Do young founders evolve?
Last Thursday, Jebbit, an interactive marketing platform that has recently expanded into more data-driven products, held its first-ever customer conference, which featured talks from co-founders Tom Coburn and Jonathan Lacoste, as well as HubSpot’s Kipp Bodner.
The long-planned event, however, hit a bit of bad luck that, in the end, was quite fortuitous.
You see, the Jebbit Customer Conference 2017 was supposed to be held at Fenway. But when one of the Pirates-Sox games was rained out during opening week, that game was rescheduled to Thursday afternoon, and Jebbit’s inaugural event was without a home. With some help from the Sox, Jebbit was able to move its conference to the Commonwealth Hotel in Kenmore — a spot with a great view of the Green Monster no less. At the event, Coburn and Lacoste unveiled a strategic shift that has been a long time in the making when it announced its Declared-Data Platform to the 100 customers in attendance — folks like Expedia, CBS, Gannett, Sonesta Hotels, and more.
If that wasn’t enough, Jebbit ended up with a whole bunch of tickets to the game up in the Budweiser Deck to bring over the conference attendees for quite possibly the greatest event after-parties ever.
Showing a lot of flexibility, Jebbit made the most of an unexpected turn of events on Thursday. That shouldn’t be a surprise; the company has been quietly adjusting to changes in online marketing for the past few years.
As Jebbit is out raising its Series A, they are dealing with something that I’ve heard again and again in Boston from companies built out of college or by young founders. For whatever reason, there seems to be a belief that unseasoned or young entrepreneurs in Boston cannot effectively scale their businesses.
This is something that has plagued LevelUp, Drizly, VentureApp, Attend.com, CustomMade, and many, many other young startups. Many in the VC world don’t expect these companies to be able to evolve to the market and grow. And so, they either hesitate to invest, or, even worse, if they are already involved, they push for a change in leadership.
With Jebbit, which was borne out of BC as a way to advertise to students through quick online surveys, shaking what they were, to what they’ve become, has been quite challenging. Now, as Coburn explains it, customers of its products are using Jebbit as an enterprise data tool that allows them to take mobile experiences to capture valuable customer data. “This opens up new use cases that an enterprise can use outside of marketing,” Coburn said.
As Coburn told me recently, getting a meeting with a local VC can pose a challenge. “I think they assume that what a young entrepreneur’s company was two, three, or four years ago is the same thing that company is now.”
Just for some perspective, Jebbit is a six-year-old company. HubSpot had been in existence for eight years when it went public. (Although, Jebbit was bootstrapped for three years while most of the team was building the company AND studying at BC.)
The Jebbit CEO told me that during the meetings he has had, he has had to fight to explain that over the last four years, the company’s primary product has matured into a data-driven marketing tool and is no longer a college student engagement program.
“People here in Boston, because they’ve known us, still think of us as a survey company, even thought we abandoned that years ago,” he said. “Could you imagine people thinking that you haven’t changed at all in six years?”
“You can decide to stay the course and build out what you’ve started, and that has worked for some companies locally,” Coburn told me. “Or, if you think it will be better for you, you go in a different direction.”
“What everyone was saying about us back then was true, we were a survey company,” Coburn said. “But as we’ve grown up so has this company.”
From people outside the company, I’ve heard that one or two local VCs have changed their minds about Jebbit as they try to fill out their Series A. The rest of the local VCs might be out of luck if they realize too late that these aren’t kids tinkering with a college student app. Like a few other young, local startups raising funding these days, Jebbit might be heading west to talk to investors who don’t have outdated, preconceived notions of the company.
This week, Michael Skok of _Underscore.VC suggested Zaius, a marketing automation, analytics, and CRM software platform, as a local company that isn’t getting enough attention. According to Skok, Zaius “has built the next-generation B2C marketing platform to address fragmented data and customer experiences caused by legacy marketing platforms and patchwork of point solutions.”
“There is a massive market opportunity — the problem is as big for B2C companies as it is for B2B companies and can you imagine a B2B company without a CRM?” he said.
When I asked Skok why they are under-the-radar, he said that until recently the team has been focused on “building a best in class technology platform.” Over the last year, they have really achieved tremendous customer traction and brought on stellar sales and marketing leadership focused on expanding their Boston team out of their North End HQ.”
“The team is nothing short of phenomenal and they will not stay quiet for long,” Skok added.
Submissions for Utterly Biased on Medium
With a shortened Utterly Biased this week, I thought it would be a great time to reveal a new way that Utterly Biased is trying to help Boston tell its story.
This week I launched Utterly Biased as a Medium Publication. Separate from the blog and the newsletter, UB on Medium will serve as an outlet for anyone in Boston who has a good story to tell or some piece of experiential advice that could be helpful to others looking to be more innovative and impactful in their lives and businesses.
Anyone interested in sharing their stories on the Utterly Biased Medium page, shoot me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is the first in a series of different products that Utterly Biased will be pushing out to continue to serve as a megaphone for the untold stories and the truly innovative people from Boston’s innovation and entrepreneur community.