CMO Confessions EP. 10: Scott Brinker of HubSpot
Hi everyone and welcome to another episode of CMO Confessions. This week, we sit down to talk with the one and only Scott Brinker, Vice President of Platform Ecosystem at HubSpot and Editor in Chief at chiefmartec.com. As many of you may know, Scott is the mind behind the martech landscape supergraphic, which currently lists more than 6,800 different companies in the martech space (I still have trouble spotting my company, ON24, on the ever-growing sheet but that’s beside the point).
Scott’s history in the marketing technology space stretches back to 1986 when he was 15 years old and promoting games for The Major BBS, an early bulletin board server. A few short years later, he joined Galacticomm, purveyor of The Major BBS, as vice president of marketing. The rest, as the cliche goes, is history.
In this episode of CMO Confessions, we dive into Scott’s history, what martech is here for and explore how he thinks the landscape will change in the coming years. Spoiler: there’s talk of consolidation in the forecast.
You can find Scott on Twitter at @chiefmartec and check out his extensive resume through LinkedIn here. You can also check out his book, “Hacking Marketing,” right here.
Finally, if you’re interested in listening to our growing podcast series, you can find all of our episodes right here in podbean. Alternatively, you can also find us on both iTunes and Google Play stores.
Without further ado, welcome to CMO Confessions. Let’s chat.
Joe Hyland: Hello, I’m Joe Hyland, CMO here at ON24 and joining me this week from the Greater Boston Area is Scott Brinker, VP of platform ecosystem at HubSpot as well as a host of other companies that we’ll talk about in just a minute. So, Scott, welcome.
Scott Brinker: Joe great to be here with you.
Joe Hyland: That’s fantastic having you. I think you and your work are famous in marketing circles. So, the martech landscape that you publish I think I see twice a week in presentations with the background being that there’s a lot of stuff happening in the marketing space and it’s a crowded market.
I’d love for you to talk about that work, how you even envisioned it and how you researched it. Where did you even begin on that journey?
Scott Brinker: Yeah. I’m not sure if it’s famous so much is infamous at this point. But yeah, it was actually very humble beginnings. As, you know, cool projects are. So, for a few years, I’ve been advocating to marketing executives that they really needed to hire technology people to be a part of the marketing team — these marketing technologists. And so, I developed the first version of that landscape for a conference that had a bunch of you know, CMOs, in the audience. And it was my attempt to say, “Hey, look at the evidence. Look at all these different technologies that you’ve now become reliant on, whether it was your content management system or search engine optimization or social or mobile.”
You lay it all out, it’s like “oh my goodness!” There’s like actually a lot of different technologies that are driving modern marketing. And this was in 2011. And so, when I did that first slide, it was around 150 different companies and I largely assembled it from folks. You know been talking to marketers for years, “What tools do you use for this will tools are used for that.” And yeah, even that first version with only about 150. Half the time I was like, “Oh my God, that was a lot of marketing Technologies. This is insane!”
So, you know, I just kept going back year-over-year to update this mostly out of my own curiosity at first. But then, somewhere around 2014 when it crossed into you know thousand — like they were a thousand vendors all of a sudden on that landscape — it kind of took on a life of its own.
Joe Hyland: Yeah, when do you when do you think it hit an inflection point so to speak? What do you think? Do you think it was in 2014 when they’re over a thousand? Was it before that after that?
Scott Brinker: Yeah, so certainly the 2014 landscape was an inflection point. I think everyone realized at that point in time that, “Okay, this is this is a very different beast than what we have seen before.” And particularly for marketers who, again, we’re digital marketers. It’s not that where tech shy, but there was something about yeah, the scale of all these different technologies and the rate at which they were evolving and the new players who were entering all of a sudden.
Yeah, that was a tipping point where I think people realized. I mean, I certainly realized. This is this is crazy and the rules we had for managing technology as executives in marketing for the previous decade — we were going to have to start to rethink them in this new environment.
Joe Hyland: Were there did you broaden this topic? It’s just fascinating to me — you’ll have to force me off of it in a few moments. Did you broaden some of the definitions or was there was there actually a tenfold increase in companies? Was there a start-up proliferation in B2B marketing?
Scott Brinker: Yeah, it’s a great question. So, it was kind of three things all coming together. One, certainly, I was getting better at discovering them during those I was able to go out and I was learning year-over-year and say, “Hey, what are the pockets of these different, you know, companies.” And also, I was having more companies reach out to me proactively and say, “Hey, we saw your landscape from last year, why aren’t we here? We have, you know, 25 million in revenue a hundred great customers, you know, what’s up?”
So, there’s some of that discovery. Some of it that was an expansion of the categories from my perspective. For instance, I always sort-of included but expanded things around like sales enablement and sales intelligence incorporated — things such as very common project management tools that weren’t specific to marketing, like Trello, you know isn’t a quote-unquote marketing tool, but so many marketing organizations rely on those tools. In so many marketing organizations, the marketing ops person is collaborating with a sales ops person on how we’re delivering sales enablement, but I thought it was worthwhile to include that in people’s picture of “Hey, listen still as a marketing executive this is kind of the tech world that you have to have a say in — you have to have a vision for you know how this maps into your organization.”
So, there’s that and then on top of that you had just new companies entering the space and an incredible rate because this isn’t actually just marketing — this is happening in every department like HR, finance and accounting. I mean, you name it.
It’s just gotten so easy to create new software. The barriers to entry for taking a great idea and building it on top of AWS and getting it out into the world is a pretty low bar to be able to get out of.
Joe Hyland: Yeah, it’s exciting. I mean, I live in the right in the middle of it in San Francisco. I told you before, I’m from Boston one of my friends works for a venture capital firm in Boston. He’s so proud of Boston companies helps about being one of them. He’s always reminding me of the latest and greatest Boston company.
But you’re right, the barrier to entry has demonstrably changed in the last 10 years. Are you seeing, or do you predict a lot of consolidation? Because, what’s the list up to now? It’s is it 6,500? I knew I knew it was north of 5,000.
Scott Brinker: Yeah, it’s something like 6,300 different companies. Again, that list, the moment I publish it I am now awash with “Yeah, you know you forgot so-and-so and then some.”
But I mean it’s interesting. So, there is consolidation. This is always one of the things that people find so counterintuitive is because for years.
Consolidation has been going on. If you look at you know, the major companies in the space, you know, certainly like, you know Salesforce, Adobe Oracle — I mean these have been incredibly acquisitive companies in trying to pull together these solutions stacks. I mean, HubSpot’s gone on the acquisition game a bit it’s like so that’s definitely happening, but at the same time the new entrants into the space — well, one hasn’t overtaken the other so we’re seeing these forces of consolidation, but we still see this rejuvenation of new entrants in new categories trying new ideas. It’s just an incredibly frothy space and when we could debate whether that’s good, bad, ugly but the thing about the landscape I’ve always found is even if you set aside a value judgment on it, it’s like do I think this is a good thing or a bad thing, it’s just empirically what it is.
Joe Hyland: Yeah, I find it fascinating. I think we’re lucky to be marketers. I think there are a few professions who are as enamored as marketers with new technologies new ideas. For me, nothing’s bolted to the ground and that’s part of what makes great marketing.
The last space I was in was financial supply chain and at the time it felt like there was an explosion of technology, looking back. It’s laughable, there were 20 or 30 companies and that felt crowded. Yeah, I’m proud that there’s all these new technologies. For me, what’s interesting is what’s a nice to have a piece of technology versus what’s built to last. And I think your last statement is right: it will be what it will in fact be. I think a lot of these a lot of these techs will probably — you know — a pretty high-percentage of them will either get folded into larger players — the HubSpot’s of the world — big fan of HubSpot. Truthfully, they’ll go their own way and they’ll parish it will be interesting to see how many of them are standalone companies. What percentage — do you even have an opinion on that or do you not hypothesize on future?
Scott Brinker: Well, it’s with that caveat that predicting the future is hard, but I actually have some data on this. I went back to the very first, proto-landscape I created right before 2011, and I don’t know I want to say there was like 70 some-odd companies that I had on that. And, without looking at the sheet — I can’t get the exact number — I would say something like 60 out of the 70 had gone away. They’d either been acquired and merged into something or they’d simply gone out of business.
And if you think about between 2010, and I think I did that at the end of 2017, you know about 17 years is usually right — particularly in tech. There’s kind of a business cycle there: you’ve either hit escape velocity or something — you become one of the permanent members of the community or you’ve been merged or acquired or something. Or, it’s played its course and if you didn’t end up winning, it’s not so much necessarily that the big guys are going to push you out. It’s probably that they’ll just be a new generation of new entrepreneurs who tried in a different way in a better way and because you don’t have a large enough scale, it’s actually harder to fend off those new entrants.
So, I do think it’s still going to be a fairly frothy market for a lot of those companies on the landscape today.
Joe Hyland: Okay, that’s interesting. So, 60 out of the out of the 70 went there went their own way.
Scott Brinker: Yep, and in fact, actually we’ve been tracking this now year over year on the big landscape — last from 2007 to 2018 4.7 percent of the companies that were on 2017 landscape we’re no longer around in 2018 — again, either acquired or just out of business. And, so, it’s interesting because if you talk about a 5 percent churn rate, in the scheme of things, that’s a pretty high churn rate – we’re talking hundreds of companies every year. But again, it gets lost in the thunder of all these other participants and entrants into the space and because software is not just cheap to build, frankly it’s also pretty darn cheap to maintain on an operational basis. Then I think it’s interesting. You see companies that have gone the VC route, and they’re burning money to hit a scalable escape velocity and that’s a very much you either win or you lose the game. It’s hard to just like carry on around there.
But you know, I want to say something like about half or more of the companies on the martech landscape don’t have VC funding. They’re organically grown, and those things are a lot more interesting because I think it’s more challenging them for them to ultimately achieve a huge scale. But boy, they can find a niche of a particular set of customers that they serve well, and those customers love them, and they love what they’re doing and they’re profitable there might not be a billion-dollar public company, but they’re there and I don’t think those guys are necessarily going to go away that quickly.
Joe Hyland: Yeah, that’s interesting. So, the 4.7 who left that ends up being dwarfed though by the 15 or 20 percent that entered the landscape, right? So. Yeah.
Scott Brinker: And we’ll see if that continues, right? I mean, you know that there is clearly, at some level, like the laws of physics — an upper limit on how many modern tech companies there can be in the world.
Joe Hyland: It’d be a good piece, “The Martech Laws of Physics.”
Scott Brinker: We’ve been we’ve been denying gravity about as long as we can, I think.
Joe Hyland: For me, it’s interesting. You know when I see the list one, I think it’s really impressive. It’s great work. I can’t imagine the amount of cycles and time that goes into it. It’s very thoughtful. So, hats off to you and your team. For me, what it says — and I think there’s a lot of different interpretations — if you just look at a snapshot, it’s that as a purchaser of technology, and I this has changed a lot in the last 10 years, I wanted to all work together. I demand that it does.
One of the cool things about my job is I’m just constantly talking to marketers. I talk to a lot of marketers who are like, “That’s the failing.” Like, that’s where they’re so frustrated: you buy into this bigger vision and dream of what your marketing tech stack can look like and then it ends up being a clunker car where things just don’t run properly.
So, to me, that’s where beautiful things can happen: when you find the right pieces of technology to support your strategy and shit actually works. How often are you seeing that dream actually realized?
Scott Brinker: So, I think it’s interesting: they’re two challenges to technology adoption and one is the technical integration challenge. And I have to say like three years ago, man, it was a total mess. I mean, you had to have a Ph.D. in enterprise architecture make this stuff happen.
Two things have happened in the past few years here that have made it better. I won’t say it’s solved yet — this is still work in progress — but two things that made it better is. First of all, the major companies, again, Salesforce always had this in its DNA, but also, Oracle and Adobe — and a plug for what I’m doing here at HubSpot. HubSpot embraces this idea that the major companies, rather than focusing on just a closed system of, “Okay, this is our suite; you by the suite of everything from us; there’s nothing outside the suite.” Really embracing more of a platform mentality say, “Okay, here’s the foundational systems that we will offer, these common systems of record, the ability to like orchestrate how these different things work together.” And between the platform companies and then the companies that plug into these platforms, they can do the technical work to make that integration a lot more out-of-the-box, a lot more seamless. And every major martech company is headed in this way. I mean again, it’s a journey there’s a long way for them to go but that’s getting better.
The second thing is, while a lot of these companies were taking their time and becoming platforms, this whole field of integration platform as a service, ipass companies, folks like Zapier is always the easiest example. They sprung up and they said, “Listen, okay, well if it’s taking a while for these other companies to platformize, hey, listen, we can just solve this as a third party and we’ll make it easy for you to plug all your different stack elements together and pass data between them. Again, we’ve got a way to go but I feel like we’re making a lot of progress on the technical integration.
I think the bigger challenge I see now with most organizations is — it’s like the dog that catches the car. It’s like, “Okay, actually, we bought the technology and, okay, we actually got it integrated; they’re now like sharing the right data — what the hell do we do with this?”
I mean, so much of this technology — this is new stuff. I mean the playbooks for this have not been written yet. They’re being written, they’re being pioneered and a lot of them, it’s not just about trying to figure out new ways to use the tool, it’s really more about “How do we change the way our marketing organization thinks and operates to take advantage of even just the way these tools change the nature of business, the nature of the relationship with customers.” And I think that’s actually a much harder problem that we’re all going to be collectively working on here for the next decade.
Joe Hyland: Yeah, I think you’re right. In some ways collecting these technologies, well, there’s tons of potential and you need to be careful that today’s technology doesn’t just become yesterday’s tactics. We’ve all had that strategy meeting where you think it’s something bigger and more strategic and before you know it you listed 10 tactics that you’re going to do, and you say “Shit, this doesn’t seem like a strategy, it’s more list of tactics.” I think that’s happened with a lot of marketers now with technology — ABM is an easy to poke fun — at and I’m a huge believer in personalized marketing — but that’s a strategy versus just saying, “Oh we’re going to deploy ABM this year.” Like, okay, cool, what does that look like? I don’t just want to hear technology. I’m a big believer of demandbase and a handful of the other technologists who are leading the way here, but it is not simply a plug and play technology.
It requires deep thought into segmentation — who your audiences are, a lot of content, right? So, I think you’re right. If we’re not if we’re not careful, it just becomes a list of technologies which is not really a marketing strategy.
Scott Brinker: Yeah, ABM is a great example for that and like one of the challenges we hear from so many marketers now. It’s the boundaries of marketing are becoming very porous. And ABM is one of those things. If you really want to do account based, not just marketing, but really account based business, this level of integration you need between your marketing team, your sales organization and, quite frankly, even your customer success organization, because very often it’s about starting with a foothold in one place and then expanding it from there —that’s, yeah, tricky cross-departmental collaboration.
Joe Hyland: It’s a shift in how you go to market. It’s not about serving up an ad with a cookie that says, “Hi, Scott.” Like, that’s not an ABM strategy, right? This is this is a shift in how your company operates. And yeah, just because you have it integrated in doesn’t actually mean you know what to do with it.
Scott Brinker: Well said.
Joe Hyland: So, okay. Well, so how do you split… So, I said at the start that you have a lot going on in a lot of titles at a lot of different organizations. What’s your world look like? How do you divide your time between HubSpot and Chief Martech? Do you? Do they all just merge together? Like what’s a day in the life of Scott Brinker like?
Scott Brinker: Yeah, you know, it varies over the year. For the most part what I do at HubSpot here is what you would think of is like my real job. This is how I make a living before I joined HubSpot. I was the co-founder and CTO of Ion Interactive SaaS platform for interactive content. And, to be honest, it’s always where I found the joy is, actually. You know, being in the game like, you know working with technology, working with marketers to help change this. And Chief Martech, I’ve tried to keep it as a labor of love. Part of that works in the mode where it’s like, because I don’t do that for a living I don’t ever feel pressured to say, “Oh my goodness, it’s Wednesday I need to get a post-up because I always publish on Wednesday.” It’s more like, listen, if I’ve got something useful to say or I’m interested in — awesome I’ll find the time. Whether it’s an evening or the weekend or whenever I’ll write it up.
I’ll get out if I don’t have anything interesting to say I’m like [intelligible]. But I have the luxury of doing that because I’m not trying to run like an ad-supported website.
The conference that we work on, the martech conference, I do in collaboration with Third Door Media who produce things like The Search Marketing conference. They were on the Marketing Land site.
And so, they do an amazing job with that and they do, as far as I’m concerned, all the hard work associated with that conference. And yeah, it really gave me the freedom to then just focus on the content, which, again, for me, it doesn’t feel like a job. I’m just fascinated to hear marketers are doing what’s working for them, what’s not and getting those folks to be able to come and share their stories. It’s just it’s a thrill for me. So, trying and keep that side of things in the labor of love bucket and HubSpot’s been very supportive of letting me travel to speak and do what I do with Martech and stuff like that without interfering in that.
Joe Hyland: Very cool. Very, very cool. I think there were a lot of — I’ll personalize this — I think there was a lot of marketers who, when they saw the news of you landing at HubSpot, said, “Shit, that was a really good idea — why didn’t we think of that?” It was a very smart hire. So, I’m curious to know — you run you run platform ecosystem — what’s that like? What does that even mean? And how does your background and your expertise on this entire marketing landscape fits into to the relative spot?
Scott Brinker: Sure, so HubSpot is pretty transparent that it’s in a journey to become a platform company. We’d be hesitant to — you know, there’s a lot we need to do to be a really great platform. I think we’ve been making great progress, but I am one of two people who is working on this transformation of the company. My counterpart is a woman named Nancy Riley who is in our product organization and so she’s really taking the leadership of how the product itself is evolving to be a better platform and more extensible platform.
And then I work more on the business side of, “okay what sort of programs can we put together so that as we have partners who come into the HubSpot ecosystem, how can we help them reach the right customers? How can we make them successful? And then how do we start to evolve the messaging of HubSpot to be — okay, it’s not just about the software that HubSpot creates — it’s about this larger whole the foundations that HubSpot creates then all these amazing more specialized solutions that plug-in to that environment. So yeah, most of my day is some combination across that entire spectrum.
Joe Hyland: That’s very cool. It will be interesting to see — and I see HubSpot, just my own personal opinion, I see HubSpot thriving in this new world order that we’re seeing coming to play — so I think the company’s going to do quite well. It will be interesting to see how the messaging and positioning evolves because you created this movement around inbound, but at some point, you will become more than that and it will be interesting to see how the company messaging evolves. You know, CRM as an example. I don’t think of as a classic inbound piece of technology, but that’s something you guys have explored, right? So, I think a lot of marketers who were envious of the marketing and positioning of your company or curious to see what happens in the next couple of years. So, more of a statement than a question, but I think it’s I think it’s discussed a lot in a lot of other marketing departments.
Scott Brinker: Yeah, no, and I think it’s discussed a lot here at HubSpot. I mean, all it’s a combination of both companies evolve right as companies grow, but it’s also the marketing and the broader digital business landscape is evolving too. I mean what the world needed 10 years ago is different than what it’s gonna need in the next 10 years here. So, I don’t think it’s just a matter of HubSpot wanting to evolve on this.
I think it’s just being every platform connected in the digital front-office world these days has to think about how do we continue to evolve with the way the world is changing?
I mean even the thing we were talking about earlier here about these bridges between the marketing or and the sales org and the customer success org, how do you start to from a platform worldview connect these functions and get them to actually get greater synergy together? There’s something happening there that isn’t inbound, but I think it’s a very exciting future if you know where HubSpot and other companies in the space and go.
Joe Hyland: Yeah, I couldn’t agree with you anymore. All right, well, I’ll end with a question that I get a lot from for many marketers. What’s the perfect path? So, I’ll talk to young, aspiring markers and they say, “How did you get to where you are?” And you know, I want to follow that journey and I think everyone’s journey is unique.
Walk us through yours because I find it particularly interesting and I think the order was a little mismatched but in a manner that produced a pretty damn good result. So, if you wouldn’t mind, take us through your journey.
Scott Brinker: All right. Well, I’ll do the abbreviated one.
Joe Hyland: You can be as detailed as you see fit.
Scott Brinker: Yeah, so the short version is I started at a very young age as a software entrepreneur. I’d say I was driven by the technology. My background was as a developer. But, early on, it was that intersection of not just developing something — I was, as a teenager — is multiplayer games was also like, “Okay, well, how do you sell these? How do you turn this into a business? How do you make money out of that?” Years ago, that was a novel thing nowadays, right? Thanks to Mark Zuckerberg. Like I mean, if you’re not making your first billion by the time you’re 20, I mean, what’s wrong? But I think it started me down this path of always looking at how Innovations in technology could change what was possible for companies and customers and then how do you actually sell that? How do you help companies adopt this stuff and transform it?
And so, I went through some early days before the web in the generation of technology before online systems, dial-up systems, bulletin board systems. With the web, I then moved into doing work with a boutique web development shop, web agency for a while. We built solutions for companies like Citrix and Siemens and Yahoo, and, fascinating thing because, again, that was place where this idea of the marketing technologist really got seeded for me because we get hired by the marketing organization to make their web visions come true, and then my technology team would be the ones who had to go talk to their IT organization to figure out, “Okay, how are we going to integrate this into the back office… It’s really interesting, it’s shuttle diplomacy, the early days of integrations. And then after a while, we were very successful with that but, you know, I kind of went back to my software product roots.
And that was where Ion Interactive came and launched what was initially the sort of a landing page microsite platform that evolved into an interactive content platform. And again, that’s kind of it was interesting. So that was actually where there was a split where my vocation, my job when CTO of Ion was forging the technology version of that and really thinking about okay, how do how do we tell that story? How do we help companies take advantage of this new technology?
But that was when yeah, on the side, the nights and weekends of when I was working on the Chief Mark Tech site. Yeah, just this fascination of the challenges I was seeing with ion’s customers and when you get these pieces to work together, and then also once you’ve got this technology inside your organization, how do you do really harness its real value?
I mean these were problems people have in across the entire spectrum of marketing and marketing tech.
Joe Hyland: Sorry, you started Chief MarTech while you were still CTO of ion, is that right?
Scott Brinker: Yes.
Joe Hyland: Okay, okay.
Scott Brinker: And again, there’s something about having a little labor of love on the side that I would encourage everyone — I mean and probably, for most people, it’s not in the same profession that you’re in. But, you know, what can I say? I love Mar Tech. And so both took their own path. I’d say that turning point for Chief Martech was that 2014 landscape when I think everyone realized, me including, that there really was a pretty fundamental transformation in the nature of technology in the marketing department and we were going to have to get a lot more serious as an industry and as a profession about how we manage this both strategically, but also operationally.
Joe Hyland: Super-cool and now you’re here.
Scott Brinker: And now I’m here. All right.
Joe Hyland: Well, listen, Scott, this has been fantastic. We’re at the bottom of the hour. I will leave you all with a quote from a quote from Scott from about 15 minutes ago, “The boundaries of marketing are becoming very porous.” And I think with that we’ll close out.
Thanks, so much man.
Scott Brinker: Thank you, Joe.