Bronto, Marketing, Tech Tinkering

Email Service Providers are the New Banks

Willie Sutton was a famous bank robber from the first half of the twentieth century. One time a reporter asked him, “why do you rob banks?” His now famous response was, “because that’s where the money is.” The new money these days is personally identifiable information — email addresses and related bits — and Email Service Providers like Bronto are the new banks.
Today this reality became thrust into the forefront with Epsilon reporting that they had a major security breach that resulted in stolen email lists from many top brands including Best Buy, Capital One and Disney. Read more from the article in Security Week.

This is an unfortunate issue and reinforces why we take security and privacy very seriously at Bronto. We’ve invested much effort in the past 15 months into improving not only our own technology and internal security stance, but also providing many features to customers to allow them configure their own security controls according to their preferences. Among the areas we’ve improved during this time are our network, our internal management applications, and our internal policies and training. Additionally we’ve also improved our ability to detect and monitor activities going on inside our application and network, so appropriate staff are alerted to investigate, 24×7.  On the customer side, we have added new features in the areas of account management, password security, user permissions, & API security. The security of your data is of the utmost importance to Bronto, and we never forget that.

We understand that we are a twenty-first century bank and the vault of your data is extremely valuable and needs to be kept very secure.

Unfortunately, with incidents like this, no one wins and the only redeeming value is that it sends a strong message to everyone in the industry that their security, whatever it is, could be better and forces them to re-assess and improve. We will certainly be re-assessing ours and looking for improvements. And we welcome conversation with anyone in the industry regarding how all of us can tighten security and provide a more secure world for all.

Bronto, Entrepreneurship

The Story Behind the Bronto Name

Often when I talk about the company to a group of people, I inevitably get the questions: Why Bronto? What’s the story behind the name? Sometime ago one of our prospects emailed me the same question. To settle some of the curiosity out there, I thought that it would be helpful to share my email response below.

Fortunately, the situation for bronto named dinosaurs has improved since my email response. Making up for the Brontosaurus being discredited, a palentologist discovered a new dinosaur and, earlier this year, applied the bronto moniker to it. Brontomerus. The name means “Thunder Thigh” in Greek. Hilarious! Also love how the Brontomerus is kicking butt in its wikipedia pictures. Awesome!

Paleontologist Mike Taylor, we salute you!

Hi Eliana –

I am the founder and CEO of Bronto Software so I can provide some insight into the name Bronto. I named the company after my childhood love for dinosaurs while bootstrapping the company out of my spare bedroom many years ago. As a 7 year old, I loved dinosaurs, in particular the Brontosaurus, so when given the chance to name my own company, I couldn’t resist.

Yes … it is true that in many ways bronto is not the ideal name for a technology company. Brontosaurus is an extinct, plant eating animal that supposedly had the brain the size of a pea. And, in most drawings, it is often on the verge of being eaten by a T-Rex. Also, the Brontosaurus is mislabeled. It didn’t exist and was later re-categorized as a different dinosaur. In the race for discovery, a paleontologist had the wrong head on it and erroneously labeled it as a brontosaurus … which my 9 year old niece told me (to my surprise) a few years after starting the company. Read this article.

Despite all this, Bronto is really a great name and embodies our humility in humanizing technology and software. We are committed to making our customers better marketers and have embraced this simple principle throughout our product and service. The paradox of having a name like Bronto keeps us approachable and real. So, hopefully you’ll have a chance to see what Bronto makes different and why we embrace its name and ideals. Plus, the name gives us the opportunity to take lots of brontosaurus pictures in interesting places.

Hope that helps clarify your question.

Cheers, Joe

Bronto, Entrepreneurship

Teaching, Leadership and Why It Matters

A big part of leadership is communication. That’s something that I spend a lot of time on at Bronto.  I was recently interviewed on this topic where I dig into the importance of communication for leadership and how my early experiences as a teacher helped me refine this skill. You can download the article or read it here:

Joe Colopy tells his secrets to keeping employees informed.

As CEO of one of the fastest growing private companies, Bronto Software’s Joe Colopy says, “It’s hard to understand what it means to be a leader until you’re in a situation where it really matters.”

For Colopy, whose company has grown 200% the past three years, the journey from entrepreneur to CEO of an 80- employee company has meant completely changing his game.

Among other things, he says, he’s had to sharpen his skills when it comes to articulating top- level messages.

EL: How often do you get in front of your employees to communicate?

Colopy: I might have the same conversation 10 times a day, but with different people at different levels. It’s easy to assume, “Oh, everyone’s already heard this, so I don’t need to say it again.” But it never ceases to surprise me how I need to overcommunicate the same story again and again, to tell everyone to pull their oars in the same direction, and let them know that what they’re doing matters, in terms of what we’re trying to accomplish.

EL: What cues let you know it’s time for a CEO message?

Colopy: I’ve definitely had “aha moments” when I hear people’s questions or I hear about a decision they’ve made, and I think, “Why would you do that? That makes no sense.” Then I realize, they’re not on the highway. I don’t blame them. It’s just a sign that I haven’t done a good job of articulating the message, or haven’t communicated frequently enough. If I do a good job, I won’t have to address specific cases like that, because these are smart people.

EL: What sort of communication tools do you lean on?

Colopy: One thing I’ve found valuable is posting videos of my past presentations on an internal instrument called Brontopedia, and using them as part of the formal orientation process. It’s a very scalable way to get in front of every new employee for a couple of hours. The videos are a mechanism for communicating exactly what we’re doing and getting everyone on the same page. And it’s very valuable to have that come directly from me. Otherwise, it’s kind of like a game of Telephone, where you lose data every time a message passes through someone’s filter.

EL: Why is this part of the job so hard for so many CEOs?

Colopy: The hard part is taking a complex idea and breaking it down until it’s so simple that anyone can get it. I spend a lot of time boiling down concepts.

Before I started the company, I was a teacher for several years. I taught overseas, where English wasn’t the first language of my students. When you’re a teacher, you can tell when your students aren’t paying attention—and, unlike being a leader, you’re not even paying them to pay attention. So you have to be very good at being clear and straightforward and engaging. And that’s exactly the same skill set you need to be a leader who communicates well.

Doing that every day for years was the best training I could have had.

Bronto

Bronto, Zappos and the Pursuit of E-Commerce Happiness

Today Bronto is sponsoring a webcast with Tony Hsieh of Zappos.  I will be speaking for about 10 minutes at the end about the importance of an exceptional company culture and the leveraging e-commerce technologies for ensuring superior customer satisfaction and business growth.

Like Zappos, we have had a deep commitment to an engaging and creative company culture since the very beginning. Early in Bronto’s history we scribbled down some guiding principles that still influence today. One of the most memorable was “Happy Brontos equals Happy Customers.” It’s simple but very true.

Hear the Zappos and Bronto story for yourself.  Register for the webcast:

  • Conversation with Tony Hsieh of Zappos.
  • Hosted by DM News. Sponsored by Bronto.
  • Monday, June 28 @ 1pm EST
  • $99 to attend
  • Register online
Bronto

Free Emails for Haiti. Innovative Way for ESPs to Give Back.

Last week the American Red Cross approached us with an innovative and creative idea — launch a promotion where our customers could send Haiti Relief requests to their lists free of charge. We loved it.
Throughout the year, we donate our time volunteering at Habitat of Humanity, Urban Ministries, and other local organizations. We donate money to causes as well, including last week matching donations for Haiti Relief. But, this was a unique opportunity to contribute with exactly what we do. Today this idea became a reality and we kicked off the “Free Emails for Haiti” campaign. See bronto.com/haiti for more information.

My hope that other email marketing service providers (ESPs) adopt these type of campaigns to help with Haiti’s relief efforts and other future humanitarian crises that inevitably and sadly will happen. It’s a great idea and one that only an ESP can do.

If you are interested in learning more about this idea, please let me know. I would be happy to share our experience with it.

Bronto, Entrepreneurship

How We Look at Strategy @ Bronto

Communicating strategy is hard. As the company grows and there are more moving pieces, it becomes difficult to keep everyone on the same page. We’re over 50 people now and with this size, we have to use a good framework to describe how we look at our company, our goals, and our strategy.

We base our strategy framework on one from Jim Collins’ Beyond Entrepreneurship. It’s a great book from the same author as Good to Great. Unlike Good to Great, it is a practitioners guide. So if you are running a startup and transitioning into becoming a real business, I highly recommend it.

As for the framework, we focus on four pieces:

  1. Purpose. Why are we in business beyond a paycheck? At Bronto, we are here “to make our customers better marketers through intuitive software and helpful people.” It’s simple. It’s true. It’s a rallying cry that inspires our day to day actions.
  2. Values. What do we stand for? This is newer to the framework and we’re going to spend our Quo Vadimus sessions (internal mixed team who we are / where are we going sessions) in February crystallizing this. We have them. Just a matter of articulating them very clearly. Not always so easy.
  3. Mission. This is what we are shooting for. Multi-year goal. Our mission is “to become the leading ESP around the shopping cart in 2010 with $10mm in revenue.” We’re almost there — at the least on the revenue side. The leading part is unrealistic at $10mm but we have been consistently building toward that direction so I’m happy with that.
  4. Strategy. This is what lets you accomplish the mission. Good strategy says what you are going to do and not do. When you zig and when you zag. We determine this on an annual basis. I just finished presenting this to the company and will explain that process in some future post.

Great strategies win markets. Great strategy frameworks get everyone on the same page, rowing in the same direction at the same cadence so that’s possible. This one has worked for us.

Bronto, Raleigh-Durham

Interviewed at the Bronto Tweetup

Last Thursday night Bronto hosted a Tweetup at its offices. Tweetup is a gathering of Twitter fans and enthusiasts. The event was a big success with over 200 attendees. And, as you can imagine it was very well covered in the the twitter-sphere. Special thanks to Brontos Adam Covati and Caroline Smith for organizing the event. It as a herculean effort and they pulled it off without a hitch. You can find some more information about the event on BrontoNation.

While there, I was interviewed by one of our guests Tim Ladd. I spoke about Bronto, its success in tough economic times, the state of social media, and the parallels between email marketing and Twitter.

Enjoy the video!

Bronto, Raleigh-Durham

Bronto Celebrates Its New Digs

Three years ago Bronto moved into a 4500 square foot office space on the American Tobacco Campus of Durham, North Carolina. We had 15 people and it seemed like we would never fill up the space. 30 people later at 45 people it was a very different story. So, over a year ago, we started looking for new space. Ultimately, we liked where we were and orchestrated a grand plan to expand, which entailed having three other smaller companies relocate to other offices nearby. The grand plan worked and we moved into our new 12500 square foot space at the beginning of February.

Last Thursday we celebrated by having an open house and invited the local business community, customers, press, social media gurus et al … even Bill Bell, the mayor of Durham, showed up. It was a fun evening and a great opportunity to share our new space and our long-term vision for Bronto.

Here are some blog posts covering the event:

Thank you to everyone who visited us. A special thanks goes out to Stacy and Caroline of Bronto for ensuring the evening went off without a hitch. Hopefully, in a few years, this space will feel too small and we’ll be able to have another one.

Bronto, Entrepreneurship

Hits not Home Runs

Hits not Home Runs …. that’s a common phrase spoken around the halls of Bronto. It speaks to our focus on day-to-day execution versus sky-in-pie schemes to serve our customers and grow the company. Plus it’s catchy.
I was recently interviewed by Alice Bumgarner about this principle and how it applies to innovation. The interview was featured on the IdeaConnection blog. You can read it on their blog or inline below:

Innovative Hits, Not Home Runs
A conversation with Joe Colopy, founder and CEO of Bronto Software
February 13, 2009. By Alice Bumgarner

To stay competitive, Joe Colopy of Bronto Software, an e-mail marketing service provider, must keep innovating – or meet the same fate as his company’s namesake.

In the world of email marketing, what matters is making messages stand out, even as inboxes become more cluttered. To meet the challenge, Bronto relies on a combination of strategically targeted messages on the front end and Google-like analytics on the back end. The company’s software superiority has fueled fast growth: Bronto, whose clients include Johnson & Johnson, Lake Champlain Chocolates and Lending Tree, is growing 50% to 100% every year, and the company is currently tripling its office space.

Alice Bumgarner (AB): What is the importance and the role of innovation at your company, given today’s economic environment?

Joe Colopy: Innovation is essential to Bronto, because we’re in the business of developing and selling technology to solve business problems. In tough times like these, people are moving their marketing dollars to email or online marketing. Those with the best ideas, and those who can implement them well, will win.

AB: How is this role reflected at your workplace?

Joe Colopy: I look at innovation as being about fostering an environment of creativity and collaboration, so you can have a thousand small innovations. From the outside, it may look like something is one big innovation. But that’s a ‘lottery ticket’ view of the world. It’s really about creating an environment that allows little innovations to build upon each other and bubble up. That’s why Google allows [engineers] a lot of free time to come up with their own projects. It’s why 3M famously has a long track record of doing that. That’s what I see as the bedrock of innovation – fostering trust and flexibility and allowing hundreds of small things to happen.

AB: What is the most exciting innovation you’ve been involved in developing? What factors made or make it so exciting?

Joe Colopy: I founded the company and built the first software product, so there were thousands of small innovations that enabled it to be successful. But our current innovation is more in our unique culture than in the end product.

We keep things very focused, collaborative, democratic, unique and creative. For example, we have an extremely open, flat organization. I sit with everyone else – in a crappier seat than other people! We don’t have cubes, just tables clustered in sets of two, three or four in different parts of the room, like little islands.

The downside is that you don’t have privacy, and it has the potential to be distracting. But it actually ends up being more productive in a harder-to-measure way. You can easily dialogue with someone in another group. The physical organization sends an important message – people’s opinions are valued.

AB: What, if any, problem solving, creativity tools or innovation software do you use or are you familiar with?

Joe Colopy: We don’t use any specific tools, but we do structure the environment so that good ideas come from everywhere within the organization.

AB: How do you encourage good ideas to bubble up?

Joe Colopy: Social media tools help spark ideas. Employees use Twitter, Facebook and our internal wiki, called BrontoPedia. At the core of BrontoPedia are our weekly metrics, but it’s also the place for marketing plans, YouTube videos, an RSS feed from our blog, articles that people have tagged from Del.icio.us. It’s a democratic, decentralized approach, as opposed to a top-down approach.

We also set up games to help people feel part of things and collaborate. For example, once a month, we spin a big wheel with 36 spots on it. We end up with two numbers, which correspond to two employees, and those two employees swap spaces for a week to work alongside another team. Now these employees have made some connections and new relationships. So when, say, a salesperson has an idea, he can go to the product manager and talk about [it]. Engineers can go to sales folks and say, “Would this be hard to manage?”

It’s easy to get your head down in your own little world. Innovation and creativity are about connecting things that appear disparate.

AB: Do your innovations ever come from consultants or outside sources?

Joe Colopy: Generally, we don’t use consultants except for some specific functional tasks. I believe that the talent is here, it’s just a matter of tapping into it.

AB: What is the most difficult problem you and/or your team have solved?

Joe Colopy: The challenge has been not so much in solving discrete problems, but in the ambiguity surrounding the problem – in other words, do you even know what the problem is versus the symptoms?

AB: When faced with ambiguity surrounding a problem, how do you and your team clarify it?

Joe Colopy: You have to get people to look at the same thing, otherwise everyone is working with a different set of assumptions. When we hold regular meetings about general strategy – to talk about where we’re going, where we fit into the market, what the next big ideas will be – I give everyone a common framework or a way to look at the market, so we’re all talking about the same thing. Then you can talk about whether your solutions make sense.

AB: When teams are working on a problem or developing a product, and they hit a barrier, what do you recommend?

Joe Colopy: To overcome barriers, it is usually best to involve folks in other areas that can see your problem from a different perspective. We also loop in customers quite a bit, and they offer great perspectives too. We just have to willing to ask, which is sometimes tough to do. It’s easier to move forward without using anyone’s opinion but your own.

AB: What are some of the obstacles that prevent teams from creating innovative products?

Joe Colopy: You can’t be too tightly measured or you’ll measure yourself out of innovation. It’s important to spend some part of your business experimenting. Innovative products are often found in the journey of experimentation. That’s how Bronto started. If you focus too much on having ROI justified at the beginning, then you’ll never go down the path. If the benefit were obvious to everyone from the outset, then it probably wouldn’t be innovative.

AB: Are you familiar with virtual collaborative innovation communities and networks such as IdeaConnection.com that bring together experts, facilitators, and product developers for confidential collaborative creation?

Joe Colopy: No, I’m not. I am interested in idea communities that companies form with their customers to drive ideas. SalesForce has one that I think is cool, and it’s something that we might implement.

AB: What good books, articles, blogs or other media on the topic of innovation have you read? Are there any that you recommend to employees?

Joe Colopy: Often I get good ideas by reading books and articles about completely different industries. For example, how does Zappos approach customer service? They have a completely different product than us – shoes vs. hosted software – but we have a lot of common approaches. You can find plenty of parallels if you look around.

AB: Do you have any other thoughts you would like to share about innovation?

Joe Colopy: We have a saying here at Bronto: “Hits not home runs.” I see innovation as being not necessarily one big idea but rather a thousand small ones that lead to something truly great.

Bronto, Marketing

Bronto Gets Scrappy With Andrew Kordek

Last week I was interviewed by Andrew Kordek of the blog the Scrappy Email Marketer. Great conversation with someone who really understands email marketing.  Much of the interview was also about our approach toward our customers — open, transparent and truly committed to their success. It’s in our DNA and we think essential for anyone trying to do marketing right.
You can read the article on thescrappyemailmarketer.com or inline here:

Wilma…give me a Bronto Burger please.
December 5, 2008 by thescrappyemailmarketer

A few weeks ago I put out an APB to all ESP’s to contact me as I would like to interview them for my blog. Bronto was only 1 of 2 ESP’s that contacted me and I was sure glad they did.

Once our schedules synched I had the pleasure of speaking with Joe Colopy the CEO of Bronto the other week. Imagine my surprise that when I called him, he picked up his phone. A CEO picked up his phone and apparently that is not the only thing that is open and transparent about Bronto…..according to Joe, he does not have an office, but rather sits out in the open with the rest of the Bronto folks. Pretty cool if you ask me.

In any event, I really wanted to know why the name Bronto? He told me that he was fascinated with dinosaurs as a young kid and even thought there really isn’t a Brontosaurus anymore (which isn’t true according to my 7 year old in that the Brontosaurus was actually renamed in 1975 to be called an Apotosaurus) he really wanted a symbol for his company which was physical in nature , but wanted also the ability to empower people in his organization.

So what does the future of email marketing look like in Joe’s eyes. For one he sees a tremendous amount of innovation specifically centered around the integration of social marketing in the B2C space and the near term, the ability for B2B folks to integrate well with lead management systems.

Speaking of social marketing I asked Joe if the integration into email is just hype or is it here to stay. According to him and I agree, its here to stay.

I asked Joe about Bronto and their sweet spot in the marketplace. He indicated that Bronto is a mid market player with a good strategy in play for long tail retailers. His differentiators in the marketplace are the fact that they have experience in the marketplace and their openness and transparency.

Joe and I talked about a lot of other things both personally and professionally and I found him to be really open and honest and truly committed to email marketing which is refreshing to see in the marketplace. I think that he truly cares for the success of his clients and its evidenced by his companies blog and market presence. I follow their blog regularly and interact with with DJ Waldow on occasion and I can truly see why Bronto is who they say they are. They seem to have a tremendous amount of passion for their clients and as an industry as a whole, which truly makes them unique this business. Its rare that you find companies out their that want to help the greater email community and do it selflessly.

One final note, I got my inflatable Bronto in the mail the other week and can’t wait to submit my picture. If you have no idea what I am talking about, ask Bronto as I am sure they will be sure to oblige.