From building a tradesman directory to creating operation systems for mining, Australian entrepreneur Mike Sharkey has been somewhat of a serial entrepreneur. As CEO and founder of Autopilot (formerly Bislr), Mike positions his company as a total but simple solution for all your marketing and sales automation needs.
Heather: You’ve had an interesting and unique journey as an entrepreneur. Can you tell me more about that and what you learned?
Mike: I wanted to be a pilot, and I needed money. Initially I made lots of money from projects on the web with my brother. Chris, my brother and our current CTO created Stayz after being approached by a guy with a holiday property who wanted to rank well with SEO on google. He realized that other property owners would be interested in this, and so my brother created the booking system for holiday properties in Australia. I was asked to help market the company, and I learnt an incredible amount from this experience.
What I think I realized from Stayz was, “You can have the best software in the world, but if they don’t use your software it doesn’t matter.” Pretty simple learning, but critical. Stayz sold in 2006, and then we started working on a web based version of Uber for cars.
Heather: What led you to get into marketing and sales automation?
Mike: Chris was published in a book about “e-business and the minds behind them” and it opened a lot of doors for us to work with companies consulting, primarily in sales and marketing tech. At the time, most of the technology being used by sales and marketing people was far too complex. These were the days when Force.com and Salesforce were rising, salespeople has all this great technology but marketers were being ignored. We thought to ourselves, “what if marketers had their own force.com but for marketing technology?”
Heather: How is Autopilot different than other marketing and sales automation tools?
Mike: If you look at the state of marketing automation today you see a market where most companies have gone out and installed these heavy solutions that are 10+ years old and packed with features. They spend a lot of time configuring the solutions and they invest heavily training a handful of people on their team. The end result is only those handful of people in the company can actually utilize the technology, so the rest of the marketing and sales team get no real benefit. Then they lock you into these contracts for several years because they live in fear you will figure out that the cost just doesn’t equal value. Sirrus Decisions literally did research saying 75% of marketers who own marketing automation are not seeing the value from their investment. I think that says it all.
Autopilot is building a platform for marketing and sales technology that everyone can use. Where marketers can self install the technology, self evaluate the technology and see value right away… think Optimizely for Marketing Automation. We’re invested in the success of those that use our technology and opening up our platform so everyone can contribute to a better platform for this technology.
Heather: How did Autopilot grow so quickly?
Mike: Competitors today take a long time to implement their technology and have large sales organizations, we see some companies taking 3-6 months to implement their solutions. Instead we focus on our trials of Autopilot (Marketing Automation) and Prospect Ace (Sales Automation) to allow our customers to self evaluate and self install. When they start seeing immediate value, the buying decision become obvious. We’ve also eaten our own dog food in that we religiously use Prospect Ace with Autopilot to build our pipeline and grow our business. We’re our biggest power user… we really build the product for high growth focused companies.
Heather: Tell me more about Prospect Ace.
Mike Prospect Ace provides a way for finding verified email addresses and demographic information for people who are your ideal customer. We take this information from different social sources and allow you to start automated outbound prospecting campaigns immediately. Some of our customers generate more than 50% of their pipeline using Prospect Ace.
It’s incredibly quick too. In just minutes you can put together a big list of customers that is very targeted. You could create a list of 2,000 B2B prospects in the Bay Area for example. Afterwards it starts marketing to those people automatically in the background until they become engaged, and then you can sell to them. This is great for achieving predictable revenue.
It’s also very helpful for contextual marketing, and can be used beyond just email, including social channels such as Twitter. For example, you can track a hashtag on Twitter for a trade show that might have ideal prospect e.g. “#dreamforce” and turn those tweeting prospects into leads with verified contact information.
Heather: You’ve mentioned before that you write frequently. What kinds of things do you write about, and what do you think about the state of inbound marketing?
Mike: I just try to write about what no one else is writing about. Inbound marketing is becoming overwhelming these days. Everyone is recycling the same junk, and it’s all noise with not a lot of signal. As marketers, we’ve told everyone to create content and blog, “because it works for me and I’m a blogger or hired an army of writers.” However, many people aren’t good at producing content or don’t have the budget to recruit an army of writers. I think writing about what no one else is writing about or working on less content that has a bigger impact is more important now. For example, instead of writing a blog about how to generate predictable revenue from prospecting I decided to make Prospect Ace with our team to solve the problem – that’s gotta be better content right?
Heather: You’ve criticized lean startup before. What kind of approach do you recommend instead for startups?
Mike: My criticism of lean startup was actually taken out of context in that article. I don’t think it’s a bad model and I believe in the underlying principles, but I don’t think it should be taken as gospel like most people do… there just isn’t a single philosophy to building a successful business. The lean startup is often an excuse for these one feature focused startups. I feel like as a community maybe this excuse has stopped innovation and dreamers a little. For example, you don’t get a Tesla from out of this interpretation of lean startup. Sometimes in business you have to take big risks, take on crazy challenges and do things that seem stupid to create something big.
Heather: Looking at the future, what is Autopilot thinking about?
Mike: To me what’s super exciting is marketing and sales technology is still a greenfield market. The innovation and disruption has really just started. We hear a lot about the promises of the vision of marketing and sales technology: how it will be intelligent, contextually aware and more automated.
But I think in reality what most marketing and sales professionals want is a platform where they can access this ecosystem of technology today, where it’s not some year long project to implement when it is available, but as easy as using a simple app on their phone.
We sit around and think a lot about how to bring the technology of tomorrow into the hands of our customers today, to give them a competitive advantage and give them a marketplace of sales and marketing technology with the common goal of driving top line revenue. For example, we can extract leads from twitter today who tweet about a specific conference hashtag and then email them to follow up. How cool is that?
If you or your company would like to be featured in a Sales4Startups interview, please contact Heather (at) salesfolk.com. You can also get in touch with Heather if your business is looking for help with your copywriting and content marketing.