Around 14,000 people came to Boston for HubSpot’s #INBOUND15 conference this week. Fourteen thousand. For a company that helps you run your Web site more effectively. What’s going on here?
This is what disruption without the swagger looks like. And it ought to be a model for every startup from now on.
“Inbound” is a pretty simple idea about how to do marketing differently, focused on search and drawing people in rather than advertising. From the HubSpot site:
We called the traditional method “outbound” — because it was fundamentally about pushing a message out and started calling the new way “inbound.” Inbound is about pulling people in by sharing relevant information, creating useful content, and generally being helpful.
The crowd at #INBOUND15 was not only large and enthusiastic, but far younger than I’ve seen at any other technology conference. They piled in to see keynotes from headliners like Amy Schumer, and Aziz Ansari. Pretty much everybody I know who styles themselves a thought leader presented a session, including Jason Falls, Shel Israel, Anil Dash, Rachel Happe, Ann Handley, Mitch Joel, Charlene Li, Rohit Bhargava, Chris Brogan, David Meerman Scott, and Frank Eliason. That same audience was also overflowing rooms to hear tactical sessions with titles like “How buy buttons are reshaping eCommerce” and “Seven reasons even your mom would ignore your email.”
On the other side of the continent, the most obsessive fans on the planet were crammed into Apple’s auditorium eager to hear every detail of the better iPhone camera and the bigger iPad. As HubSpot’s founders Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan took the stage in front over several thousand people, I wondered: could they outhype Apple?
Theirs was the most straightforward presentation of features I’ve ever seen at an event like this. There weren’t any of the usual tricks, excepting a a sort-of cheesy opening video and a big box full of gold glitter.
Dharmesh talked about new features like SSL (secure Web sites), predictive lead scoring, and reporting. Brian explained how the company’s new sales features would benefit buyers as much as sellers by streamlining the sales process. And the crowd loved every minute of it.
This audience was full of people who run small sites and small businesses. They’re not into cool tech. The cool thing for them is that now, they can do it themselves. Sites, tracking, commerce, sales — you no longer need a team of experts to do them right. The Web does the work, and HubSpot makes the work manageable. HubSpot empowers a few people to get a lot done quickly and make changes on the fly, which is how it works in a small business. That’s what got that crowd excited — they want to get stuff done, and HubSpot is helping them. Efficiency and empowerment is sexy enough, even if it doesn’t come in rose gold and generate 12 megapixel photos.
Apple’s iPhone disrupted the phone business forever. Salesforce.com disrupted cusotmer databases. Uber is disrupting taxis. These companies make a lot of noise about how they empower people; they talk a lot about themselves and their new way of doing things.
HubSpot just says “Hey, small business types, nobody is serving you. We’ll give you a way to run your site profitably yourself. We’ll throw in a load of useful content along with it. And when it’s time for our announcement, you’ll see we’re paying attention. We’ll just find a few ways to make things a little easier for you.”
Thinking disruptively? You don’t need to dream as big as Uber and Apple and salesforce. Just make things a little easier, do it cheaply, and listen for and deliver the improvements your customers are asking for.
Humble disruptors are the future of technology and commerce.
Here’s the keynote video. I don’t recommend watching the whole hour and 45 minutes, but you can see the cheesy video in the first few minutes to get an idea of how HubSpot does things.