Saturday, October 8, 2011

HubSpot: Making or Breaking All the Rules? Part 1

Yesterday afternoon I spent a few hours at inbound marketing pioneer, Hubspot's offices in Cambridge, MA to get a tour from UX Director Josh Porter. While I was there I was lucky enough to catch a recording of HubSpotTV and take in happy hour with 20-30 other Hubspotters at a nearby bar. But it was much more than a tour and a beer. It was a shocking flood of ideas and observations that left me wondering if what I had just seen was real, and if on earth is Hubspot thriving despite breaking almost every rule of business that I've learned over the last decade???

Don't get me wrong...I love the company I work for and we do a ton of great things. It's just that almost every rule of office behavior and business practices that I thought were typical from my own experiences and from talking with other businesspeople over the course of my career seem to have been thrown out the second story windows at Hubspot.

Skipping the very obvious low hanging fruit, I won't even delve into the fully stocked beer coolers (yes, plural) that make their home in the cafeteria. At 4 PM on a Friday afternoon when I arrived, dozens of young professionals were congregating in the cafe to watch the recording of this week's HubSpotTV segment. Some were grabbing beer from the complimentary coolers and taking a seat to listen to the panel discussion. Others were having a water or soda and others were quietly working on laptops. But the first striking observation that I made was that this company is made up of young people. At 34 yeras old, I felt (and looked!) like a dinosaur at Hubspot. While I'd estimate the average age at my company to be somewhere north of 45, I'd bet my Return of the Jedi lunchbox that the average Hubspotter is less than 26.

As I was introduced to a few people and started talking with them, I also quickly noticed another common trend...they're all new! Extremely smart and knowledgeable about inbound marketing, but new. Granted, at a company that has only been around for 5 years there aren't going to be people at Hubspot with 10 year anniversary plaques on their desks, but other than CEO Brian Halligan, I didn't meet anyone who has been there longer than a year. At most companies, employees don't even really know what they are doing until they've been there for a year.

Yes, that's right...I met the CEO on my first tour of the building. Its probably because he was situated at a cubicle like everyone else and not hidden in an office the size of my house, far removed from the ground troops. Aren't CEO's supposed to signify their superiority in a multitude of manners, starting with real estate? Not at Hubspot. As Josh walked me around the building I was caught quite off guard when we stopped along a row of desks and he said, "Hey Brian, this is my friend Bob." He stopped what he was doing and we had a brief conversation, but to be honest I spend the whole time trying to wrap my head around the whole scene.

At this point, my head is spinning and I'm wondering, "WHERE AM I???"

Over the last decade I've seen paranoid employees hoarding knowledge, often to the detriment of projects or relationships, in the name of maintaining exclusivity and job security. "If I'm the only guy who knows how to do X, I can't be replaced." Definitely not the mindset at Hubspot. I was talking with a NJ native named John over a Belgian beer at trendy Artbar and he shared an anecdote about information sharing at Hubspot. He called it crowd-sourcing and basically someone had thrown an open question to the rest of the folks via their internal Wiki about a tool to help a customer and he got 4 good answers from co-workers in a matter of minutes. Working together synergistically to get results for customers without fear or hesitation seems to be the collective mindset at Hubspot.

This might be partly because every Hubspotter I spoke to at some point in the conversation said, "Everyone here is smarter than I am." After I heard that statement for the fourth time I stopped the person and said, "You know, everyone here says that. I'm sure someone holds that dubious distinction, but I bet it isn't you or any of the other people who claim ownership of the title." But I think the statement is a manifestation of two ideas that the folks at Hubspot seem to share. First, they are a humble group. I mean, they are only setting the marketing world on fire...why would you get a big head??? And second, they all admire and appreciate the value of their peers. Quite different from companies where the SOP is knocking down co-workers to make sure you look good in comparison, even if you aren't pulling your own weight.

So far we've established that Hubspot is a company made up of young, fresh, smart people with a mutual respect for each other and a willingness to collaborate for the good of the company and their customers.

In part 2, I'll share the other half of my observations from my visit to Hubspot, so stay tuned...


Joe said...

Although I work for a ad specialty decorating company, my experience there in the last year has been the same one you write about here. I am blown away that the CEO walks around in jeans and a t-shirt and speaks to everyone like he's your brother. It took me about 10 months to get used to this kind of atmosphere but the company is killing it when it comes to sales from some of the largest vendors in the world.

Brian Whalley said...

Thanks for the post. I think you aimed a bit low on the age range (My guess is the average HubSpotter is about 26-30), but otherwise dead on. It was great to meet you as well. Can't wait for part two :)

Karim Nurani said...

Amazing culture of humility & collaboration, and it would seem that they are about to re-invent the entire HR process for success.

groeder said...

Loved the post. But if you felt like a dinosaur -- it's a good thing you didn't run into me on that day -- I have been at the company for a year - but just to put my dinosaur-ness in perspective, I was part of the team at Digital that built their first network, DecNet. So yeah, the company even hires dinosaurs. And having been aroundtheblock a few times, the company has the best corporate culture I have seen anywhere.