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Entrepreneur Stories

Our idea was to build a company that solves the biggest marketing problem in existence. We're not out to make an incremental change. We're transforming the whole concept and practice of marketing. - Dharmesh Shah, HubSpot

Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah knew the traditional marketing playbook was broken. So they figured out a way to disrupt an entire industry, introducing Inbound Marketing.

Throwing Out the Playbook

Boston guys Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah believe in transformation. After graduating from MIT’s Sloan School of Management, the duo set out to fundamentally change the way marketing is conducted.

The pair had successful careers before meeting at Sloan, Brian in sales and Dharmesh as a serial entrepreneur. But, it wasn’t until Brian began working as an EIR for another prominent VC firm that they began to discuss ideas for what would ultimately become HubSpot.

In Brian’s role as an EIR, he was tasked with helping the firm’s portfolio companies scale through sales and marketing, and he quickly realized that traditional approaches were completely broken. People were tired of being marketed to -- they’d become immune to traditional marketing.

That’s when he gave Dharmesh a call. Dharmesh had grown the traffic of his popular OnStartups blog to a site with 10 times more traffic than most of the venture-backed startups Brian assisted, and he did it without any emailing, cold calling, or advertising. This was unheard of in 2006.

 “The fundamental way that people live, shop, and learn has changed, and you need to map the way you market to the way that humans operate today,” said Dharmesh at the time. This idea became the core kernel of HubSpot.

From that point on, Brian and Dharmesh worked tirelessly to build the first modern marketing company that would help businesses transition from old school marketing techniques to something new and different, something intelligent, something that motivated customers to come to them. Brian and Dharmesh defined this something “Inbound Marketing” and in doing so they effectively created a new category. In fact, they wrote the definitive book on how it should be done -- Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media and Blogs.

 The idea of inbound versus outbound marketing has become one of the most important insights in the marketing world to date. It aligns the way that companies sell their products with how users actually like to go about researching and purchasing. And, if practiced well, inbound marketing generates a large flow of very qualified new leads.  

“Our idea was not to build a company that we could sell for millions in a few years; the idea was to build a company that solves the biggest marketing problem in existence,” said Dharmesh. “We’re not out to make an incremental change. We’re transforming the whole concept and practice of marketing.”

And they might transform the city of Boston along the way. Brian was raised in Boston and had watched his city’s prominence as a major computer center be overtaken by Silicon Valley during the PC boom and the Internet gold rush. Dharmesh had also called Boston home for more than a decade, developing strong ties to the area. As such, these founders hold steadfast to the belief that HubSpot should be a Boston anchor company.

“Our focus has always been on creating a big, sustainable company, but it has been equally important to create that presence in Boston,” said Brian. “Our goal is to build a west coast-style company here that will endure and outlast us. It will be bigger than ourselves.”

Matrix Partners’ commitment to its entrepreneurs, reputation, and Boston roots were among the characteristics that appealed to Brian and Dharmesh when the time came to seek funding. Brian had known Matrix general partner David Skok for some time before starting HubSpot, and he knew that he wanted Matrix involved after seeing the value the firm added to its portfolio companies across all areas. The match was right on both sides.

“Investing in HubSpot was a very easy decision for us. I had been impressed with Brian and Dharmesh prior to HubSpot, and then they came to us with this idea and technology that I knew from personal experience was desperately needed,” said David Skok. “HubSpot really is a defining technology. It is the first company to recognize how marketing needed to change to adapt to the Internet’s influence on buying behavior.”

Today the concept of Inbound Marketing is not so foreign. Companies around the world turn to HubSpot to drive their marketing initiatives, and HubSpot continues to innovate, even when it comes to their company culture. Bucking the big company trend of management hierarchy, Brian and Dharmesh believe in cultivating a flat management style that makes room for employees to try and fail if need be. It is all part of what it takes to overhaul an entire industry. 

Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan

Co-Founder & CTO / Co-Founder & CEO


HubSpot offers a suite of tools for Internet marketers to increase lead generation and customer conversion.

Matrix Partners Board Members

David Skok