses grow. It’s all that we cared about back then. I’ve tried to take that same customer commitment with me to BuySellAds. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t draw inspiration from both Brian and Dharmesh. Their passion for helping small and medium sized business was inspiring.
Since 2008, we have played a part in helping companies acquire new users with great success, thanks to the lessons I’ve learned while at HubSpot. The folks at Wix (NASDAQ:WIX) are one of BSA’s longest standing customers. Braintree Payments (sold to PayPal for $800 million) were able to grow its user base by working with our one-ad-per-page advertising product called Carbon Ads. Shutterstock (NYSE:SSTK) was one of our earliest customers. They started working with us back in early 2009. Fotolia (acquired by Adobe for $800 million, now “Adobe Stock”) has been a fantastic partner all of these years, and they’ve been working with us since 2008.
Helping other businesses grow is what get’s me out of bed and into my desk chair each morning. That motivation usually doesn’t manifest itself though unless you hire great people who care deeply about customer engagement. HubSpot’s success is due to its deep commitment to customer success. That commitment has always started with Brian and Dharmesh.
Today, at HubSpot, more than 18,000 customers legitimize the company’s earliest visions. But, if I’m being honest, I’m not sure I imagined that number of customers paying HubSpot for its offerings. Sorry Brian and Dharmesh, even though you encouraged us to think big, I’m not sure I ever thought HubSpot could be that big. Man, what an accomplishment.
We Were An Eclectic Group. We Came In All Shapes And Sizes.
What I loved most about HubSpot during my time there was the mishmash of experienced veterans and inexperienced whippersnappers like myself (I was 24 when I started).
I probably learned more than I realize from the experienced folks. Both Brian and Dharmesh brought in talent of varying degrees of experience. That group dynamic and the experiences I gleaned from it paid dividends both in the office and in my personal life.
“My experience working at HubSpot has had a profound influence on both my career and my personal life.”
One of my favorite memories from my time at HubSpot was when I told Dan Tyre that I was thinking about getting married. Dan’s response, while at the time was a bit shocking to me, was something that I would never have heard from someone without the life experiences he had.
Upon hearing my thoughts on getting married, Dan told me, “Marrying my wife was the best decision I’ve ever made. If at 25, you’re capable of even considering marriage, you should leave right now and propose the moment you get home.” I didn’t leave work to propose right then and there, but he helped me realize that I was ready to commit and that I should stop procrastinating. My biggest regret is not inviting folks from the HubSpot team to my wedding. The problem was that every week we hired a few new people, and I knew that it would become awkward once the wedding arrived and a group of people didn’t get an invite.
It was humbling every time someone new took up residence at HubSpot. Brian, Dharmesh, and the other managers were apparently determined to hire the smartest people they could, no matter how old they were or what their experiences were. Every time they would hire it became more evident that not only were they hiring intelligent people, they were also hiring people who were pretty down to earth as well. Egos were left at the door.
What amazed me most, however, wasn’t how smart everyone seemed, but how selfless everyone was during my time there. Many of us formed friendships that grew outside of the office as well. Friendships that I cherish to this day.
HubSpot Was Never About Transparency. They Were Always About Inclusion And Self-Development.
If you read HubSpot’s Culture Code, you will see stuff about radical transparency being a core tenet of their culture. I was often surprised at just how transparent the company was with financials and sensitive information. But, the truth is that HubSpot wasn’t focused on transparency at all. They were focused on providing a fair, level playing field for everyone at the company.
A lot of companies pride themselves on having CEO’s and high-ranking employees sit alongside their employees. Attempts are made by marketing or PR teams to humanize executives, and make them seem like the types of people who like to get their hands dirty.
At HubSpot, it was never about a photo opportunity or changing perceptions. At HubSpot, it was actually about leading a team. Brian and Dharmesh sat with everyone because they were leading like leaders should. They weren’t just showing us the way; they were putting us on their shoulders and dragging us across finish line every day. They consistently sat with the different teams at HubSpot, and then dug in to help everyone accomplish their goals.
There wasn’t a need for private offices. They would have ultimately just turned into Dharmesh’s personal mail room. A place where letters could pile up and collect dust. The goal was always to help the individual teams at HubSpot succeed, not sitting in lofty corner offices with a view of the fantastic skyline (many floors at CIC did have incredible views of the Boston skyline, by the way).
Sitting in those groups, amidst all the people at HubSpot during those days helped me learn that innovative ideas are never obvious. What is obvious is, well, obvious. If you want to find that zone where the magic happens, it’s usually in the margins and out of the spotlight.
I have a general rule of thumb at BuySellAds. It’s a simple one. If too many people immediately agree on a new idea, it’s probably not the best idea. It may be the right idea, but it certainly requires more consideration because we’re probably missing something.
For example, when I first started BuySellAds, not a single person I talked to told me it was a good idea. It was obviously a terrible idea to most. Most initially believed it was a bad idea, and that the move was unmistakably a flawed idea. The flaws were evident to everyone in the moment, but here I am almost a decade later still working on BuySellAds, still growing the company.
Innovation happens in the least obvious places, and there’s no better example of that at HubSpot than the Agency Reseller program designed by Peter Caputa. The program, last I heard, accounts for more than 40% of their customers. You can read about it in Inc, and it’s a great example of how HubSpot encourages innovation from within. It’s also a testament to how HubSpot encourages people to look for solutions that aren’t all that obvious to begin with when trying to solve new problems.
All Good Things Come To A Close Sooner Or Later, But At HubSpot They Never Came To An End.
Things were busy. HubSpot had just raised a Series B, and we were hiring like crazy. It was becoming more and more difficult to get Brian and Dharmesh’s time. It’s funny how that happens. We never really consider how explosive growth can grind down the typical day to day routines.
I remember having to email them one morning, asking them both to set aside some time to talk. I had decided that it was time to move on and start a company of my own, but Dharmesh and Brian deserved to know that I would be moving on sooner than later. I was terrified to leave HubSpot and start a company. It was a difficult decision, considering that by 2008 HubSpot was gaining serious traction, and its vision was resonating with customers.
“Despite my decision to leave HubSpot and start BuySellAds, and despite it not being in the best interest of HubSpot at the time, Brian and Dharmesh encouraged me to take the first step. They are two of the most supportive people I know.”
Once I could finally pin down some time to talk, I told them of my plans. I’ll never forget how it played out. I remember Brian started off by saying “Are you…” but, then was immediately interrupted by his co-founder. It was one of those fleeting moments where I quickly began to fill in the rest of that sentence in my head. It was a split second, but it was long enough for me to start second guessing myself.
All my mind could come up with in response to that opener was, “probably!”.
I’ll never know what Brian was about to say. Dharmesh immediately interrupted both him and my brain before it ran away on me. With uncharacteristic excitement in his voice (he was always so calm and laid back), Dharmesh said, “That’s great news! Tell me more about it!”
“Wait. What?”, I remember feeling confused and probably had a confused look on my face. It wasn’t what I had expected. Honestly, the situation was a lot to process. I didn’t consider that they would be excited for me. Both Dharmesh and Brian were incredibly supportive of my decision. It gave me tremendous confidence, and I’ll always be appreciative of Dharmesh’s genuine reaction to my news.
As it turns out, despite my love for all things HubSpot (and yes, I still bleed orange, in addition to the newer BuySellAds red), everything in my body was telling me I was crazy for leaving. I was determined to start my company, and I did.
There was a lot of life lessons that I picked up along the way while at HubSpot, but the unwavering support and the excitement they exhibited when I decided it was time to move on to new things is something that impacted me on more levels than I realize. I’ve been lucky enough to carry on that same philosophy with me to BuySellAds.
At HubSpot, It’s Always Been About People.
All-in-all, my time at HubSpot is a period in my life that I will cherish forever. The people I worked with, the friends I made, and the lessons I learned have all helped me build a great business these past eight years at BuySellAds, and I’m not alone. Many have gone on from HubSpot to do great things.
The most interesting stories anyone could tell, however, are those of the 18,000+ small and medium sized businesses around the world that use HubSpot to grow their businesses. Those are the stories worth telling. Those are the stories that matter most.