5 Struggles Marketo’s Founder Overcame to Build a Billion-Dollar Company

August 23rd, 2016

5 Struggles Marketo's Founder Overcame to Build a Billion-Dollar Company

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Jon Miller is no stranger to challenges. He’s the co-founder of Marketo, the marketing platform that was recently acquired by Vista Equity Partners for $1.79 billion. Engagio, his account-based marketing startup, just received $22 million in Series B funding. Engagio helps marketers engage target accounts with deep sales and marketing alignment. He describes this next-level client hunting platform as “fishing with spears instead of nets.”

Though Jon seems to have moved from one massive success to another in the making, the road to the top hasn’t always been easy. I recently sat down for an interview with Jon and got some insights into his journey from a VP of marketing at a startup to building a category-leading marketing company. Here are five struggles Jon had to overcome to be where he is today.

1. Before Starting Marketo, Jon Was Looking to Be a CMO

Numbers like $60 million in quarterly revenue make it seem like Marketo was a surefire success. But Jon tells a different story. He was in a low spot before starting Marketo.

“[I had] just been laid off…had a mortgage, my wife was pregnant with our first kid. Sort of assumed I’d just get a job being a CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) somewhere.”

But while planning with his future partner, Phil Fernandez, he was faced with a choice: Go the safe route, or take a chance on a great idea. “Do I work at these jobs I wasn’t happy with, or do I just say no to those jobs and work on Marketo with Phil?”

He looks back fondly on those early startup days. That’s why he started Engagio. “It’s time to start something small again because I have such passion about this stage of things.”

2. He Had a Lot of Trouble Raising Investor Seed Money

Marketo was driven, above all else, by determination. “Back in 2006, Phil and I decided to go do this thing, and we did raise a small seed capital round from Phil himself. This was before there were angels everywhere . . . before marketing tech took off.”

Without comparable products in the marketplace, Marketo started out as a very tough sell to venture investors. “We were in this weird situation where every time we met with a CMO, they loved what we were doing, but every time we met with an investor, they didn’t know what we were doing.”

They met with countless investors to no avail. The struggle continued for some time.

3. Marketo Got Funding a Month Before Jon Had to Bail

After months of failed attempts to woo investors, things became dire. “I almost had to give up on Marketo. I did have a mortgage and a family to pay for, and I couldn’t keep going on without funding.”

Still, Jon didn’t want to give up his platform. “We kept trying. We finally met the guys at Interwest Ventures, and their partner got us. It was within a week or two of my having to leave to find a regular job.”

In retrospect, he feels lucky. “More than anything else, I’ve actually been very lucky . . .”

But that was in regards to Marketo. Engagio is a very different story. “First one was luck. With this new one, it’s less luck.”

4. Creating a New Business Category (and Product)

Just as Jon was at the forefront of marketing automation with Marketo, he finds himself once again at the frontier of another industry with Engagio: SaaS (Software as a Service) for account-based everything. Creating a new business category isn’t the easiest play, but it’s one that Jon has run before.

“My two strongest skills are synthesis and execution. I’m very good at looking at a lot of information and pulling all the different pieces of it together, and then coming up with something that looks and sounds new. Most of it was synthesizing stuff that was already there and doing it in a very analytical way. On the execution side, I move fast and get things done.”

Jon isn’t just being modest—he has a fairly atypical background for a serial tech entrepreneur. Back in 1994, he was about to enroll at MIT for a physics Ph.D. before the business world called out to him.

5. Convincing People to Target Companies Rather Than Individual Prospects

Jon’s current biggest challenge? Getting teams to think about account-based everything rather than traditional lead-based marketing. In other words, Jon’s teaching business owners, marketers, and salespeople to use nets rather than spears to win new business. This means rethinking the old “land and expand” model for B2B expansion, and coming up with a more holistic way to target an entire account in tandem.

But that’s not the only challenge. Jon also needs to convince marketing and sales to play nice together.

“The biggest thing I’m thinking about is our new Engagio product—it helps marketing and sales put together ‘Plays.’ In football, the play works when everyone works together. The challenge is that I need adoption from both the marketing team and the sales team. Getting them to agree on a purchase is going to be our challenge.”

What’s a New Entrepreneur to Do?

After weathering the storm and rising to the status of serial entrepreneur, what insights would Miller look back and give his 21 year-old self?

Here’s a piece of great advice for a budding entrepreneur: “Starting a company is a marathon, not a sprint, so take care of yourself (physically and emotionally) and don’t let the highs and lows rock you about too much. Things are never as bad, or as good, as they seem.”

But it’s not all about work. Miller leaves us with a reminder of the more important things: “A piece of good life advice is that happiness tends to be about experiences and relationships and not things. There’s a ton of research that backs that idea. I was never a materialistic person . . . especially when you’re young and in your twenties, that’s an amazing time to have experiences.”

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