Web Masters Episode #51: Mark Organ


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Mark Organ:

I left, which is a nice way of saying I was actually fired. I’m actually open about that and it’s probably good for your audience to know that you have a choice. Soon as you’re venture backed, you are now on [inaudible 00:00:16], you’re on a train somewhere. Hopefully, somewhere good. You have a choice on whether you want to be rich or you want to be canned. I decided I want to be rich. Rich in quotation marks. What I really want to do is have impact and build a big company and hopefully share in some of those rewards, but I got the company to around $20 million in sales. What’s that in today’s inflation dollars? I don’t know, $30 million. I got to 170 people, and at the time, I was having a lot of challenges with my co-founder, I was having challenges with board members. One of the board members was on the board of a direct competitor at the time. He was on a board of a company that bought its way into our space and that became a high friction point between us.

I was spending more and more of my time internationally because … or frankly, that was fun. I was being an entrepreneur again, so when I was in the office with a hundred and blah, blah people and dealing with HR crap half the time, I wasn’t actually having a lot of fun actually. But when I was in Singapore or when I was in London and I was helping to build our global operations, I was back to doing what I love, which is being a pioneer. Not a very popular activity among my board members who had a fresh memory of all the money they lost in the 2002 tech wreck where they had to shutter a lot of international operations and lost millions and millions of dollars.

So I was out and that was hard after seven plus years of work. All my friends were in the company. It was a tough time for me.

Aaron Dinin:

Do you regret what happened? Do you wish you’d stayed with the company?

Mark Organ:

It’s a tough question because on one hand, look, I made a whole bunch of mistakes. There’s some things that I could have done differently that would have let me not get fired out of that first company. There were some emails that I sent that I should not have sent. There were some things that I said that I should not have said. That said, these things happen for a reason. That’s what my mother tells me. “Everything happens for a reason,” and I think she’s right. I was lucky to get fired at 32 because I then had a bunch of time in the wilderness as a relatively young guy, still plastic, still can make changes, that if that happened later, I don’t know if I would have had the same thing. So I think everything does happen for a reason. Am I really regretful on anything? No. Again, I’ve made mistakes. I would have done things differently, but that said, things happen for a reason, and in that way I have no regrets. Does that make sense? I don’t know.

Aaron Dinin:

I’m sure it makes sense to anyone who’s ever tried building a business, and that’s because nobody’s entrepreneurial journey is ever a linear story of success after success after success. Instead, even the most successful entrepreneurial careers are a series of mistakes and learnings and course corrections punctuated by a few nice wins. No matter what happens, you never get to where you were initially headed, but wherever you eventually do wind up, you always learn some important lessons along the way. That’s true for the person you just heard sharing his story about getting fired. It wasn’t just any entrepreneur, it was Mark Organ talking about getting fired from the company he founded. That would be Eloqua, one of the pioneers of both marketing automation and SaaS business models. Are you ready to hear the story? Let’s get dialed in.

[INTRO]

Aaron Dinin:

Hey there. Welcome to Web Masters. It’s the podcast that explores entrepreneurship by talking with some of the internet’s most impactful innovators. And I’m the host. My name is Aaron Dinin. I teach entrepreneurship at Duke University. Before that, I ran a marketing automation company, and that probably makes me a bit of a fanboy when it comes to this episode’s guest and the company he built. We’ll be exploring the story of Mark Organ and Eloqua. Eloqua was and now is a part of Oracle and still is one of the leaders of the marketing automation industry. It’s the industry encompassing all the companies that help send highly choreographed email sequences designed to get people buying more stuff.

These days, marketing automation has become a sort of digital art form and Mark played a huge role in creating the entire space. But before we start digging into his story, let me take a moment to thank this podcast’s sponsor.

All the great stories you hear here on Web Masters are being supported by Latona’s. Latona’s is a boutique mergers and acquisitions broker that helps people buy and sell cash flow positive internet businesses and other types of digital assets. That includes things like content websites, domain portfolios, Amazon FBAs, e-commerce stores and even the kinds of SaaS apps we’ll be talking about in this episode. If you currently own a business like that and you’re thinking of selling it, reach out to Latona’s. Their team of expert brokers can help you find the perfect buyer. And if you’re hoping to buy a profitable internet business, head on over to the Latona’s website where you’ll see listings for all the great businesses available to purchase right now. That website is Latonas.com. L-A-T-O-N-A-S.com.

As you might expect, the kind of person who goes on to build a successful marketing automation company is also the kind of person who spends a lot of time thinking about scalable customer acquisition. That’s definitely the case for Mark. He’s someone who from a very early age was trying to figure out the secret formulas for obtaining customers.

Mark Organ:

I was entrepreneurial since I was a kid. I don’t remember this, but apparently I sold medicine out of my parents’ medicine cabinet when I was in grade school. And this, I do remember. I remember selling some videos of questionable taste in the eighth grade. So I was always interested in working for myself. I got in trouble a lot as a kid. I got suspended from school a few times and kicked out of summer camps, and one of those kids that didn’t really ever quite fit in and didn’t really like rules very much.

Aaron Dinin:

Where do you think your entrepreneurial spirit came from?

Mark Organ:

My father is an entrepreneur. He’s a pharmacist. He owned a bunch of pharmacies and some other things, so definitely a traditional kind of buy low, sell high kind of entrepreneur.

Aaron Dinin:

How is that type of entrepreneur different in your mind from a web or tech entrepreneur?

Mark Organ:

I think that’s one of the things that was very exciting about the web, and later, early internet companies is that these are very different kinds of businesses. Not just design to scale a lot, but these are creative destruction businesses. These are businesses that would grow like crazy because they were destroying a lot of the old order, which is very exciting to me. So I thought that was a big idea. Like the idea of I’m going to eat a bunch of lunch over here and I’m going to be 10 times bigger as a result was a very, very exciting idea and it’s different from traditional entrepreneurship. The classic entrepreneurship where there’s lots of resource here and not a lot of resource there, I’m going to take some of the resource from here and bring it over there is your classic entrepreneur, right?

This creative destruction style of entrepreneurship was just really different and a lot more exciting because of how big it could be. How much impact you could make on the world was a very exciting idea.

Aaron Dinin:

So if your father was building more of a traditional business, how did you first get exposed to tech entrepreneurship?

Mark Organ:

Yeah. It goes way back for computers. I started programming when I was six years old. My father got me a TRS-80 computer from RadioShack. Just to really date myself, the storage medium was a cassette tape and that is how we were able to save our files. I used a program called BASIC, command line BASIC, which had little numbers beside the code. Anyway, it was really ancient but really grateful for my dad getting me that computer. And so I learned how to program at a pretty early age. Didn’t really use it much again until my second to last year of high school where it was really interesting, I was taking a class in computer science and a few days before the start of the school year, the teacher fell very ill and could not teach the class. So the substitute teacher actually didn’t know anything about how to code.

Computer science was taught in the business section of the high school and he knew a lot about entrepreneurship but did not know a lot about coding. So the first day he’s like, “Well, from everything I’ve read, you guys are going to teach yourselves how to code anyway and everything that we teach you in computer science is out of date. So here’s the deal. You’re going to teach yourselves how to code. I’m going to teach you how to build a business, and your final exam is going to be based on the quality of business that you build.”

And so he taught us how to write a business plan, how to do sales and marketing and how to do basic accounting and whatnot. And so a bunch of us went and built little mini software companies, and out of that experience, there were four companies that were built, mine included, and I took the knowledge that I got out of that class and I built a little invoicing software company. In the summer I went to these office towers in Downtown Toronto, started at the very top, knocked on doors and asked, “Hey, do you need any software built particularly around invoicing, because I know a little bit about it.” And that’s what I did when I was 17 years old. A little mini software company. I ended up selling out to my business partner, but that’s actually how I got the bug for the software business.

Aaron Dinin:

Even back then, were you able to recognize the potential of software businesses to be what you’re calling creative destruction types of businesses?

Mark Organ:

I also had another job at the same time at a pharmaceutical company as a chemist and it was remarkable to me how much better the software industry was than the chemistry business or the pharma business. And actually the pharma business is actually a pretty good business. Pharma’s a lot better than airlines, right? But it was amazing. The idea of having no marginal costs, like I can create an unlimited number of copies of this software almost for free, so I was lucky to understand at the age of 17 that there’s something really special about the software business that you don’t see in any other business in the world, even though from that point on in university, I was in the life sciences. I even ended up going to do a PhD in neuroscience because my parents wanted me to be a doctor but I wasn’t able to be a doctor.

The brain was kind of cool. Back in 1996 that was kind of a cool thing to study. I still loved the idea of building a software company again and by ’96 the web started to become kind of a thing. So that was a whole other new level of software, the idea of building things to web scale, which, 1996 to 1998 really became a thing. I became kind of intoxicated with that idea. I knew that I wanted to build a software company again, but I also saw at the time that some of these entrepreneurs were building some pretty powerful skills. They weren’t the kind of rough and ready software entrepreneurs that I knew from the early ’90s. When you looked at people like Marc Andreessen and whatnot, these are sophisticated entrepreneurs.

So I felt like in order to build an actually really good software company, I actually had to learn a lot more about sales and marketing and industrial grade engineering and whatnot. So I got a job as a management consultant at Bain. I was lucky that they took me and I spent a couple years there before I built Eloqua inside the Bain Toronto office in ’99, and that’s kind of how I got started in web software.

Aaron Dinin:

So was Bain where you got most of the business fundamentals you needed to launch a company?

Mark Organ:

I actually learned more about building a company from another thing that I did. So this is when I was in university in my second year. It was a recession at the time. I couldn’t get a normal job, but I got a gig from … I don’t know if you guys have College Pro in the states. It’s like a franchise painting organization. They train college kids to run a painting franchise for the summer and they take 25% of the gross and whatnot. So I got hired by a knockoff of … College Pro is a market leader. I got hired by a knockoff of College Pro, and so they taught me how to estimate, how to paint and how to hire people and how to do cold calling and a bunch of other stuff. And then they told me later, “Oh, and you’ve got to give us 25%,” and I’m like, “What? 25% for what? For your brand? No one’s ever heard of you guys.”

So I said, “Screw this, I can do this myself.” So I actually created my own brand called Organized Painting Services. This is hilarious because if you know me, I’m not very organized but it’s just a takeoff of my name. And actually, that was amazing. That summer I made $36,000 over that summer which was an astronomical amount of money back then for a college student, because not only was I painting houses. I got into custom art and all this other cool stuff over the summer, but I was such a bad manager that I literally had to fire everybody. I had an advisor from the chamber of commerce and I said, “What do I do? These people don’t listen to me and they all hate me.” And they said, “Well, it’s because you’re a bad manager.” So what do I do? He’s like, “You’ve got to fire them all and hire a new team.”

Which I did do. So I learned a lot about how to hire and manage people, and to this day actually, getting the most out of people is like a … it’s something I’m really passionate about today and maybe it comes out of my former mistakes, and really had to learn how to sell. I sold door to door. I learned to sell in the rain because people took pity on me and were more likely to give me an order. I learned a lot out of that. So that was a big entrepreneurial experience. I forgot all that when I went off to do my PhD at Northwestern, which I got out of early.

Aaron Dinin:

Yeah, the PhD in neuroscience seems like a bit of a departure from all these other entrepreneurial things you were doing.

Mark Organ:

But even that, neuroscience at the time was probably the most entrepreneurial of the sciences of the time. There were all these amazing things coming together. Computer scientists, biologists, medical doctors, psychologists all coming together to understand this amazing thing. The challenge was the day to day work wasn’t that great in terms of the work I did at the lab bench. Particularly difficult because my work involved rats and try to figure out how to do learning and memory, and I became violently allergic to rats. So my life just became totally miserable, but to this day, probably one of the greatest achievements of my life was that I taught two undergraduates, 18 years old, I taught them how to do brain surgery and they did all my work for me while I went and got a job. I got a job being a management consultant and I ended up getting out with a master’s and then my business career resumed from there.

Aaron Dinin:

And how did you go from Bain to launching a marketing automation software startup on the web?

Mark Organ:

The cool thing is I actually built it right in the Bain office which was very weird at the time, and the only reason why they did that is because that year, the Bain Toronto office lost over half of its people to startups. The Bain San Francisco office lost three quarters of their people, so either building their own company or joining startups at the time. So it was a huge crisis for the firm, and so they reacted by saying, “Hey, let’s harness the energy of people in here.” So I actually built it in the office. I went part time. Half the time I was building a startup, half the time I was working on cases.

But where the idea came from, at least for me, because I also built it with a co-founder who’s also at Bain, was that I was working on a Salesforce effectiveness case and the client was trying to figure out how do we get the sales team to be more productive? And they assume that there was probably something in our training or management or whatever that was the issue. So I found out a number of things that were really interesting. The first thing is, for every month that they were able to hold onto their sales team, it resulted in something like $32 million of increased profit for the company. It was a big company, but that was a big, big number, just for one month. So if you take the average longevity from 16 months to 17 months, that’s $32 million. So sales people get way more productive as they get more experience, and you don’t have to pay them much more. So that was the first thing that was interesting.

The second thing that was really interesting is that the number one factor that drove Salesforce productivity was not their education, was not their management. It was the quality of leads that they were working on. That sounds like “duh” today, obviously. At the time though, that was very weird because most sales people actually generate their own leads by cold calling out of whatever, yellow pages, white pages books, and people would actually dial out of those things. It was a soul sucking job.

Aaron Dinin:

How did those insights lead you to the concept behind Eloqua?

Mark Organ:

What I found was first of all, sales people are rarely good at both prospecting and relationship building and closing. They’re good at one or the other. So the best offices of this company were the ones that actually hired people specifically to generate leads, and then the sales people would then pick up those leads and then close them. Which, by the way, was an illegal practice at this company. That was the funny thing, is the people who were doing the best were actually breaking a lot of corporate rules, which was also very interesting.

But anyway, the reps that performed the best were the ones that stuck around the longest and the ones that stuck around longest, they did well because they had good quality of leads, and where were the best quality of leads? In 1997, 1998 was on this thing called an internet nurtured by this thing called email, which at the time was all relatively new. But at that point of time, email was so new that people would be really excited about getting email newsletters and finding out all kinds of stuff about the companies, and that was actually the best place to go and generate leads.

Aaron Dinin:

So Mark is only around 24 years old at this point and as you’ve heard, he’s basically spent most of his life thinking about customer acquisition in one form or another. While that’s all happening, the web is coming along, and as Mark points out, it’s a great source for sales leads. Mark puts two and two together and creates a revolutionary marketing automation software that companies around the world immediately fall in love with, catapulting both him and Eloqua to unprecedented entrepreneurial success. Only, that’s not quite what happened. In fact, the first iteration of Eloqua was not at all what users wanted.

Mark Organ:

My co-founder, Steve Woods, who was a CTO, he gave himself a challenge of he wanted to buy all his Christmas presents online and he wasn’t able to do it back then. And the reason why he wasn’t able to do it was because he didn’t have the kind of advice and service that he would normally get in a store. So we started talking and we put our ideas together and said, “There needs to be a way to go and make sales people more productive by generating leads using the internet and this way, a sales rep could provide advice and service to people, because that is the missing link that is needed for people to feel comfortable in making purchases.”

So we literally created a product that embodied what I just said, and it was actually … Today you might find it in something like Intercom or Olark. It’s like a web chat service. A lot of people don’t know this. A lot of people think of Eloqua, they think of it’s this marketing automation tool with those automated emails, driving people to websites and seeing what they do and then try the next email. That’s not how it started. It actually started as a chat service, but because of our focus on sales people, which was different from everyone else at the time, we were B2B oriented from the beginning, that we had to have this ability to segment the viewers on a website and to be able to write them to the right sales rep.

So it turns out that there wasn’t a lot of interest for sales reps to chat with randos on the internet, but what was really interesting to sales reps was to get a report in rank order. Here are all the people that went to visit your page and what they were looking at so they could follow up with them later by phone, and that became our MVP. Our minimally viable product became this web integrated email tool because we needed to build an email in order to drive more people to chat. A lot of people were chatting but we had to build this email tool. So that ended up becoming the MVP and then later we had customers who said, “Hey, why do we have to keep sending emails all the time? There’s got to be to automate that.”

So we built this automated tool that’s sitting on top of that, and that’s when marketing automation totally took off and became this big multi-billion dollar category with all kinds of sophisticated other companies in it. But it really was pretty random in terms of how the product came to be.

Aaron Dinin:

Yep, nothing linear about that story. Eloqua wasn’t some grand vision to reinvent marketing for the digital age. Like most great businesses, it was an iterative process of trial and error by a group of people who didn’t know anything about the industry they were in because, well, the industry didn’t exist yet.

Mark Organ:

Eloqua was really one of the first real software service companies, and I think it was only because me and my co-founder had experience in the old world, that we saw the tremendous potential for writing code once and having it go everywhere in the world and having one database as opposed to lots of instances all over the place, how powerful that idea was.

Aaron Dinin:

It was a powerful idea but as you surely heard a million times, ideas aren’t what matter in entrepreneurship. Execution is what matters, and that’s something Mark and his team struggled a lot with early on.

Mark Organ:

I was the oldest person in the company at 24. None of us knew anything really about anything. My co-founder, Steve, he knew kind of how to build some web software. I knew the faintest little bit about sales and marketing mainly from sailing painting services door to door, and I hired a bunch of other random people from our university that just … anybody who would be willing to work with us. We raised $166,000 in seed money before the tech wreck in 2000 and we couldn’t raise any more, and we have to figure out how to get profitable on that or die, but we couldn’t die because a bunch of that $166,000 was our parents’ money. So we had to figure out how to get profitable, and we did, and that’s actually an interesting story in itself.

We didn’t actually raise any venture money for three and a half years. Three and a half years of profits before we raised any real money and that was $5 million in our series A.

Aaron Dinin:

So how did you survive for those three and a half years? I mean, especially without lots of upfront capital? It doesn’t sound like you were focused much on things like getting product market fit or finding the perfect customer and those kind of traditional early startup things. How were you making money?

Mark Organ:

So what I was thinking about, because I was reading this book at the time called Startup Marketing, and they gave some advice. One of it was you should sell to your suppliers. So, okay, that’s good. So one of our suppliers was our commercial real estate company who found us real estate, found us a sublet so we could have a place to go after the founder’s bedroom wasn’t a really great place … We outgrew that. So they became our first customer. Today they’re a division of Cushman and Wakefield which is a big commercial real estate brokerage in the United States, but it’s crazy that we landed them as our first customer. I did it with a hand drawn business card. It was crazy. Anyway, but they became our first customer and kind of lucky in that they were a B2B organization which was, again, different from all of our pseudo-competitors at the time, both in email marketing and web analytics, because that’s kind of what Eloqua was. It was an email marketing and web analytics thing bolted together, essentially. So that gave us a lot of differentiation.

Aaron Dinin:

Out of curiosity, since you were building a marketing automation software, did you eat your own dog food, so to speak? Did you successfully use Eloqua yourselves to acquire customers?

Mark Organ:

Yeah, quite a lot, and I do think that’s really important. Actually that’s another thing that I learned from some of the things that I read and some of the great entrepreneurs I talked to, is that you’re a lot better off as an entrepreneur if you’re using your own product. And a big reason why is not just that your own product might help you grow and whatnot. It’s that you sort of need feedback loop on improving your own product. So if you sell a product that you yourself can’t use, then you have to do all kinds of analytics work on your customers to understand where are the gaps and how to improve it.

That takes time and there’s an error rate on that and all kinds of things, versus if you use your own product and you use it really well, then your feedback loop is really, really tight and so your rate of learning is so much higher. And one I think important job for a CEO of a startup is to learn fast. Not just you, yourself. The whole company has to learn quickly, and the faster you’re able to learn, especially if you can learn a lot faster than your competitors, then you have a chance to build a big business.

In fact, I think that’s one of the reasons … How do startups beat big companies? Is it because big companies are just really dumb? They could be pretty dumb, but they also have huge resources at their disposal. I think a big reason why startups win is because they learn faster. Like way, way, way faster. So yes, we used our own software extensively. In fact, really any company I ever build … I wouldn’t want to build a company unless I’m actually using the product, the intellectual property. If I can’t do that, I’m just probably not that interested in building that business.

Aaron Dinin:

And what’s an example of an important lesson you learned particularly in those earlier, leaner years about customer acquisition for startups that you can share with other entrepreneurs?

Mark Organ:

I am a huge proponent of hyper focus and specialization in terms of target market, in terms of use case. There was one point because we were growing out of cash flow, we weren’t even focused on geography. We only would serve companies in Silicon Valley and Manhattan and that’s it, and in Silicon Valley, they had to be on the Caltrain line because we were too cheap to get rental cars. Anyway, this was before Uber. So that hyper focus allows for much more efficient growth and ultimately it was key for us getting to profitability because as it turns out, we had a Silicon Valley based competitor that had raised a lot of money and they were much more diffuse in their approach, and because we had such a lower cost position, we were able to raid their customers which were a lot of the right kinds of customers for us, and they provided us with a big price umbrella, and we were able to win a number of those competitors’ companies and get profitable on that.

Because educating the market was one of our biggest costs at the time, if not the biggest. So why not win some pre-educated customers? So that’s how we did it and we got profitable just a few months after September 11th, 2001, where there was a huge recession. A number of our competitors including this one, this big one, they all died. So we were able to win a number of the customers that they had, and we stayed profitable until 2005, so three and a half years later, at which time raised a series A.

Aaron Dinin:

Would you mind talking about that a bit more? If you were profitable for three and a half years, why suddenly decide to raise venture capital? Why not keep doing what you were doing?

Mark Organ:

Really, the reason why I raised series A at the time, because I was actually getting quite used to being profitable and quite liked it. At the time I had a pretty difficult board of directors with angels on it that really were quite difficult, and so soon as I hit profitability, there was not a lot they could say. We now were captains of our own destiny. I wanted to use this money first to buy out those angels and professionalize the board, but the other thing was that the market was starting to really heat up and we could see that new competitors were popping up and now would be a good time to go and start to professionalize the sales team, start to do some real marketing, invest in more product and because we were profitable for a while, we knew how to invest that money.

If we raised money sooner, we would have just kind of blown it and probably died because we would not have known what to do with it. We wouldn’t know, for example, what is the profile of a target sales rep that would be a good fit for us? Through trial and error, we figured that out. What kind of marketing campaigns actually work? What are the areas of the product that need investment? If we raised sooner, we would have been guessing, versus here, we knew exactly, we were going to put a dollar in here and we knew we were going to get eight bucks back in six months or nine months because we knew our business. So I really advocate for that approach for … Most entrepreneurs should really try to build their business that way.

Aaron Dinin:

This is definitely a point worth highlighting. If you ever decide to raise venture capital for your company, don’t make the mistake so many entrepreneurs make and attempt to fundraise before you have a business model. Instead, you want to follow Mark’s path, even if he initially took it a bit unwillingly. You want to figure out who your customers are and how you acquire them in a profitable way. Once you know those things and only once you know those things, you can determine whether additional capital will help you achieve exponential growth. If it will, then you’ve got yourself a potential venture style company and it might be worth your time to fundraise. To be clear, it may be possible to raise capital without an established customer acquisition model but that doesn’t necessarily make it a good idea.

Mark Organ:

I think it’s so true because in my second company, because I had quite a bit of success with the first one, I had a lot of investors throwing money at me. I raised over $40 million, which used to be a lot of money. Now $40 million is like a new seed route or something, but anyway, honestly it was too early. The company now, today, the second company, Influitive, it’s profitable. It’s growing nicely, but a lot of hiccups along the way, and honestly, if I’d do over again, I would raise quite a bit less, I would really dial in that product market fit first, which is what I’m doing for my company today.

So my current company, profitable from day one, and I will be building a highly scaled software company again out of this current company that I’m in, but it will be done with having a really deep understanding of target market, target use case, all the different types of competitors, and I think I’m more likely to nail it without running into trouble from over-raising.

Aaron Dinin:

So if you’re going to take venture capital, wait to take it until you’ve got a real business to sell. Yes, it’s going to be harder at first, but it’s also more likely to produce a better long term outcome. That’s even true in a story like Mark’s. As you heard at the start of this episode, Mark’s VCs would ultimately fire him from his own company, and as painful as that experience must have been, by taking VC after Eloqua was already profitable, Mark was able to retain a much larger ownership stake in the company and was still able to benefit from its ultimate success.

Mark Organ:

It was rocky. I think the new CEO took a while to get his sea legs. He was based in the Washington, DC area and the whole company was in Toronto, which was tricky. [inaudible 00:33:00] did a great job, took the company public, sold it to Oracle and was a good deal for me personally.

Aaron Dinin:

Looking back on that experience of getting removed from your own company, what do you feel like you learned about yourself?

Mark Organ:

It could be that this is just where … maybe where my sweet spot is. Influitive, I got to $13, $14 million in sales and then started to get a little board, you know? I was doing less and less pioneering things which I really enjoy. Less and less time figuring out how to win markets, more and more time just perfecting the art of the perfect one-on-one with your team, which I’ve actually grown to like now. Now that I’m coach, it’s actually really important.

Aaron Dinin:

As you heard Mark mention, now that he’s done with Eloqua and the big marketing SaaS company he built after that, Influitive, in his current work, he’s focused on helping coach other CEOs at high growth companies. I guess it’s kind of like the entrepreneurial circle of life. Startup founders spend years building companies, make lots of mistakes, learn a ton along the way, eventually find success and then a lot of them spend the rest of their time passing along what they learned to the next generation of founders.

However, as great as it is that successful entrepreneurs are willing to give back to the community, Mark makes a good point about what it takes to be a successful startup coach. Specifically, he argues that the better coaches usually struggled a lot as founders.

Mark Organ:

Maybe one of the reasons why I think I’m a decent coach is that I struggled with this stuff as a CEO. I work with other CEOs today that frankly were a lot like me 10 years ago, and there’s a saying here in Canada, Wayne Gretzky was a … hockey coach, and that’s because he’s such a gifted hockey player. For him, he was not very good at getting B players to act like A players, which is what a great hockey coach has to help do. And so I think I’m pretty good at helping CEOs who struggle with focus, who struggle with building and managing your team, with managing your board, with raising money, and a lot of things that frankly a lot of CEOs really don’t like doing. And I guess I figured out a bunch of tricks in how to make these things actually fun and interesting with the help of some great coaches I’ve had. I’ve been coached for 10 years by some great people who got me to appreciate really the art of being a good CEO and to like some of these things that before I used to avoid like the plague.

Aaron Dinin:

So as you look for people to help you on your entrepreneurial journey, keep an eye out for people like Mark, people who have had some pretty big bumps and bruises along their own journeys toward success. And if you’re really lucky, maybe that’ll be true for you too. Yes, that’s right. I think every entrepreneur should encounter their fair share of challenges, and it’s not just because I’ve had my share of setbacks and misery loves company. It’s because struggling as an entrepreneur will make you a better teacher of other entrepreneurs. And, as Mark explains, being great at teaching and developing other people is in itself a powerful and valuable entrepreneurial weapon.

Mark Organ:

I started my company at 24. What did I know about developing people? I knew very little about it. You’ve got a lot of folks that maybe have a technical background or a hustler … My background was a hustler. I sold … door to door, right? And so I think that there’s a great opportunity to really level up in this area and become a master of developing people. And it’s such a tremendous advantage, because if you have a reputation as an entrepreneur, if you have a reputation for being a great developer of people, you’re going to win your share of amazing folks away from the Googles and Facebooks and Microsofts and hot startups that have raised a gazillion dollars, and you’re going to win your share of A players, and that is the way to win as an entrepreneur.

If you have more A players on your team … A players, my definition of it are people who continuously astonish you to the upside and rarely disappoint. If you’ve got more of those on your team, you will win, guaranteed. You will win. Even if your strategy is wrong, even if your culture is bad, those people on your team are going to fix your culture and they’ll fix your strategy and they’re going to drag you to actually building a great company.

Aaron Dinin:

I want to thank Mark Organ for taking the time to share his story and the story of Eloqua with us here on Web Masters. If you’d like to see what he’s working on today or maybe even get some advice from him, he’s on Twitter @MarkOrgan.

And if you’d like to tell us what you thought of this episode or ask us any questions, you can find us on Twitter. We are @WebMastersPod and I am on Twitter too, @AaronDinin. That’s A-A-R-O-N D-I-N-I-N. I also write lots of articles about startups and entrepreneurship. To get to it all, head on over to AaronDinin.com.

A quick thanks to our sound engineer, Ryan Higgs, and to our sponsor, Latona’s. If you’re looking to buy or sell an internet business, be sure to start at Latonas.com.

If you’re looking for more Web Masters, check out our archive on your favorite podcasting app. We’ve been doing this for around a year now, so there are lots of great episodes to choose from, and while you’re there, be sure to subscribe so you get the next episode as soon as it’s released in just a few days. Until then, well, it’s time for me to sign off.

[OUTRO]

Aaron Dinin:

So, because the early web was such a small space in terms of the entrepreneurial community, I’m always curious about which founders had unique or unexpected intersections along the way. So, out of curiosity, any interesting stories about people you met as you were building Eloqua?

Mark Organ:

One story that comes to mind that I think is super interesting, I had the best service experience of my then life and this was in 2004, and it was from a consultant from Webex, which actually still exists. For the young people here, that’s like a competitor to Zoom that only old people use, or old businesses. So Webex is really the original Zoom, the original unicorn back then. And so we were using Webex in order to do sales calls and whatever people use Zoom for today. I had this amazing experience from a consultant who said, “Hey, my job is to help you make a lot more profit using our product and if you give me lots of information, then I can give you a really tailored proposal of how you can make a ton of money using Webex.”

I’m like, “Well, this is awesome. Sure, I’ll go and do that.” And so I did that and he gave me this amazing presentation on all these things that we could do and make a lot more money, and didn’t charge anything for it. This is unbelievable. How does your company afford to do this? How many people like me are there? It was a small company at the time. He’s like, “There’s 300 in my patch.” I’m like, “300? How on earth is that possible?” And so he said, “Well, I have somebody in Sacramento that produces these PowerPoints and that person has a couple people in China that are slicing and dicing and crunching numbers and stuff like that.” I’m like, “That’s amazing. Who built this thing?”

He’s like, “Actually, our CTO built it.” So I’m like, “I need to go meet this guy.” He’s like, “Well, he’s based in China now.” So anyway, I cold emailed him and said, “I’ve got to see this system that you’ve built because it’s the coolest thing ever.” At the time, remember, Eloqua was a struggling profitable company doing actually quite a bit of service in order to make customers successful. So the idea of having even higher quality service for less money was intoxicating to me, and so I literally flew to China. I flew to Shanghai, went over to Hangzhou where he is. He spent a couple hours with me. I met all the people that built this system. I still, today, have all the notes for it, and I built out parts of his system but never got a chance to fully build it out.

I still think that we are going to get to a point one day where the value of software is going to increasingly trend towards zero because it’s going to be very competitive and the way to win is going to be through superior service. Companies have got to find a way to deliver high quality service for less money. But anyway, just to give you a sense of how much I value meetings with really the right people, I literally flew halfway around the world without much notice just to meet this guy. On the same trip, I met Jack Ma, who was a mere mortal back then. Alibaba was still not that big. Anyway, pretty interesting story, and so obviously that grew up to be a big company.

But I think that the ability to meet really valuable, impressive people like this, the amount of knowledge that I gained in a pretty short meeting … Really, he gave a lifetime’s worth of knowledge to me in a very short period of time. It was pretty cool.

Aaron Dinin:

What? I thought the punchline of that story was going to be that you met Jack Ma, that it was Jack Ma building the automated PowerPoints or whatever it was. That would have been an incredible story.

Mark Organ:

Very good. You’re right, that Alibaba was based in Hangzhou, right? So that’s right. Yeah. Anyway …

Aaron Dinin:

Yeah, anyway, sorry, I was so excited for where that was going and it didn’t go at all where I expected and now I’ve lost my train of thought.