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Journey to a Unicorn (And How We're Doing It Even Better This Time)

Scott Dorsey, former CEO of ExactTarget and current managing partner of High Alpha, talks about his journey as a founder to a Salesforce acquisition to an advisor for the next generation of entrepreneurs. His experience ranges from acquisitions, to establishing culture, to customer success.

Over the next three days, DataFox will summarize the SaaStr 2016 panels. If you miss the tactical theater or strategy stage, are networking on the ground, or didn’t get a chance to attend this great conference, we’ve got you covered.

View all SaaStr 2016 panel summaries

Special thanks to Jason Lemkin of SaaStr for putting on this conference and giving us the chance to publish these summaries.

In a nutshell:

  • Acquisitions can be a solid way to expand, especially internationally.
  • Listen to your customers and let their feedback guide your product.
  • Build a product you’re passionate about.

ExactTarget

Dorsey’s initial vision was to build a product that helps SMBs send email to connect with their customers. He stayed true to the SMB and enterprise focus, which helped avoid distractions down the line. He also learned the value of playing to his strengths; he set up shop in Indianapolis, where he enjoyed lower costs and easy access to talent from local universities. He cites strong culture and values as the backbone of the business - those two traits became a huge differentiator in the increasingly crowded B2B market.

The company made heavy use of acquisitions as a strategy for expansion. Its acquisitions, including CoTweet, Pardot, iGoDigital and Keymail Marketing, helped it expand internationally to the UK, Australia and Brazil.

ExactTarget’s growth eventually caught Salesforce’s eye, and the company was renamed to the Salesforce Marketing Cloud after Dorsey stepped down as CEO in 2014.

The Salesforce days

Dorsey spent a year reporting directly to Marc Benioff. There, he learned quite a bit about building a SaaS business. Among his takeaways were the “V2 MOM” model: vision, values, methods, obstacles and metrics. He had three priorities while at Salesforce, many of which are broadly applicable:

  • Being upfront about annual billing
  • Building out a sales organization (check out another SaaStr panel, “Building a World-Class Sales Organization”, for more tactics)
  • Integrating acquisitions (like ExactTarget) from a technical, organizational and cultural perspective

High Alpha and accelerating SaaS entrepreneurs

As a managing partner at High Alpha, Dorsey had some advice for would-be entrepreneurs:

  1. Solve a real problem that you’re passionate about.
  2. Stay close to your customers - if you listen, customers will guide you and shape where you’ll go.
  3. Surround yourself with extraordinary talent; don’t settle for mediocrity.
  4. Don’t give up.

Check out all of our SaaStr panel summaries here, follow us on Twitter at @datafoxco to see live tweets of the event, and visit SaaStr itself for more great content.