Bronto, Entrepreneurship

“Stories from the Bronto Journey” @ Harvard

Last week, I spoke to a Harvard class on “Stories from the Bronto Journey.” The class was offered as part of the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard (TECH) and consisted mainly of undergraduates — almost 200 of them! Excited to see so much enthusiasm for technology and entrepreneurship.

Here are some takeaways from my talk:

  • Entrepreneurism is often less about the “what” and more about the “how”. Innovation is how you execute and approach the challenges.
  • My entrepreneurial journey was very long and with five stages — the before, the genesis, the grind, the graduation and the after. The grind is long, hard and usually uncelebrated — but it makes all the difference.
  • Graduations (or exits) can be bittersweet. Build your art and someone else will find it as attractive as you.

Watch on YouTube: (long @ ~31 minutes)

Or see the slides on Slideshare.



Email Marketing Continues to Bode Well for Online Retailers

Yesterday, I finished reading through The State of Retailing Online 2007 report issued by and Forrester. The report has a lot of interesting and compelling insights for email marketing.
Here are a few highlights:

  • “Paid search is the most effective marketing tactic for customer acquisition … email marketing continued to the most effective for customer retention.”
  • Email marketing to house lists the most popular and effective. 91% of online retailers do this. Email marketing to prospecting lists is less common with only 27% of retailers doing this. Makes sense.
  • “… retailers find that emails about new products are much more effective than simple transactional or sale messages.”

Great points. I found that the third point to be particularly insightful. At the most recent conference, I led an email marketing panel with two of our customers — Trek Bikes and Hancock’s of Panducah.

Both customers explained that their most effective campaigns entailed introducing new bikes or the latest fabrics, respectively. I like to refer to these as “inside the castle” campaigns. They are often very successful because they build trust with the audience by giving them the inside scoop to what’s going on. This success ultimately translates into higher number of conversions with larger orders.


Constant Contact’s Bubblicious IPO

Constant Contact had a great IPO debut today — 73% increase in one day. Wow!
Constant Contact is an email marketing provider targeting small businesses. They have been at it for a number of years and have developed a strong base of over 130,000 small business customers. With that large of a customer base, we could not have helped but compete with them at Bronto. We compete with them less now that we’ve moved more upmarket but still show up fairly often with our small business customers.

So, what are they going to do with their new found $100mm in cash? The obvious and stated play for them is to extend their strength in email marketing with small businesses into other avenues — online surveys are natural choice, which they added in June. I would expect them to use some of their new found cash to acquire someone with a stronger position in that space — Zoomerrang or SurveyMonkey. If it happens, you heard it here first. I can also see acquisitions of other companies with like products geared toward small businesses. I don’t see them purchasing other small business focused email marketing companies. Acquiring companies with complementary products is definitely the way to go.

The strong showing is exciting and validating for Bronto, but I cannot help but find this IPO reminiscent on ones from the tech bubble six years back. 73% one day rise for a company with about $40mm in revenue this year, unprofitable and high customer acquisition costs. There’s something positive there but I would suspect their stock has a bit of a roller coaster ride in front of it.

As they say, “rising tides raises all boats” so congratulations Constant Contact with a strong IPO. We look forward to seeing what you do.


BrontoPedia and Wikis in the Workplace

Last month we launched our own wiki called BrontoPedia. BrontoPedia was setup to replace our intranet and be an internal resource for all things Bronto. It contains everything from our corporate policies to product roadmaps. Very quickly, it has become an essential source of information for folks in Bronto and ia replacing the random assortment of Word documents sitting in email boxes or hidden on our intranet.
Why is this interesting? Well, it’s a great example of where a consumer web application has made in-roads into the business web. This trend, of course, has not gone unnoticed by the Internet titans and further explains why Google acquired the wiki startup Jotspot last September

Like any new software implementation, you have to get people using the software to make it truly valuable. Here are four things we have done to inspire usage:

  1. Had a contest: We jump started activity on the wiki with a “Pimp My Page” contest for everyone in the company. The contest included real prizes for the best and worst participants. It was good fun and got everyone educated and active on the wiki.
  2. Made it dynamic: A death spiral can happen with a Intranet between frequency and usage. People don’t use the Intranet if it’s not frequently update. The Intranet is not frequently updated if people don’t use it. To avoid this, we added several dynamics widgets to the wiki to keep it continually fresh and interesting – e.g., Google Calendar, Flickr pictures, and RSS feeds tied to tags, our blog and Google News searches. These widgets have been a great way to keep the pages fresh and get people using the wiki.
  3. Moved content: We are aggressively moving Word documents off our file server and onto the wiki. So, the wiki becomes more and more the only place to read and edit documents.
  4. Branded it well: Brontopedia is a catchy and appealing name – or something else equally dull is not. Branding matters and helps increase uptake.

Of course, we weren’t the first ones to think of this. Intelpedia is a fairly well known internal wiki for Intel. We also got some good ideas from a good blog post on the subject by Andrew McAfee of the Harvard Business School. He describes some of the interesting ways that Avenue A | Razorfish has applied their wiki.

Drop me note if you know of any other good wikis in the workplace. We are always looking for good ideas on how to improve ours.


Our Deepest Fear Is To Go Big

The end is near … the end of the year that is and I’m starting to put together my New Year’s resolutions. In doing so, I was reminded of this passage by Marianne Williamson. Read it. It’s powerful and in simplest terms says, "Go Big!"

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant,
gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking
so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously
give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.

This passage inspires me to lead Bronto not to hold back in doing truly great things for 2007. I encourage our customersand my fellow Brontos to do the same.

Best Wishes for 2007!


SaaS and Email Marketing

This afternoon I received an invitation to be a panelist for the Software Marketing Performance Conference in June. I have spoken many times in the past about email marketing — the basics, for nonprofits, spam, for journalists, … I enjoy speaking so I get excited every time I get the opportunity.

This one, however, is more interesting — it’s about SaaS, or Software as a Service, for those not in the know. Back in 1999, I worked within online marketing at Red Hat. Very exciting times. Red Hat was and is still the leader in Linux and Open Source Software. It was also on the cusp of a hot IPO. Although I was working in midst of the Open Source revolution, my head was spinning with ideas on how to use the web for software rather than for content — like the vast majority of sites in 1999. So, I jumped from Red Hat to my spare bedroom with the idea that there were some exciting things to be done with web applications.

After the hard pop of the Internet bubble the SaaS term was born and the hype and buzz machines started revving a dull hum. However, email marketing services were not invited to the party and, typically, not associated with SaaS.

Widespread conspiracy? Probably not. Some think it was because email marketing services have always been web-based and SaaS typically is used to describe the battle between the old guard and the new guard. Like in the sales force automation space, is the new guard that it is accessed entirely through the web and Siebel is the old guard that is accessed through a server hosted locally.

Case in point — read the definition for SaaS on Wikipedia. Makes sense that email marketing vendors should be listed, but they are not. So, regardless of the reasons why email marketing has been overlooked, one of my goals is bring those things together. Stay tuned to my writings on next month’s conference to see how my quest goes.