What if marketing were not a barrage of unwelcome ads? What if digital media brought you timely offers about products you were interested in or wanted to acquire—right when you wanted that information? That’s the core idea behind Hubspot, a software venture founded at MIT by folks who want to transform that idea into a movement.
More than 14,000 people came to Boston in September to explore that premise at HubSpot’s annual Inbound conference. When the cofounders—CTO Dharmesh Shah SM ’06 and CEO Brian Halligan MBA '05, who teaches at the Sloan School—took the stage, it was like a rock concert—swirling lights, club music, jumbotrons, and a roaring crowd.
Their message was business—marketing is about taking action, after all—but it was friendly. Their Inbound philosophy is about “creating value before you extract value out of the system,” says Shah. His chief tool, as someone who “writes for computers, not carbon-based life forms,” is software that helps marketers publish attractive content and track readers' behavior. The company demonstrates that practice with their own cascade of blog posts, social media posts, white papers, webinars, and digital communities. After a successful IPO in 2014, HubSpot is now credited as the third largest marketing automation vendor by market share in the US.
Another new media star who spoke at Inbound is Jonah Peretti SM ’01, a founder of The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed, a social news and entertainment company. Peretti accidentally plunged into new media renowned when he ordered a pair of customized Nike sneakers with the word “Sweatshop” printed under the swoosh. After Nike refused the order and the incident became public primarily via shared emails, Peretti was soon appearing on TV as a labor expert. Another personal project, Rejection Line, attracted millions of users to a phone message recorded by local comedians that scotched unwanted romances; its success put Peretti and his sister and cofounder Chelsea, on television, this time as relationship experts. By then, 2002, he knew the power of viral online content.
BuzzFeed topics can be serious or light. “Laughing is something that connects people,” says Peretti, especially through shared online content. “If you laugh with someone or feel the same about a cute kitten, it allows you to feel close to someone…. People consume BuzzFeed at work to feel better, it has therapeutic effect.”
The company’s evolving products include shareable quizzes—“Which city should you actually live in?”—and, he says, the highlight of his career so far is getting President Obama to use a selfie stick on video. Read about other Peretti ventures in a earlier Slice of MIT post.
“We strive to be the future of how you make media, not the future of media,” says Peretti. “We want to build a process for having really smart creative people who have a deep connection with their audience and continue experiment to see what connects with their audiences.”
Want to know what’s next? BuzzFeed, which attracts more than 12 million unique visitors a day, was founded in 2006 when Peretti was still working on Huff Po. “If you want to know what's going to be happening in five years,” he says, “look at what people do in their spare time—hobbies often become bigger in a few years.”