There are a handful of people who, if I ever started my own company, would receive a “I’ll-give-you-whatever-you-want-to-join” call from me. My colleague Elle Woulfe would get a call. Nobody understands the machinery of the demand generation engine better than Elle. Wunderkind Adam Singer of Google’s phone would ring. That’s for sure. And so would Sarah Hodges, the founder of Intelligent.ly, head of marketing for Smarterer, and all around data factotum.
Tomorrow, Elle and I will present on how to generate demand with content marketing at Intelligent.ly, the “start-up school” that Hodges recently launched. In preparation for the class, I was able to grab a few minutes of Sarah’s time for a quick interview. Here’s what I learned.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received since officially becoming an entrepreneur?
If something doesn’t feel right, solve it now. Don’t let it sit and marinate.
You’ve got 20 words to describe Intelligent.ly, use ‘em wisely:
Intelligent.ly’s Boston campus gives you the skills you need to win, from people who’ve done it before.
What “problem” are you trying to solve?
We’re solving two problems with Intelligent.ly. First, entrepreneur and investor Dave Balter and I have seen a tremendous amount of energy emerge in the Boston start-up community. Seasoned entrepreneurs are ready to give back by sharing their experiences, and newcomers are eager to soak up their knowledge. Intelligent.ly connects these folks to help them learn and grow.
Second, whether you’re working as the lone marketer inside a startup, or as a member of a fast-paced team in a larger company, it’s easy to hit a professional development wall. Maybe you don’t have access to the resources you need, or the people around you are faced with demands that make it difficult to spare time for mentorship. Intelligent.ly allows professionals to learn a new skill in as little as 90-minutes, while fostering connections with a supportive network. Companies in Boston see the value — over ten organizations have already pledged their support though our Employee Class Program in just a few weeks.
What’s been your most popular class, thus far?
Balter’s OGSM Strategy Framework class and Christopher O’Donnell’s Developing Successful Products class are head to head for the title.
Does class registration correlate to the questions you are asked the most? In other words, what are the most common topics entrepreneurs want to understand more thoroughly?
Product Management is a popular topic — everyone inside an organization tends to want a say in product decisions! Strategy & Leadership and Marketing classes are also in high demand. Entrepreneurs are hungry for guidance as they move through the different levels of growing a business, and Boston has a strong contingent of young marketers who are ready to hone their skills.
How does Intelligent.ly differ from General Assemb.ly?
General Assemb.ly is doing a fantastic job re-branding the concept of vocational school, expanding internationally across a handful of cities this year. Intelligent.ly is focused on one core mission — promoting community building in Boston through the transfer of skills. We’re by Boston, for Boston, and are committed to helping this city thrive, by enabling professionals to connect.
I was talking to Jeremiah Owyang the other day about the difference between the tech start-up scenes in Boston, New York and the Valley. How would you characterize what makes each unique?
I don’t think I can give an educated opinion on this one… Boston certainly strikes me as a tight community. We’re concentrated in a small space, are home to a strong group of experienced entrepreneurs, and we’re extremely supportive. The Valley is clearly more dispersed, but boasts an abundance of resources. New York seems to be experiencing the same boost in momentum we’ve seen in Boston recently–there are over 24,000 people in the New York Tech Meetup!
You come out of RunKeeper, one of Boston’s most successful start-ups, you work closely with Dave Balter, one of the city’s top entrepreneurs and investors, and you also run marketing at Smarterer, yet another on-the rise company. What’s behind this fascination you have with start-ups?
I’m addicted to the opportunity to watch the seed of an idea grow into an business with scalable distributed impact. All three of the startups you mention have a common thread — helping people improve their quality of life. Whether it’s encouraging people to get healthier (RunKeeper), enabling people to show what they know to find better career matches (Smarterer), or giving people the skills they need to win (Intelligent.ly). I’ve also never been good at focusing on one thing at a time; inside a startup you wear whatever hat is most needed on any given day.
Most of our readers are marketing professionals, not entrepreneurs. Are there general marketing lessons you’ve learned through entrepreneurial experience that you wish you knew when you were “just” a marketer?
I’ve been a hardcore devotee of the “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” philosophy. I was never interested in content marketing, because I thought it was tough to measure (it’s actually not!). In fact, I even remember a few battles with you*, in which I vehemently argued against “content marketing fluff.” Well, I’m now in awe of what you’ve achieved at Eloqua! Jason Jacobs, CEO of RunKeeper, was also an incredible mentor on this front, teaching me about the importance of storytelling and finding creating ways to spread your message. I’ve carried what I’ve learned through to Smarterer and Intelligent.ly.
I also truly believe that everyone on your team is a marketer. From the engineers, to your CEO, to the Product team, it’s important to be open to feedback. Every great idea doesn’t have to come from the Marketing team, but it’s up to you to execute and deliver results.