Bootstrapping vs. Billionaires

One Company’s Journey to Grow Market Share Against Massive Competitors

We’ve scrapped our way to a legitimate place in the multi-billion dollar marketing automation industry. Now we’re betting we can scrap our way to a much better place. And we’re going to share every bit of that journey with you, right here.

The marketing automation industry makes for quite a story. From nearly non-existent eight years ago to several, billion-plus dollar outcomes, this is truly the stuff that dreams are made of. Eloqua, Marketo, Pardot and Hubspot have all achieved enterprise values (in various forms) north of one billion dollars.

And to be sure, many dreams have been realized in the process. Co-founders have become wealthy and their lives filled with options. Others’ hopes have been crushed as some teams failed to execute amid fierce competition. In the midst of all this I built Net-Results.

Are you competing with limited resources
against much larger companies?

David Slays Goliath
David Slays Goliath

The honest truth is I had no idea what we were getting into when we started. We had built a marketing tool for our B2B customers and just kept improving and responding to customer needs. We didn’t even know that what we were building was called “marketing automation”, much less that it was going to be a multi-billion dollar market.

As the space took off, so did Net-Results.

But I was ill-equipped to understand the game our competitors were playing (I started my professional life as an environmental geologist before becoming an I.T. guy, and finally founding Net-Results).

While we were happy to grow a profitable business, our competitors were raising hundreds of millions of dollars from venture capitalists. They were trying to build businesses of great value – and many of them have succeeded. Our goals were a little more “main street”.

But that didn’t stop us from building a great team and a great product. It’s gone quite well and we’re proud to have over 13,000 users on 5 continents.

So while we’ve been competing effectively for years…

(we didn’t get to where we are today without beating these companies plenty of times)

Marketo, Pardot, Eloqua, Act-On, HubSpot

…we’ve been pretty much flying under the radar.

Now we’ve decided to share the secrets of our success. Conceptual and concrete, hard lessons and lucky guesses.

Even though our competitors are billion dollar behemoths with deep pockets and huge teams, we’ve never let that stop us and neither should you. And that’s what this blog is all about.

Bootstrapping vs. Billionaires.

We’re going to share all of our marketing strategies and tactics, successes and failures, as we continue to play David to the Goliaths of marketing automation.

This blog is for marketers who are fighting the good fight against the forces of evil. (Ok, our competitors aren’t actually evil, but it can be entertaining to think of them that way)

“But what about the great content your competitors put out?
How is your blog going to be different?”

I’ve seen Marketo’s Revenue Rockstar tour and it was excellent. They share what’s worked for them with real data and it makes for a great, inspiring show. But… They raised over $180,000,000 between their VCs and their IPO and spent the vast majority of that money on marketing. HubSpot’s in the same boat. In fact, they’re still spending two marketing dollars for every one dollar of gross profit they bring in.

We’re going to show you how we compete against this onslaught with a small marketing team and a budget you can relate to.

Goliath, meet David.

Marketers like us with limited resources have to focus, and that’s what we’re going to do. As we test drive different ideas and tactics we’ll share them with you. Real data, actual results: the good, the bad and the ugly. We’ll expose everything (well, not everything) so you can “learn vicariously” through our efforts.

I think a lot of marketers feel a bit like I do now – and this may sound odd coming from the founder of a marketing automation company: There’s all this technology, all this change, all these different techniques and strategies… Which ones should we be using? What are going to be the most effective tactics for us? All the while against these billion dollar companies? Our resources are limited and we can’t afford to waste time and effort going down the wrong road…

So if you face similar challenges – a mandate for big increases in lead flow with limited resources while fighting big competitors – join our growing community of marketers doing more with less!

We’ve scrapped our way to a legitimate place in the multi-billion dollar marketing automation industry.

Now we’ve decided to share the secrets of our success (and the agony of our failures). Conceptual and concrete,
hard lessons and lucky guesses.

The Bootstrapping vs. Billionaires series puts it all on the line
so you can learn with us - and grow.

No spam. Just passion and knowledge.

Michael Ward

I'm the founder and CEO of Net-Results, a marketing automation software company based in beautiful Colorado. Outside of work I do very Colorado things: backcountry skiing, mountain biking and ice hockey. ...and very family things. My wife and I have 10 year old twins and a chocolate lab. Good times all around!

  • Welcome to the game!

    Quick pro tip: The David vs. Goliath meme is a really good one. To get the most leverage out of that concept, you need to pick ONE company that is your Goliath. Simultaneously citing several companies as a “collective” Goliath won’t work that well. You need to FOCUS your energies on one. You need to pick *your* Goliath. The one that you feel the most diametrically opposed to. The one you feel deserves to be taken down. The one you think doesn’t deserve it’s customers.

    The other approach (and the one we used at HubSpot) is to fight the status quo. Fight a behavior that you think is outdated and wrong. We did that with the push to inbound marketing.

    Cheers.

    • Thanks for following our story Dharmesh and taking the time to comment!

      I agree with you that focused efforts deliver the best results. I’ve chosen to focus this blog on sharing what works for marketers when facing competitors with deep pockets . We’re fortunate in this regard to have several. :)

      I’ve always told our team that “we don’t need [insert Goliath marketing automation company here] to lose in order for us to win”. We’re not out to break anyone’s back. And I’m not sure that taking such an approach would provide the most benefit to our audience.

      The vast majority of marketers are constrained by budgets and human resources that are dwarfed by the the giants in their respective industries. This circumstance is exaggerated further in a relatively new industry like marketing automation where huge amounts of capital have been deployed to fund the “land grab” we’ve witnessed in the past few years. This provides the perfect “lab” in which we can experiment with marketing tactics and share what works and what fails to gain traction.

      I appreciate you joining the discussion. Please continue to share your insights and perspectives going forward!

  • soniasimone

    I love your story. And I love businesses that tell their own stories, on their own terms, without using someone else’s template. :)

    Looking forward to hearing more!

    • Thank you, Sonia. That’s a *huge* compliment coming from you!

      • Brian Clark

        If you ever want to commiserate with fellow bootstrappers, I’m right up the road in Boulder (we’ll get Sonia to head in from Denver). ;-)

        • Sold! I’ll connect with you on LinkedIn. I love getting to know other Colorado entrepreneurs.

  • Michael, it’s so refreshing to hear an honest, authentic story. Thank you for your transparency. Very inspiring!

  • Boom! Loving the angle here, Michael! As @dharmeshs:disqus said, ‘Welcome to the game!’. I mean that from a content marketing perspective. This blog has a unique angle and voice, which I think is gonna take you very far. You just got yourself another email subscriber :)

    • Thanks Alex! I’ll do my best to stay true that voice. And I can’t say enough about your blog (and product) over at GrooveHQ.com. (we’re customers)

    • Josh

      Was just thinking how much this seemed like your blog Alex – can’t wait to read what you’ve got to say Michael!

  • Alex from Groove linked to you, like the feel of the blog, good angle. Excited to follow along.

    • Thanks for reading Joshua! I’m happy that you’ll be following.

  • Excited to join the journey and discussion. This is a topic that will hit home with any earlier stage company (my company Docalytics included) targeting the marketing or sales enablement space, which has certainly matured a great deal in a very short period of time. I am excited to learn more about ways to intelligently use our limited marketing and sales resources to elevate our brand in a world that is already noisy with remarkable branded content & corporate $ponsored conferences that make Cirque du Soleil seem like my great aunts Tupperware parties…

    More specifically, I look forward to the groups perspective on how ‘David’ can best drive engagement, displace entrenched competition and overcome all the general ‘noise’ in an overcrowded marketplace to stand out from the established (and upcoming) pack.

    • Thanks Steve. I look forward to your input on upcoming topics!

  • Hello fellow Coloradan marketer!

    Great post. Can’t wait to hear more

    • Thanks Mike! Brewing that up right now actually…

  • A bootstrapping company isn’t a bad thing, it’s a great thing. It’s because if this attitude that I chose Net-Results for my company, my non-profit and it the platform I install for my clients. Quality of product and people are a few of the reasons. But I also look to Silicon Valley and see the exact opposite of NR. I see dark clouds and little light. Perhaps that’s because of the Borg that have inhabited that once creative and fertile land. It seems that the bigger the tech firm, the less they respect their customers and seek to marginalize their free-market choices. Not for me!

    • Thank you for the perspective Victor!

      I agree that bootstrapping is a great thing. I’m quite proud of what we’ve accomplished and how we’ve done it.

      I recognize that raising capital is a triumphant (and necessary) step for many teams. Depending on your goals and resources, raising capital can be a must. In the right circumstances, closing a round of funding should be celebrated!

      That said, I’m somewhat turned off by the seemingly pervasive idea that raising capital is a victory in and of itself.

      Baked in to the VC model is the statistical reality that some 60-70% of funded companies will be a complete loss or *maybe* return the capital invested.

      I’ve got nothing against teams that go the VC route. I wish them nothing but success. Same for the VCs that put their butts on the line to make the right bets and earn returns for their Limited Partners.

      I just have this nagging feeling that the (professional angels/VCs/tech blogs) have a vested interest in a market that strives for their approval. Thus we’re fed (and many swallow) the idea that funding = success.

      In the end (of this comment anyway, late on a Saturday night): To each, his or her own. As I recall Jackson Browne saying, “I don’t know about anyone but me”. And I’m still figuring that out :)