Last August, Comet Tale had the chance to interview Evertrue’s Dean of Marketing, Harvey Simmons (@HOSimmons4). Amidst the quiet of the pre-lunch crowd by the South Station food trucks, Harvey’s bright green pants made a loud entrance. While some ascribe to the idea of “casual Friday,” Evertruers take Friday as a chance to have a little fun and dress to the nines. Over the delicious noodles of Bon Me (food trucks seem to fit well within the startup mold with their quality, fast, and mobile service), Harvey began to discuss the art of marketing.
Comet Tale: To start with, could you just tell us a little about your marketing experience?
Harvey Simmons: As I was going into my senior year, I worked for an agency in New York City called Landor Associates, part of the WPP group and it was very much a big brand play. You get to work with clients like Verizon and we did a big campaign for West Point as part of our internship projects. But for me, I wanted to work with something where you feel more closely aligned with the business. I think the benefit of agency life is that you can work with and touch all these different things but it’s cool to be on the other side—to be working internally within a marketing department. I got the startup bug during my senior year when I met with Mike Del Ponte, a BC alumnus, who went on to go to Yale divinity school then went on to create this program for student entrepreneurs who were particularly interested in social innovation and social entrepreneurship. He was talking at BC about that and from there he introduced me to the concept of Branch Out which was essentially LinkedIn on Facebook. So I worked remotely in Boston for their office in San Francisco and created a marketing associate program which extended to about 15 different campuses along with Kevin Hylant who now works at SCVNGR, now Level Up. We worked to get the word out there, user acquisition, and user feedback from a young student perspective from all these different campuses and that really made me realize I wanted to work for a startup.
I got the vibe of what their culture was like and it seemed to be very fast paced: do now apologize later type mentality which is super relevant for anybody who wants to work in a startup. The flexibility for creativity and the getting stuff done mentality really appealed to me. I looked around Boston, landed at Hubspot for a while and learned a ton. Met some amazing people. I realized pretty quickly though that I didn’t want to do sales so I started networking through things like Greenhorn Connect and through things like MITX. Through that and through Techstars I connected with our founder Brent Grinna and from there I’ve been with Evertrue for about two years now doing very much an inbound marketing focused strategy. Hopefully now that our products are becoming more fully fledged we can start doing more product marketing.
Comet Tale: To take it back in time a little further when did you know you wanted to do marketing?
HS: I was a philosophy major and I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. I was set up in logic class and started studying for the LSAT and then I took a course with Gina Caruso in the communications department. It was like advertising 101 and I just fell in love with it. We did this project on D’Angelos and it was totally out there and a little bit wacky but we had a ton of fun with it and I was just like this is what I want to do. It’s that moment where the strategy meets creative that I find particularly rewarding. How can you come up with the research and understanding and the demographics and the market for the people that you’re trying to help and then look at how can I really convey what our company or our offerings or our products are going to do for them in a helpful way. You don’t want to help everyone in the sense that if your product can’t help everyone then you shouldn’t be selling to everyone. You want to market and sell only to people to whom you can make a substantial difference in their lives and make them happier and make them more successful and make them reach a better understanding of who they are.
CT: Now that you’ve been doing it for a couple years, what keeps you coming back? What continues to fuel the passion?
HS: In some capacity it’s been a transition from an interest in just marketing to an interest in startups and the innovation economy here in Massachusetts. There is such an amazing community in Boston that’s super open and very mentorship driven. The amount of access that you can gain to people in this community and the amount that people want to help each other out is surprising. I didn’t expect coming right out of school that I would be able to meet so many people who would want to push me further along in my career. Since I’ve graduated things like Startup Institute and Intelligent.ly and even now General Assembly are starting to take root in Boston. They’ve really provided this additional learning layer on top of the pre-existing startup community that had already come to be. You take a look at things like that and things like MITX that has marketing hacakthons where you go in and talk to startups.
Marketing can mean a bazillion things. It can mean the billboard you see on the road, it can mean that AdWords campaign when you’re searching for something on Google. It can mean the positioning of me telling you what my company does or an ebook. There’s a bazillion things marketing can be and when you look at the big picture, that’s when it can be very interesting from a startup’s perspective. Like what elements should they focus their attention on given the stage that they’re at and that becomes almost more of a question of business.
CT: How would you compare the startup marketing community as opposed to the bigger agency?
HS: I’m a little biased because I’ve spent way more time in the startup community than the agency side and my agency side was an internship in New York City that lasted like 2.5 – 3 months. I can really speak to the startup side by saying that its strength is the amount of assistance that people want to provide each other. It’s not like people are competing against each other because there might be one startup like Smarterer that’s providing an online testing platform that rewards people who understand different knowledge pieces through quizzes and then you’ll get a company like Runkeeper that’s a personal fitness trainer. Those two marketers can help each other without being in competition with each other because they’re totally different things but they’re both trying to acquire users. They’re both trying to improve their user experience, their design, and they’re both working on that positioning. There are a lot of transferable lessons that can be intermingled with startups that I feel agencies probably don’t have as much of an opportunity to touch. When I said earlier the cool thing about an agency is that you can touch all these different types of companies and all these different types of roles, well as you progress in the startup scene, the more you can touch different companies by talking with different people and different industries. You might not be contributing directly to their work, but you would be working with people who work on their company’s marketing every day.
CT: Could you talk a little about your Evertrue experience and how that’s been?
HS: It’s been extremely rewarding and a great learning experience. I think there is a very strong open culture that we have within our team that allows us to move faster than other organizations would. When I was at Hubspot I was probably the 250th, 300th employee somewhere around there. To go out and just do something that you really wanted to do would have been a lot more difficult than it would be in a company that was 8 employees when I joined but now is 25. That growth itself has been extremely interesting to see. What does a company look like when it’s 8, what does it look like when it’s 12, what does it look like when it’s 18, 20? It doesn’t sound like a big difference but 16 is two times as many people as 8 so that actually ends up changing a lot of the different ways a company is. In our case we maintained very much that friendly family type of nature. We’re at a really exciting juncture right now. We received our Series A from Bain Capital that allows us to support our mission even stronger. Our mission is really: to build stronger relationships in pursuit of a better world. I think even being a part of the process of coming up with a mission statement is pretty amazing and it’s going to be a few exciting years ahead.
CT: Startups aren’t new to the ideas of innovation and change. Marketing seems to be going through a big period of change itself with social media and social concepts entering the picture. How do you see it changing and what do you hope to do with that?
HS: Hubspot had this week their Inbound conference and had 5400 people in attendance there which without context might not sound like a ton of people but it’s pretty outstanding when you consider that this is their third or fourth year doing it. People are starting to realize that we’ve already made this transitional shift from being able to block out messages that come out to us. Really hard direct marketing is no longer super effective unless it’s extremely viral and even then it has a very short shelf life so what marketers have had to focus on now is how can I make my prospect or how can I make my user or how can I make my customer better at what they do? How can I make content that’s going to be useful for them? And how can I now use these social channels to talk to them in a one on one voice? Never before has it been so easy for a brand or a company or a startup to really interact with a customer base so transparently and in such a one on one manner. I think we’ve gone from direct marketing to this kind of inbound marketing so you can maybe call outbound to inbound and I think the next step is providing tools. So you’re going to see more and more brands providing free tools like software and really solid information pieces that can help their prospects or their consumers be better at whatever it is they’re trying to do.
CT: If you were to coin a term for this new form of marketing, what would you call it?
HS: Human, maybe. It’s just something that was a really popular theme during Inbound, the conference. How can we make the things that we’re doing less like machines and more like people. That for me is the super strong driver and one of the major reasons why I joined Evertrue early on. Fundamentally our platform is helping people meet—not online but actually meet in person and actually have an enriching experience through authentic communication which needs to happen more. There’s going to be, I think, a really strong push to that and mobile’s only been around so long. I don’t think we really know the power of it yet. We have to look away from the devices a little bit. Portable technology might even additionally change how we’re looking at everything internally at Evertrue.
We did a million step challenge where everybody in the office, and we have a blog post on it, wore a little chip and for 100 days we tried to hit a million steps. We almost all got there. It’s things like that that were cool and that we can talk about and relate to. It’s like, how do we make this big data quote unquote this buzz term, how do we make that human? How do we make that not just numbers and quantitative but actually bring the quantitative to qualitative? It would be mind blowing when it happens but we’ll eventually get there.
CT: I want to turn now to the reunion crashers video. I thought it was an engaging, fun parody. Could you talk a little about what went into the creation of that?
HS: For us I think we want to do more and more pieces of content like that. We decided it was time to take a risk and do something like that. We honestly had no idea what the response was going to be. We thought it was going to be strong. We kind of tested it out before launching it by getting some feedback from prospects and from customers and people who have had fun with us at reunions. We tend to have a really fun, approachable team so it just matched really well culturally for us and also as an internal piece we enjoyed it. I think it got a lot of turnaround in the startup community too which was also fun but the really nice thing was that it really spoke to our client base and the community we’re trying to connect to.
CT: Did you do that in-house or did you bring someone on for that?
HS: We did all of the copy in-house. The screenwriting was largely done in-house but we did have a producer/director [Courtney Petrouski] who helped with a lot of logistics on the day of and we had an awesome videographer as well [Elan Alexenberg] who took some killer shots and had some serious killer chops. I think it’s helpful to have consultation but nobody knows the market than the company that’s doing it so you can’t fake that. A lot of that has to come internally, particularly if you have the young people and the people who are creative enough to imagine those things.
CT: Looking towards the future what are you looking to do with video?
HS: Everything. I think we really want to always ask ourselves how can we incorporate video into this messaging that we’re doing. Hopefully as our team gets bigger we’ll have more resources and larger bandwidth to the point where we can do video for a majority of our marketing pieces and even for our customer pieces or onboarding pieces. We also use Wistia as our hosting service. We love those guys. All along the way we want to be able to interact with people through video because we think it’s extremely effective.