We exchanged emails for this interview and it has been slightly condensed and edited.
Marc Goldberg : Tell me about your work history. Where do you start?
Scott Brinker: So I actually started working in “technology” pretty early as a teenager. I was writing multiplayer games for the precursor to the Web, dial up bulletin board systems. For the first ten years of my career, I was largely a software entrepreneur. As the web evolved I then moved to working with a company to build web based apps. Then I started to work more with a web agencies, because we’d always be hired by the marketing teams of these Fortune 500 companies. Since I was the guy writing the tech, the teams that I’d be the one to go talk to was the IT department of the client because marketing and IT wouldn’t talk to each other. It was hostility, just in the early days of the Web, they were just living in two different universes. From there, after that Web agency side actually launched a product of my own that was interactive content for marketers, called ION Interactive. We did things like creating quizzes and assessment tools and stuff like that. We built up that company, got acquired in 2017 and then I joined HubSpot as the VP of Platform Ecosystem. Trying to help HubSpot make that transition from being a product company to a true platform company with an ecosystem of app partners around it.
MG: WAIT, Is ION where you started the famous Brinker Martech slide?
SB: In parallel to all of this, I mentioned that fascination I had been shuttling diplomacy between IT and marketing at these companies. That actually inspired me to start the Chief Martech blog 13 years ago as a hobby. To me it really was becoming clear that, you know, these worlds were colliding and they were starting to emerge this new kind of professional who was savvy and both who could actually act as a translator between the two. We were calling them marketing technologists as kind of a novel term at the time. I started that blog, which was largely total obscurity for the first four years or so of it. We kept doing those Martech landscapes really as a way to try and help CMO understand just how much technology was starting to pervade their organizations. And then somewhere around like 2013 it hit an inflection point and just really took off and then ended up teaming up with a company, Third Door Media that started producing the MarTech conference (oh by the way it is Free March 16-17). And so yeah, I kind of kept these two hats of what I do professionally, you know, with ION and now with HubSpot. But yeah it’s kind of sad that it is my hobby, I spent my weekends moving little logos around on a slide. It’s pathetic.
MG: Lucky, my weekend is doing what my wife tells me to do. What’s your day job now?
SB: I run the app partner program for HubSpot. We manage nearly 700 app partners. My mission is all about how we help other companies integrate into HubSpot. How do we help customers take advantage of all the things, they can leverage out of that ecosystem.
MG: What type of partners are you seeing embrace the HubSpot community?
SB: It’s all categories. I mean, Martech companies, Salestech companies and increasingly other tools that companies have in their business stack that are even further adjacent like accounting and finance systems connecting up with your CRM. Yeah, I mean, this is kind of where, my hobby, very much ties into my real job. In fact part of why I came to HubSpot was because, by 2017, this Martech landscape had grown to, north of five thousand companies. It was a real pain point for marketers that, yes, there’s all these innovations and all these cool things out here you can take advantage of but they weren’t really organized around centralized platforms. All the burden was on the marketers shoulders to figure out on how do I stitch this stuff together? I believed for quite some time that the future of the Martech industry would be having the major players in the industry really try and develop a stronger platform orbit. My goal with HubSpot is if someone has the HubSpot platform and they go to the marketplace and they say, oh, we like this app and this app and this app, they get those apps, they plug them in, they just work. They’re just integrated. The marketer doesn’t have to think about it at all. We still have a long way to go. But, you know, we’re making great progress in that direction.
MG: And it’s big getting bigger! Does it ever get smaller? Is there a consolidation thing that’s going to happen or is it just going to continue to explode into new sectors?
SB: I’ve spent a long time thinking about it ( wrote about it here), because it is a very strange dynamic in the sense that, yes, there is continuous consolidation happening in this industry. But at the same time, even while that consolidation happens, a new wave of startups and new entrants into the space. And one of the things that you could argue is interesting is in some ways, the more consolidated the platforms become in this industry, actually, the easier it becomes, the more it tends to facilitate greater diversification for the apps that can be built. On top of that, I mean, you can kind of think of it like the fact that the mobile world has consolidated to iOS and Android. Now, if I want to be an app developer, right. It’s actually like, oh, all I have is one or two platforms. I have to build four and I cover the entire market. So it’s this weird dynamic. The consolidation at one end of the spectrum tends to actually support diversification at the other. The ones who start out as specialist apps, they aspire to become platforms themselves.
MG: There is a new privacy law in Virginia. Which is a little bit harsher than what California has, which is more harsher than that what Nevada has. Companies now are taking this additional burden of managing these laws and restrictions it introduces. Will that potentially change how the ecosystem starts to grow?
SB: I think it’s interesting, so there’s a whole there are definitely categories in the ecosystem that this is incredibly disruptive. You could argue actually the whole ad tech space is having a really rough time of it. You could also argue there was like a whole bunch of providers in the Martech space whose specialty had been data their data providers. So what sort of data you’re actually legally permitted to sell is changing and that space is also going through a lot of disruption. But for a lot of the rest of Martech, it actually doesn’t seem to have that much effect. I mean, don’t get me wrong, all these products need to plumb through support for things like GDPR making sure that they can guarantee that they received permission from the customer to have this data at this point. We also have mechanisms in place that if the customer comes and says, listen, I want to get rid of the data you have for me, that we can make sure it gets purged from not just the main platform, but any of the other apps that we’ve connected to it. I’m one of those people who actually believes marketers will be far better off concentrating their effort and their energy on what they do with first party experiences instead of, you know, the third party shell game.
MG: Adtech, Martech and you mentioned Sellertech. There are different buckets. Where the buckets that you’re seeing the most growth traction up and down?
SB: I mean, Martech as a whole certainly has been in a very expansionary mode here for a number of years. I haven’t done the study for this year, my estimate is it is still growing, but the rate of growth is going to slow at some level, it just has too!.
I’d say like an adjacent category that we’re now seeing tremendous growth in is around sales tech, the number of specialized tools being offered to salespeople. And actually this past year with 2020, so many sales interactions really now got solely focused on digital engagements with customers. There’s been a bit of a renaissance in sales practices of people getting a lot smarter about moving entirely digital. They are thinking about these interactions and what can our service do to make this a really great experience for buyer and seller?
MG: Do you think Azure. Google Cloud and AWS and all of the cloud infrastructure companies changed the game? Given the ability to spin something up has allowed the barrier to entry to be close to zero, and therefore ruined your weekends?
SB: Marc Andreessen remarked from that Wall Street Journal article ten years ago of Software is eating the World. I think what we’re actually saying is this is what it looks like when everything in the world kind of becomes a software company. So yeah, I think you’re right. The cloud infrastructure providers, certainly the primary factor. But think of all the other things, like the number of open source projects that are out there that if I’m going to start building something now, between what I can leverage and AWS and what I can leverage from open source products and then also these mechanisms for allowing developers to collaborate anywhere across the world. Right now you can pull together teams in a much more flexible way. You don’t have to have huge pockets to get started. I mean, you can start buying keywords on Google and start experimenting on a small scale to get traction and build. It’s like all these things that used to be barriers to entry to starting a software business, have virtually gone away. I mean, you still have to have an idea! Even getting your first few customers, I would argue there’s very few barriers to entry, but once you’re now competing with this enormous set of because everybody else can also be a software company. Getting a few customers and distance yourself from the competition to break out from the field and really become one of the leaders in that category. Yeah, that’s become incredibly difficult. In fact, even if you’re throwing money at it, it’s right, because, I mean, a number of these companies have raised just insane amounts of venture capital it’s a hyper competitive environment in software these days.
MG: So that brings a good question, Imagine you’re now a VC with unlimited funds , where would you place your bet? What’s the box you would like to you would probably face of that? You are EF Hutton (who is gonna get that reference ?) with your knowledge of all the boxes, we are all listening….
SB : Great question, one of the things every year I do that landscape, one of the things people will ask me , “which category are you seeing the most innovation in?” The surprising thing is, almost every year there are companies in pretty much every category that are doing something really innovative. One of the examples I’ll give is so you could argue the oldest category in Martech is content management systems and web experience platforms. That’s how this arguably all started. And so that’s they’ve been around for, what, twenty five, twenty six years. If any category should have been mature and set and done now, it would be that category. But I mean, right now the whole web experience space is just going through this incredible cycle of innovation. If you’d asked me to bet money as a VC, you know, five years ago, I was like, well, I’m certainly not to spend it on CMS.
Ultimately, I think it’s less about the category and it’s who’s doing something that’s disrupting the category and has the talent and the willpower and the financing to be able to really become a breakout leader.
MG: How does one get on the Martech slide?
SB: Here is the link, basically we’ve been inviting people to send in suggestions. We would of course, validate them but this is the process. Also don’t miss the FREE Martech conference online March 16-17 . My keynote will be live at 4:30pm EDT on Tuesday, March 16
MG: Ok this weekend you have to make a new slide. Productivity tools! What are three you can’t live without now?
SB: It’s kind of boring. I mean, I feel like I spend my 99 percent of my life in zoom and Google suite.
MG: It is boring, but it is my life as well… In the 90’s after college. I lived up at 116 Riverside near Columbia University. You were there, too. One of my favorites restaurants was Ollies, how about you?
SB: I like Ollies but there was this restaurant that was right across from Columbia that I think used to be some sort of generic restaurant called the Mill that became a Korean restaurant called The Mill. It was fantastic.
MG: Have you been playing video games today? What were some of your most memorable games you built?
SB: Yeah, sadly, I’m not a gamer today, although my 12 year old daughter is carrying on the tradition. So the games I wrote were for bulletin board systems, some of the early multiuser bulletin board systems. Probably the most popular was a game called Kyranda that actually became a PC game produced by Virgin Games.