14 Minutes of SaaS

14 Minutes of SaaS

E53: Mark Organ, Founder of Influitive and Eloqua. 1 of 3. 4X Humans

Mark Organ - Founder and former CEO of Influitive and Eloqua interviewed by Stephen Cummins for the 14 Minutes of SaaS podcast in SaaStock Dublin - part 1 of 3

E53: Mark Organ, Founder of Influitive and Eloqua. 1 of 3. 4X Humans

This is the 1st episode of a 3 part mini-series recorded with Mark Organ, who is the Founder and at the time of recording was the CEO of Influitive. He’s just moved to an Executive Chairman position 1 week before recording this update.
Influitive was founded in 2010 in Toronto, Canada – has raised $60M in funding and is the leader in the G2 quadrant for Customer Advocacy Software. 87% of people who worked there would recommend the company according to Glassdoor. Total Employees \ have dropped 16% to 125 over the last 2 years. They’re doing north of $25M in ARR, Average Recurring Revenue.
Mark describes himself as a mix between a street fighting entrepreneur and a research scientist. He was the original Founder and former CEO of Eloqua – and took them to $20M ARR and 165 people. It was later sold to Oracle for a cool $870M. He talks about the power of trying to understand your fellow human and about building teams in this episode and recorded our chat in SaaStock in my home town of Dublin.

Mark Organ

I learned a lot from that … I actually learned a lot more about building a company from doing house painting than anything else. That’s where I learned that most of the value is actually in selecting the right employees. You may not have 10 X painters, but there’s such a thing as a 3X or 4X painter! I used to drive around with a stop watch I used to watch painters on the job – and I would hire those people who are very efficient and good at their work.

Stephen Cummins

Welcome to 14 minutes of SaaS. The show where you can listen to the stories and opinions of founders of the world’s most remarkable SaaS ScaleUps.

This is one of a three part mini series recorded with Mark Organ. He was the founder and at the time of recording was the CEO of Influitive. He just moved to an executive chairman position one week before recording this update. Influitive was founded in 2010 in Toronto Canada and has raised $60M USD in funding and is the leader in the G2 quadrant for customer advocacy software. 87 percent of people who work there would recommend the company according to Glassdoor. Total employees have dropped 16 percent to 125 over the last two years, but they’re doing north of $25M USD in ARR or Average Recurring Revenue. Mark describes himself as a mix between street fighting entrepreneur and a research scientist. He was the original founder and the former CEO of Eloqua. He took them to 20M dollars in ARR and 165 people. It was later sold to Oracle for a cool 870M USD. He talks in this episode about the power of trying to understand your fellow human being and about building great teams. And it was recorded in SaaStock in my home town of Dublin.

Stephen Cummins

Mark … great to have you here at SaaStock on 14 Minutes of SaaS.

Mark Organ

I’m delighted Stephen

Stephen Cummins

Fantastic! Recounts to us briefly your life … up until the point you founded your first big success … Eloqua.

Mark Organ

Sure. Wow … My whole life! Yeah. So I think… I think there’s 2 big parts of my life before I founded Eloqua.

One is … I call it street fighting entrepreneurship. So I actually built a couple of small businesses before I founded Eloqua. I had a house painting business which actually morphed into customer artwork – which was really cool … got some really great stories about that. Came up with a couple of innovations – I hired good looking people had them paint shirtless – including a woman – to drive a lot of a lot of business.  Morphed into customer artwork because a couple of my painters were from art school and that was four times as profitable as normal house painting. I learned a lot from that. I actually learned a lot more about building a company from doing house painting. I learned that most of the value is actually in selecting the right employees. You may not have 10 X painters … but there’s such a thing as a 3X or 4X painter! I used to drive around with a stop watch I used to watch painters on the job – and I would hire those people who are very efficient and good at their work. I did that. I did some custom software and other things like that, very scrappy door-to-door sales – that sort of thing. So that’s one part of my life.

And the other one is as a research scientist. So my parents, really want me to be a doctor … it was not what I was fated to do – but maybe the next best thing was if you have a PhD …. and so I was fascinated with the brain – fascinated by why people do what they do … what motivates them…  so I went to go study neuroscience. The supply and demand dynamics of research are not very good. You know, it’s drudgery, its tough work I think. I would have made a great professor, but I was not a very good grad student and would not have been a very good post doc. I was… I was … lonely and… and I missed my then girlfriend – now wife. And so, I managed to get out of my PhD. I got my Masters and went back to Toronto to be a management consultant.

But those are the same 2 things that I think make up who I am today professionally in many ways today. I still am a street fighting entrepreneur and research scientist. I’m still out trying to discover today why and how people advocate. What is it that marketers really need to accomplish to be successful in the years to come? Yeah, you know, these are things that research scientists have to do. Well … they have to be able to predict the future. They have to discover things and not been discovered before. But I’m still scrappy as ever. So that’s kind of where I am today.

Stephen Cummins

That’s fascinating – so we have a lot in common. My first job was in the Institute of Neurology as a molecular biologist in Queens Square in London.

Mark Organ

Wow, that’s interesting.

Stephen Cummins

But I moved on to biotech … but eventually I had to get out as well … and meet more people.

Mark Organ

Wow, that’s interesting. I’ve worked in a molecular biology lab too that too. – but I was not a molecular biologist – I was the only physiologist in his lab. So you gotta imagine … you gotta pristine, clean laboratory. People pipetting things – probably was your job doing that – I brought in all these rats. Depressed rats. Do you know how you know a rat’s depressed?

Stephen Cummins

No.

Mark Organ

Well, there’s a phenomenon humans have called learned helplessness. So rats have something similar. If you put a rat into a tank of water, they just float there. A normal rat will swim and swim and swim for around 16 minutes til its exhausted …. anyway … but what I was doing is putting different substances in the brain to see what would change their depression. And it turns out that both rats and humans produce their own antidepressant substances. And our lab was the first to discover that.

Stephen Cummins

Wow that is a big that is a big deal. Well our lab was the first to discover the link between my mitochondrial genetics and disease.

Mark Organ

That’s a hot area no .. eh!

Stephen Cummins

 

I worked for Anita Harding who actually made that discovery, but like a lot of women she’s been kinda written out of history. She was phenomenal

Stephen Cummins

So …  you were the founder and CEO Mark … of Eloqua. And you’ve had a much more colorful background before that than I realised – which is brilliant. That was eventually sold to Oracle for 800M dollars, which is phenomenal. Tell us a little bit about that amazing experience. How was that from the start. How was that?

Mark Organ

Yeah. So in terms of my… my journey. So I took the company 7 years … up to about $20M and above. So I got the company to a certain point. And as a 32 year old founder CEO, our board made a decision they wanted to bring in a more experienced professional CEO. So I was actually not the person that sold the company. That… that said … that was very interesting experience for me.

Stephen Cummins

But you created the company …

Mark Organ

I did create the company … and, you know, even to this day … I still see some of my stamp on it still. Yeah. Yeah. I mean it was ….

Stephen Cummins

So that happened to Godard Abel too. Were you gone by the time they sold it?

Mark Organ

Yes.

Stephen Cummins

Because that happened to Godard Abel with Big Machines. It was sold for 400 million. And he regrets that he put so much into the VCs. The company actually went down a little bit after we left. Did you have the same … ?

Mark Organ

And so did ours. Yeah, the new CEO came in and it took him a little while for him to get his sea legs. My and Godard’s journey are incredibly parallel – both in terms of what he did at Big Machines and me at Eloqua … and again with him at Steelbrick and G2 Crowd. And, you know our professional lives actually dovetail quite a lot.

Stephen Cummins

I know him well and he’s an absolute gentleman.

Mark Organ

Sure is – he’s a great guy! We’re both fascinated with this new world of, you know, advocate marketing and participating in, you know, this space. But in terms of the journey, you know, an amazing and very challenging journey of of self-discovery and leadership. You know, a lot of great learning along the way. I was really lucky and blessed to have had some great mentors along the way. It taught me, you know, there’s no amount of reading you can do … and …  I do a lotta reading and I go to conferences and (look at) what not to learn. But, you know, unfortunately, failure really is the best teacher. Along with mentors who have also failed. And who give back. So one thing I love about the SaaS space is that people really do get back. That’s why I love to do podcasts. I hope that there’s something in that we talk about today that people can learn from.

The main category of mistakes that I’ve made … like most CEOS … is arounf people …. And it takes a while to learn … how to hire … how to manage … how to develop … How to hold people accountable …when to let people go … Especially when you’re doing that while the business is growing quite a lot. Any founder or CEO in their twenties … man … every day is an adventure. And so one of the things that I would council, you know, if there are founders on this … is try to spend as much time as you can to really understand people and, you know, take notes along the way of what you’ve learned. Because there, there are a lot of a lot of gems in there. I think ultimately what you’re hired to do …. I believe is as a CEO … is to develop people.

It’s what I went through …. my own sort of journey on, you know. Coming from Bain before I started Eloqua … I was maniacally focused on generating measurable value for customers. That was… that Bain’s true north. And so that really took me through some dark days at Eloqua. I mean Eloqua was a bootstrapped company for over three and a half years before we raised any money. We almost went bankrupt four times. It was that focus on making sure we made money for customers every day and that they saw the value …  they experienced value … that is what allowed us to get through the tech wreck of 2001 to 2004. That said … as a CEO it’s very limited what you’re able to do. Maybe you can do occasional powerpoint … you can present something on stage or what not. But 90 percent of your tools are people … and if you can’t figure out how to get the most out of people, then you are not doing your job. And ultimately my board and Eloqua felt like I wasn’t getting as much out of people as the new guy … so they made a change.

Stephen Cummins

So Mark … I imagine that when you create something like that, it becomes almost like your baby. I know that Godard would have been affected for a little while when that happened to him. You know, at the time, you know, … because I can see that was kind have a break for you between 2007 and 2010. Did that hit you hard?

Mark Organ

It did hit me hard! Not so much because it was my baby … I think I had good advisers who coach me to  dissociate my founder role from the CEO role – and I was really focused on being the best CEO that I could be. And…  there I think where some legitimate reasons for making a change. I also think there are some illegitimate reasons for making a change. I won’t go into it here. You know, at the end of the day look, I was still a shareholder of the company. And if the board felt like a professional CEO could come in to drive more value … at the time there were 165 people that were depending on me and senior leadership … there were hundreds of customers that were depending on us.

So that’s actually not what he hit me hard … it was actually more mundane things. All my friends were in a company. I’d sold every asset I had to put it into the company. You know, so that was hard being away … and a lot of the people – my friends in the company – didn’t know how to treat me … didn’t know if I was a friend or an enemy or what. So that was weird and that was difficult. But there are also things that were wonderful … look I had at a time a four months old little girl.

Stephen Cummins

So, you had time to spend with her.

Mark Organ

I had time to spend with my wife I those years … 2007 to 2010. We built a very strong marriage which has been very useful … building a new company.

We went on some adventures. I actually moved to Asia for two years based in Singapore, and that was a riot.

Stephen Cummins

I love Singapore. Great food. 3 cultures in one place.

Mark Organ

Yeah .. you’re right – the best food in the world I think … more than 3 but it was great living and working there. I built a little business as a marketing consultant there …. and I worked with companies in China and India and Indonesia and Malaysia … a lot of fun. And I learned a ton. In fact, I brought a number of the ideas that I learned into Influitive … which is pretty useful.

Stephen Cummins

In the next episode Mark confesses to having an obsession with cash flow in the early stages of the start-ups … and explains why this obsession led to the founding of Influitive … and it’s not all business … We will also find out how many months it took him to learn to speak and understand Mandarin. And what app he used to make that happen.

Stephen Cummins

You’ve been listening to 14 minutes of SaaS. Thanks to Mike Quill for his creativity and problem solving skills and to Ketsu for the music. This episode was brought to you by me, Stephen Cummins. If you enjoy the podcast, please don’t forget to share it with your network, subscribe to the series and give the show a rating.

 

14 Minutes of SaaS