Ultraviolet Keynote Sessions: Scott Dorsey
Bobby Tichy: Welcome to the In the Clouds podcast. In the Clouds is a marketing Cloud podcast powered by Lev, the most influential marketing- focused Salesforce consultancy in the world. Lev is customer experience- obsessed, and podcast hosts Bobby Tichy and Cole Fisher have partnered with some of the world's most well- known brands to help them master meaningful one- on- one connections with their customers. In this podcast, they'll combine strategy and deep technical expertise to share best practices, how- tos, and real- life use cases and solutions for the world's top brands using Salesforce products today. Welcome to the In the Clouds podcast. This is Bobby Tichy, along with Cole Fisher, and we are introducing the fireside chats and conversations that we're recapping from Ultraviolet, Lev's first remote conference that we had back in April 2021. And this first one is with Cole and I's former boss, Scott Dorsey.
Cole Fisher: Yeah. That's a good way to put it. Former CEO of crosstalk.
Bobby Tichy: I mean, we were levels down the chain, but technically he was our boss.
Cole Fisher: He was a little further up.
Bobby Tichy: Yeah. He kind of did well, probably further along in his career than you or I are.
Cole Fisher: He's not hosting an In the Clouds podcast with Bobby Tichy and Cole Fisher, but he's doing okay.
Bobby Tichy: Hopefully at some point, things will start looking up for him. So for those of you who don't know, Scott Dorsey was the co- founder and former CEO of ExactTarget, which went public and then also was ultimately acquired by Salesforce, which is now inaudible the cornerstone for Salesforce marketing Cloud. So he sat down with the CEO of Lev, Michael Burton. Hope you guys enjoy.
Michael Burton: Hello. Welcome to Ultraviolet. This is really exciting. I'm Michael Burton. I'm the CEO of Lev. For our very first keynote today, I'm excited and fortunate to be able to welcome Scott Dorsey, managing partner at High Alpha, also former CEO of ExactTarget and co- founder of ExactTarget, which was acquired by Salesforce back in 2013, eventually became Salesforce marketing Cloud. Scott, again, thank you and welcome.
Scott Dorsey: Hey, thanks Michael. I'm really honored to be here, and congratulations on your first user conference. This is quite special.
Michael Burton: Yeah, it's fun. I'm looking forward to hopefully next year being back in Indianapolis having everyone face- to- face, inaudible that Connections magic from years ago, for sure.
Scott Dorsey: Absolutely. I can picture you coming out on the stage with music blaring and a big crowd, so we can wish for next year.
Michael Burton: I love it, especially as an introvert. That's exactly what I need, lots of music and build- up, no pressure on me whatsoever.
Scott Dorsey: That's right.
Michael Burton: Scott, when I said fortunate, I really mean that because I think back about my role now at Lev, I think about even just this event and Lev in the current format that exists today, it just wouldn't be around without the connections back to ExactTarget and that foundation where many of us are rooted in. And for those that are maybe unfamiliar with ExactTarget, can you maybe just take a couple minutes and talk about the history of ExactTarget, how it led up to Salesforce?
Scott Dorsey: Yeah, it'd be my pleasure, Michael. And sincerely, this is a joy for me to be a part of the program today. So we started ExactTarget in early 2001, a very long time ago, and we were so fortunate. We were three first- time entrepreneurs with very little technical skills, but we had a vision that marketing was going to be transformed with the advent of the internet, and we're so fortunate. We caught the wave of digital marketing. We caught the wave of software as a service and Cloud. And we built a really special culture and very special group of people in Indianapolis that love marketers and love serving marketers. And we just had this extraordinary journey. We started our serving very small customers, like really small. Think mom and pop retailers. And then by the end of our journey, we were serving clients like Nike and Bank of America and Expedia and Microsoft, and the whole journey was just pretty remarkable and very special for us. We ended up building the company to about 2, 000 employees with offices all over the world. We went public on the New York Stock Exchange in March of 2012. And then Salesforce knocked on our door about a year later, and we joined Salesforce in summer of 2013. And that proved to be a wonderful decision for our customers and for our employees. So end- to- end, it was just the experience of a lifetime and I'm very grateful for it.
Michael Burton: That's great. That's an awesome story, and I started at ExactTarget in May of 2013, so I got a whole month in before the news of the Salesforce acquisition, but still was excited to be a part of the family and be a part of that entire journey. When did you feel like there was something special with ExactTarget?
Scott Dorsey: Probably similar to you, Michael, with your journey at Lev. In the early days, you're just trying to make the business work, one foot in front of the other. You're trying to survive and build product and services and serve customers. And then over time, you start to realize you're onto something and you start to seem some really signs of impact. And for me, there's so many little experiences along the way, but two that I would highlight, Michael. The first was our decision to be a downtown company. So, early 2000s, all tech companies were up in the suburbs, think office park and big parking lots with lots of free parking, and it was not an obvious decision to be a downtown company. Where do you park? There wasn't a lot of downtown development. There was no tech downtown. But it was really important to me to be an urban company. We wanted a little bit of an urban edge, and our competitors were all coastal. So we were competing against companies in New York and Boston and Atlanta and San Francisco, so having that downtown edge, I thought was important, and also thought it would make ExactTarget a more attractive employer for young talent. And that really, really happened. So that's when I think I first started feeling the impact. We moved to Monument Circle in 2005, and we were creating so many jobs and growing very quickly, we had to add a second building and a third building. And I feel like we certainly were not the singular reason, but we were on a parallel track with this renaissance of downtown Indianapolis, where more and more housing was being built and wonderful restaurants were being opened and hotels were moving into the city. And that's when I started to feel like we were making a difference. I also felt like the city and the state were just cheering us on every step of the way. I never would've imagined, Michael, that I would become close friends with the mayor of Indianapolis or the governor of Indiana, and they'd be cheering us on as we created more high tech, high paying jobs. So that was very rewarding. And then the second memory or experience that I would highlight, which I think is very akin to what we're all gathered around today, was our user conference, Connections. We started out very small. It was important for us to hold Connections in Indianapolis and make it a celebration of digital marketing and celebration of our ecosystem. Really the only time each year when our customers, partners, and employees would come together in a special way to learn together and be inspired together. And that became quite a force. We ended up having five, six thousand marketers from all over the world travel to Indianapolis, and you could just feel the impact of the city, the hotels filling up and the restaurants. We were really, really proud to show off our city and show off our team. Ultimately, our greatest competitive advantage was our remarkable team of people and our culture, and Connections was always the moment where all of that came to life.
Michael Burton: That's great. And I'm thinking about it, too, from a... We're now almost eight years since the acquisition by Salesforce, which it seems like it just flew by, and what you all built is still having an impact. Lev in its current form, five years ago it didn't exist, and we're about 300 people now. We'll probably be about 400 people by the end of the year. And I think around half of us are in the Indianapolis area and the rest are spread across the entire US. We starting to grow globally. So that's an impact eight years past acquisition. Did you ever think that that impact would resonate so far out in the future?
Scott Dorsey: No way, Michael. You're so busy building the company and trying to reach your full potential, it's hard to imagine what life after looks like. And for 12 or 13 years, I thought about nothing else besides family and friends, just digital marketing and how to help ExactTarget reach its full potential. For us to be eight years post- acquisition and still feel like ExactTarget has an impact and lives on in some ways... And you're so kind and gracious, Michael, to highlight Lev's growth and impact being a byproduct of ExactTarget. That's a very generous attribution, and I'm really proud to hear that. It's also so fun for me to see so many ExactTarget alums working at Lev, growing their careers, making an impact. And then even my daughter, Lillie, works at Lev, and she loves it, by the way. And that's life really coming full circle. But I think of ExactTarget as the gift that keeps giving, Michael. It's so rewarding to me personally, and I believe to all of us who were a part of it. And that takes many shapes and forms. We started a foundation, the ExactTarget Foundation, and then post- acquisition, we spun out the foundation under a new brand called Nextech, and we focus on computer science education throughout the state of Indiana. So we work with K through 12 schools, help them provide equitable access to building tech and digital skills, inner cities, rural areas. That's still living on in a really meaningful way. And then also, I think in a lot of special ways, our culture still lives on. And we'll probably talk more about culture, but this ExactTarget orange vibe and culture still lives on in lots of ways and I think in all the people who were part of this special experience together. So the ongoing impact is honestly well beyond my wildest dreams, but it's something I'm very, very grateful for.
Michael Burton: Yeah, we'll definitely want to come back and talk about the brand and culture. That's something that we focus a lot of our time and attention to at Lev. I was thinking about the trajectory of ExactTarget, and then going public, acquiring Pardot, and then the Salesforce acquisition. I've always been interested in knowing, from your point of view, why was Salesforce the right choice?
Scott Dorsey: Mm- hmm( affirmative). Yeah, really for so many reasons. It was interesting, Michael. We always say kind of a big brother, little brother relationship with Salesforce. As they were building the Sales Cloud, we were building the Marketing Cloud. And we learned from them in every way we could. We tore every page out of the playbook that we could. We actually integrated with Salesforce prior to the app exchange even existing. We definitely had a vision that the future of digital marketing was about leveraging data, and we knew we had to integrate in a very open, seamless way with every data source imaginable, and that led us very early to integrating with Salesforce. So, our products fit together really, really well in the early days, and then we did a lot of co- marketing and co- selling and built a really strong partner relationship. But what was interesting is, we were a public company, we had been public for 12 months, everything was going remarkably well, and we enjoyed being an independent public company. We really did. And then Salesforce came knocking, and it was just a perfect match. Salesforce was so strong in sales and service Cloud. Marketing Cloud was just getting developed. They had done two acquisitions, as you know, in the social space, Radian6 and Buddy Media, and their customers, their clients were really asking for more. They were asking for Salesforce to be the marketing database of record. They were asking for multichannel communication that was orchestrated and coordinated. And those were all technologies that we'd built at ExactTarget. And what gave me a lot of confidence, Michael, was that our values were very aligned. Salesforce and ExactTarget both focused on innovation, remarkable focus on the customer and making our customers successful, and then also philanthropy. And the Salesforce Foundation and the ExactTarget Foundation fit together very, very nicely. And there was no guarantee, but my hope was that Salesforce would fall in love with Indianapolis and would accelerate investment, and make a more meaningful impact on the community than I felt we could as an independent company. And once again, to see that many years later, just how well it's worked out, that's a wonderful feeling.
Michael Burton: Yeah. And Salesforce inaudible, yes they had the Buddy Media and Radian6, but ExactTarget was really the first big jump into marketing and thinking about B to C. And you look at just the past eight years, what they've continued to do, whether it was Datorama, they acquired a company called Evergage, they're building Customer 360 Audiences. So they're very much learning from where ExactTarget was and about that customer, and just continue to expand upon that. And we'll hear a lot about that over the next couple days, but it is interesting to see going from even thinking about email to doing everything from paid media, and now we're thinking about where does SEO fit into the mix. It's exciting to see how quickly things have changed in Salesforce, and clearly ExactTarget was a big piece of that, so that's exciting that that's continued forward. You talked about the investment in Indy. Where else have you seen that pay off as far as that investment back in the Indy community post- acquisition?
Scott Dorsey: Sure. I think the most visible way is the Salesforce Tower. So those of us that live in Indianapolis or those of you on the line that have visited Indy will now recognize it. Literally the tallest building in the state of Indiana is the Salesforce Tower, and that's magical. That's so important for our community to really create an identity around tech. Prior it was the Chase Tower. We've been a banking and an Eli Lilly town for many, many years. And for the Salesforce Tower to be a daily reminder that Indy is an innovative place and we're leaning in on tech is really, really special. So I think probably above all, Michael, that might be the greatest legacy, but Salesforce has absolutely fulfilled their commitment to investing in our community through the Salesforce Foundation, and that continues to pay off for our city in many, many special ways.
Michael Burton: Great. I have to ask, what was it like working alongside of Marc Benioff?
Scott Dorsey: It was a wild experience, Michael. So, I was a part of Marc's executive team for a little over a year. I was a direct report, which was an amazing experience. And for starters, he runs in some very different circles than I do. I'm just a little, humble Midwestern guy, and it was just fun, honestly, to get a peek into his world. And his world is really quite extraordinary. Not uncommon, honestly, that he would be having lunch with President Obama, and then two hours later he and I would be doing our weekly one- on- one. So he was able to zoom out and impact the world in many special ways, but then also zoom back in on the business. I think everyone knows about Marc that he's an extraordinary visionary, and he really, really is. He's always thinking two or three dream forces out and has teams working on a new technology. And he speaks often of this beginner's mind that, boy, I try to emulate and learn from, but just having a natural curiosity to everything you do, and really having a beginner's mind. And he really lives it, Michael. Here's a funny story, one of my favorite stories. So, we'd just been acquired. Marc's my new manager. That's intimidating. I'm a little nervous about that. Other than my board of directors, I really hadn't had a boss. Hadn't had a manager in a long time. And we're just getting to know each other, and I was supposed to run over to one of the local hotels and have a one- on- one with him. So, I zip over there, and I'm early of course. I'm a little nervous. I'm amped up. And his assistant said, " He's over at the mall. He's over at the Circle Centre Mall. He wants to do a walking one- on- one with you. Why don't you go over to the mall and see if you can find?"
Michael Burton: inaudible.
Scott Dorsey: I was very concerned. " What is he doing at the mall and where is he?" And he was actually at the AT& T store speaking to a young sales representative, who had absolutely no idea who he was, about their connected home products. And I joined him and he kept that conversation going for 20 or 30 minutes, just genuine curiosity, wanting to learn about the Internet of Things, wanting to learn about AT& T's strategy, their products. And that cemented it for me. He's wired differently around learning. And you can imagine the thousand and one things that he had to focus on that day, but he was really focused on learning. So he really clicks in at the vision level, and then the day- to- day management and the focus. So I learned a lot about focus and priorities. We literally did a weekly one- on- one focused on my top three priorities, and then we spent a lot of time on the D2MOM, which has, rightfully so, received a lot of notoriety around amazing planning framework for creating objectives. Could be around annual performance. Could be around an event. Could be around a special project. So it was a lot of fun, in summary. I learned a lot from him. He was so kind to me, so supportive, very respectful of ExactTarget culture and wanted me to continue to run ExactTarget like a business unit where I was still CEO of the marketing Cloud and everything special that we brought into Salesforce would be retained. So it was a great experience.
Michael Burton: What's really interesting about that story, too, is that it also says he's relentless, because it was made public last year that AT& T and Salesforce joined to revamp the whole customer experience. So years later, he never let go of that about how do you improve that experience. So, for them to publicly share about what they were doing, it makes the story even more interesting, that he was reluctant to give up on it. That's great. If you talk about Salesforce, I'm interested in a little ExactTarget roots inaudible the connections backs. Where have you seen some people that had those ExactTarget roots flourish inside of Salesforce?
Scott Dorsey: So many. Probably the two best examples, Michael, would be Adam Blitzer, who's EVP and GM of the marketing Cloud, the commerce Cloud, the community Cloud. Adam was the CEO of Pardot when we acquired Pardot back in October of 2012. Young guy, scrappy entrepreneur, hilarious, and a great product visionary and great young executive on the rise. To see Adam grow over the years at Salesforce and be responsible for the technology and the business unit of ExactTarget, that's pretty special. And then Andy Kofoid was our VP of sales at ExactTarget. Outstanding leader and sales executive out of Chicago. And he's now president of North America for Salesforce across all business units running a remarkably large sales organization. So those are two, but there are dozens if not hundreds of examples of ET alums that have just thrived at Salesforce, and they've just loved it. And so often, they'll zip me a little note of thanks and gratitude that they got their start with ExactTarget and their careers just flourished with Salesforce.
Michael Burton: That's great to hear. That's exciting. Let's pivot a little bit. You're at High Alpha. Maybe share with the group what you're doing at High Alpha and what High Alpha is all about.
Scott Dorsey: Yeah, I'd be happy to. So almost six years ago, Michael. It's amazing. Probably six months after I left Salesforce, we started High Alpha with three very good friends and co- founders, Kristian, Mike, and Eric. We're about 40 people strong, and we are a venture studio that starts new SaaS companies, starts new Cloud companies. And it's a really fun model. We're one part start- up studio, we're always dreaming of new ideas and new opportunities to apply technology and start new Cloud companies, and then one part venture capital fund where we can fund those companies but we can also invest in amazing entrepreneurs all around the world. And the duality of the two is really fun. So we're still wearing our operator's hat, building products, building teams, starting companies from scratch, but then we also get to wear the investor hat and I think have an inside track on what's happening in many geographies of SaaS and Cloud technology. So it's a lot of fun.
Michael Burton: So, what's exciting to see is, you got great news just today. You got one of Casted, a series A, seven million. Think you welcomed a new company, Demandwell. Did I capture that right?
Scott Dorsey: Yeah, exactly.
Michael Burton: You're moving so quickly. In 2020, you launched the largest number of new companies in 2020 by a multiple of two. How is that happening during a pandemic? And what's going on at High Alpha? How are you making this happen?
Scott Dorsey: Exactly. So you're right, Michael. Our pace for new co- creation has been three to four new SaaS companies per year, fairly consistent. In 2020, we launched 10 new companies. It was remarkable. And it was an explosion of ideas, really. And I think the best companies are started around interesting problems, and with the level of disruption that all of us experienced in 2020, there were a lot of new problems to solve and many new opportunities presenting themselves, and actually many really talented tech executives that wanted to throw themselves back into a start- up, wanted to make a meaningful difference in the world. So it was that really combination. A good way to think about High Alpha is we're always managing a pipeline of idea, compelling ideas and problems to solve, and then a pipeline of people and talent. And we're matchmaking. We're bringing those two together and then giving them a really strong platform of support to start and scale those companies quickly. Mandolin is one really extraordinary example. And thank you, by the way, for running the Houndmouth concert tonight on the Mandolin platform. But as we all know, when COVID hit, really the music stopped playing. Venues and artists had no way to connect with their fans and continue to drive engagement and ultimately drive revenue for themselves, and we started Mandolin to solve that problem. And we're so fortunate to recruit Mary Kay Huse, who also is another shining star at ExactTarget and Salesforce, most recently the chief operating officer for the marketing Cloud, to start that company with us. And here we are a little under a year in, and Mandolin has been an enormous success story and has really made a difference in the world of music. So those are fun stories and fun companies to be attached to.
Michael Burton: What are some of the key learnings your portfolio companies were able to gain from this past year?
Scott Dorsey: Well, I think like all of us have experienced, Michael, working from home and Zoom and video technology has really leveled the playing field around talent, and it's opened up lots of new ideas and new possibilities. Okay, I would've never expected this to happen. We actually started a couple companies in 2020 where the co- founders had literally never met one another. And you're locking arms for like a decade run. This is a marriage of sorts. And to be able to build enough chemistry and relational equity over video that you're actually comfortable starting your company together, that's a big change. That's pretty transformative. And I'm sure at Lev and all the companies on the line, we're hiring people we've never met in person. So talent, I think, is the new driver. And in many ways, it's just leveled the playing field where talented people can work for any company, anywhere, any time, and companies, we really have to adjust. We really have to adjust to create a special environment, both in office, when we're able to get back together, but also remote to support this new blended way of working. And I'm very excited and very energized by it. I think ultimately, it's going to be a better outcome for people and their lives and their families, and it's also going to be better for businesses.
Michael Burton: Yeah. We were acquired by Cognizant a little over a year ago, and what was interesting about that partnership was being able to take Lev and move it globally. But we're right in the middle of a pandemic, and we're thinking, " How do you go do that?" And the most surprising thing, I'm not saying it's easy, but this whole idea of this level playing field and everyone's accepting that we're working remote, what it's allowed us to do is be able to more aggressively move faster, moving into the UK and Europe, and now looking into Australia and New Zealand. If that would've happened two years ago, I would've been on planes. We probably wouldn't have accomplished as much because we would've been on planes. So that's definitely something that we feel, too, as far as how we're expanding, but also on the talent front, how many people that we're hiring. That's great. It's exciting to hear. What are-
Scott Dorsey: Well, Michael, I think that's an important point. I'll just build on that real quick, is the idea of hyper- focus. And, when we're all working from home every day, you're forced to focus in ways that you probably haven't in the past, and really focus on priorities. We found that at High Alpha, and I'm seeing that across so many clients and companies we work with is, they're cutting out less essential activities and focusing on speed and decisiveness and what matters most. And decision cycles are really getting compressed in a really positive way. I think the biggest challenge is going to be, once we start going back to work, how do we not lose that, and how do we create technologies and cultures that support employees who are in office and out of office in a way where everybody feels like they can contribute? There's a sense of belonging and a sense of contributing where everybody feels level. And it used to be that, if you were a remote employee, you really had a difficult time connecting in. You weren't a part of the jet stream, probably not a part of a lot of the decisions. Hard to be the only person on video. This new world, we're going to have a blend, and companies are going to be forced to adapt and hopefully not lose a lot of the goodness that came from the last year.
Michael Burton: We could spend a whole hour on this topic, because it's something that we're feeling very much right now. We've done a good job of trying to prioritize what are our three big rocks that we're working on at this moment in time. And as you have a leadership team that are spread across the US now, not just here in Indianapolis, and we're seeing that firsthand. Trying to be connecting and finding the right time when you can jump into a conversation, versus when you're in a room, those non- verbal cues that are so important. You miss out on those. And that is something that we've tried to spend a lot of time on. Like, " How do we get out in front of this?" Maybe another High Alpha company coming soon. Another idea.
Scott Dorsey: Stay tuned. That's right.
Michael Burton: I love it. On the High Alpha front, you've got great start- ups. Again, Casted has got some great momentum, too, in the B to B space. We're a Casted customer. But not just specifically to Casted, but what are you seeing in your portfolio inaudible smaller companies? What are they focused on in thinking about digital marketing right now?
Scott Dorsey: We're seeing a lot of young companies, Michael, focused on data and how that applies in machine learning and artificial intelligence. I think that's a exciting new horizon for marketers. We've always had the benefit, as digital marketers, of having so much data. We're collecting so much data. And how do we leverage that? And how do we unlock that data to create the very best outcomes? And machine learning and AI only works if you have really large datasets. One of our portfolio companies, Pattern89, is AI- powered marketing for content, as an example, and content in the context of social ads. And what I would've never expected would be the dataset a company like Pattern89 could accumulate and anonymize on behalf of their clients, but their clients plug in their social ad channels and then years worth of social ads and results come into the dataset, come into the data lake. And then the company's able to leverage that in some pretty remarkable ways to predict content performance before the content is even sent and distributed. So I think that's one example that's quite interesting. And I've always thought what's really illuminating and exciting about marketing technology is how do we automate more of the day- to- day tasks that allow marketers to be strategic and take a real holistic approach to how they build technology and communications that connect with their customers. And here we are many years into the marketing tech industry and I still feel like we're in the early innings. There's still a lot of upside potential.
Michael Burton: Yeah. To that point, every year I see someone puts together a map of all the marketing tech solutions. And every year, you can't decipher it. We keep adding more and more and more, and things continue to change. Like what Google's doing with cookies, moving to cookie lists. And how do you continue to catch up? And there's so many things going on with protecting identity, PII. Are you seeing certain trends, if you look out next several years, especially you as a marketing tech leader inaudible? Building off of Pattern89, but for other things that you're seeing, where do you think marketing tech's going to go the next few years? What's going to be a priority for it?
Scott Dorsey: Well, Michael, I think this is the very essence of why what you're building at Lev is so important and why your clients really need to lean on such a smart, strategic partner like Lev, is to make sense of it all and make sure that these organizations are leveraging the vast array of technology that is available, but also adjusting, to your point, to the changing macro environment. And I think that's always what's made digital marketing exciting, is you've got the acceleration of new technology and new capabilities, but you've got a landscape that's always changing. And the cookie list environment is a fantastic example. Marketers are going to need strategic help and consultation to navigate these new waters. So when we think about the world of marketing tech, we are focused quite a bit on where are there opportunities for machine learning and AI, where are there opportunities to apply data in new ways. We also focus a lot on a thesis we call coaching networks, which is software isn't really replacing the modern worker. It's augmenting the modern worker. And the concept of a coaching network is that technology is coaching and guiding you on how to be better at your job. And there are a lot of really, really neat examples. There are examples within the sales tech space of Gong or Chorus, where the technology is listening in on a call that a sales representative might have with a prospect, and is guiding them on maybe the questions they need to be asking or when they need to be listening and doing discovery more than talking. And I see that same principle making its way into the world of marketing tech, and I think that's going to be a really exciting new horizon. The other element I think a lot about is, I think we're still early innings of the customer journey. We were really excited to launch Journey Builder many years ago, and it's been really fun for me from a distance to see the infinite number of ways that Journey Builder and our technology's being applied today. But I think we're still early innings of marketers having the know- how and the technology to map every interaction and every step of that journey and make sure it's really optimized for the customer, and really looking very holistically at, " What are all the touch points my brand and company have with the customer?" And making sure that those are optimized for a great experience. It's search. It's Glassdoor. If you're a B to B company, it's Captier or it's G2 Crowd. What about social influencers? It's an infinite number of potential touch points that a customer prospect might have with your brand, and there's still a lot more potential in the area of digital marketing.
Michael Burton: Yeah. Even from the Lev point of view, so much has changed in five years. We've gone from being very technical in what we're doing and truly bringing in the best of the best when it came to knowing ExactTarget, but the demands of our customers have changed significantly. It's not just about setting up, doing data architecture. It really is about strategy. What are you trying to do? And it's not online. It's also, " What are we doing from a direct mail campaign? And how is that connected to the other touch points?" Things you just wouldn't necessarily have thought of five years ago that are becoming more of the norm. And it's allowing us, then, to go do things we've never done before and bringing in people that are experts in those areas, which has been fun to see Lev change in that way. I don't think I would've talked about bringing in data scientists and paid media experts five years. I would've said, " No, we don't need that. We're going to set up a journey. We're going to set up data. And we're going to be good." And it's been so much fun to be much more integrated in the success of a customer, and that's just the expectation now. It can't just be about the technology. And that's the part where it allows us to shine and allows, frankly, the people at Lev to learn new things as well. So it's not just about bringing in the expertise, but learning and developing. It's fun to see that with so many of our new Levsters that have joined over the past couple of years.
Scott Dorsey: Yeah. That's awesome. That's wonderful to hear.
Michael Burton: So let's get back to culture. Culture is just such an important thing. We call it Lev Life. And I'll tell this to a very larger group. I started Lev Life as a little bit tongue in cheek, when I first started it, and it actually turned into something real. We embraced it as this culture. And I look back about the orange culture at ExactTarget, how important that was. And a couple years ago I was reading a Harvard Business Review article that talked about culture and brand, that they are very much connected to each other. And I say that all the time at Lev, " Our culture's our brand. Our brand's our culture." And I definitely learned a lot from ExactTarget and orange culture. How did that start? Where did that begin? And I'm looking at all the orange behind you, as well, which I'm sure plenty of ExactTarget connections back to that culture too. So how did it start? Was it intentional? And where did it end up?
Scott Dorsey: Yeah. Well, hats off to you, Michael, and the Lev team. I think your vision around brand equals culture and culture equals brand really shines in everything you do. I'm so impressed with everything I see from Lev from a design, brand, and marketing perspective. And you're right. Those two are so connected. And if we got the ball rolling in this regard, I think you'd really take it to the next level. For us to turn back the clocks a little bit, our culture started with core values. I'm a big believer in core values are the foundation for every company, and they're kind of the guideposts around how you bring yourself to work every day, what behavior is embraced and celebrated. And we had a set of core values at ExactTarget, and our first one was treat people well. We really worked to drive that into everything we did at ExactTarget. We wanted to be competitive and confident in what we were building, but we wanted to be really humble and kind and treat everyone with a tremendous amount of respect. So that was our anchor core value, but over time, and I know you experienced this at Lev, we just kept hearing from customers and prospects that there's something different about ExactTarget. It's just everyone's energy, positive spirit, working hard on behalf of the customer, working hard for one another. You could feel an energy when you interacted with an ExactTarget team member or walked into our office. And our brand color, at that time, was orange. You can definitely see some orange behind me, Michael. And it was actually our CMO, Tim Kopp, that brought me the idea of, " Why don't we create a culture framework around the color orange?" And prior to that, I would say our core values were very well articulated. Our culture, we knew was something unique and special, but we had a hard time describing it, and we didn't really have a framework, I think, to unlock its full potential. And we were right on the cusp of a tremendous amount of growth, starting to do acquisitions, starting to expand internationally, thinking about an IPO. So, scaling culture was very, very top of mind for us. So I'll tell you, very similar, Michael, to you rolling out Lev Life, we rolled out The Orange, and orange is our culture framework. And I was very unsure about how it was going to work, and I was really worried it was going to feel too corporate. I was really worried it was going to feel maybe a little too forced. And we rolled it out as a framework and really worked to create enough flexibility where employees could make it their own. And we talked about freedom within a framework, so we had a framework for culture and it was really up to our team members how they brought it to life. And they brought it to life in so many remarkable ways. Our onboarding program became about being orange. Our leadership development program became Leading Orange. It really became the identity of our company. And in particular, when we started opening offices around the world or doing acquisitions, it was clearly the common thread that really, really tied us together. And it was more a feeling than it was necessarily words on paper, and it really came to life in just day- to- day actions and behaviors and attitude of our team members. And then when it really became remarkable is when our customers felt like they were part of the culture. And I'm positive that, if you're a Lev client, you do feel a part of Lev Life. You do feel a part of a purple and a part of the brand. And that's what I think we unlocked at ExactTarget, and that was really, really meaningful. I literally would get notes from new customers saying, " I can't wait to be orange." Those notes always made me really happy.
Michael Burton: You talked about onboarding a little bit, and that, from my point of view, was a key part of introducing people into a new culture, NEO, new employee orientation, NEO. And what's so fascinating is people still know who was in their NEO class. I know people that were in my NEO class. Maybe go a little bit deeper into onboarding. And that clearly was a differentiator. How did that come about? Just tell me a little bit more about the story.
Scott Dorsey: Yeah. It was fun, Michael. So, our program was called Officially Orange, and NEO was, yeah, new employee orientation, and we flew every new employee into Indianapolis, regardless of location. You can imagine the investment. We're flying employees in from Munich and Sydney and Melbourne and São Paulo, Brazil. But it was just that important to us that they had the opportunity to build those foundational relationships, and hear from me and many others in the company about our core values and why culture was so important to us. And we wanted to make sure as we scaled that we kept that intact. And frankly, we enhanced it. I would be asked often, Michael, from employees and others, how were we going to retain our culture, in particular as we grow in scale or we go from being a private company to a public company. And early days, I would give very legitimate answers, sincere answers around what we were going to do to protect and preserve our culture. And then over time, I realized that was not the right mindset or approach, that culture, it's organic. It changes every day. It evolves with new hires and new products and new clients and the day- to- day behaviors and attitude of your team. And I really just became committed to enhancing and improving our culture every step of the way rather than trying to protect something that might've felt right when we were a much smaller company.
Michael Burton: That's awesome to hear. That triggered a question. One thing that keeps me up at night, going through this past year of pandemic and more than half of our people that we've hired have been remote and the space that we're in in Salesforce, the ecosystem continued to grow really well. In fact, I looked at Salesforce's financials from Q4. I believe marketing and commerce were growing I want to say 24 to 27% year over year, so still phenomenal growth. What keeps me up is that we can't fly people in. We can't do all the things that we did before to unite people. And I read an article that was about that the costs to change are at the lowest point ever. And I think that really applies to jobs as well, because we're so disconnected from each other. What are some things that you're seeing, especially hiring all these people and start- ups, to help continue to retain people knowing that the switching costs are really at the lowest point, because you don't have that... You talked about the CEOs that never met each other, co- founders. How will you get on top of that to make people feel grounded in something true? I feel like it's somehow connected back to the culture.
Scott Dorsey: A phenomenal question, Michael. I think it's a challenge every business is facing. You're right, because our talent mobility is at an all- time high. And also I think just the reflection that everyone's gone through over the last year. If you're going to rethink and reprioritize your life, you probably have done it over the last year. And you're right, the switching costs are very, very low. So I think it's incumbent upon great companies and leaders to lean in even more on culture, and I think it's the companies with the strongest cultures who are going to thrive and succeed. And those who don't are going to see a lot of employee turnover and I think are going to be the most challenged. So I think it's leaning in on what you already do well and being really thoughtful and intentional about how to create special experiences when it just may not be possible to be together. And then really, really plan for what does the future look like when we can be together. And it probably doesn't mean we're in the office five days a week, but creating special events and special experiences are really needed to keep that bond and attachment. Back in the day at ExactTarget, when we held a quarterly company meeting, we viewed it as a mini user conference. It was stage and lights and music, and there was a lot of really sincere, genuine content. But we wanted to create such a remarkable experience for our employees that they just loved the company even more, and they were even more committed to serving our customers. And that was always my belief and philosophy, was that, if you create a remarkable company where people can really be their best and feel a sense of belonging and can grow their career and their lives, they're going to take amazing care of your customers. That will just happen. And it's not because you as a CEO are asking them to work hard or go the extra mile. They want to do it. They love the work and they love their co- workers, and they're going to put in the extra effort and go the extra mile. So, I think it's leveraging the cultural pillars that are in place, and then being really thoughtful and intentional about how to transform them into this new world.
Michael Burton: One of the things I took away from you when I moved into the role of CEO at Lev was sending out a Friday note. People are all across the US and now they're across the world at this point, and I've adopted it to be my own style. But what was the story? Why did you decide to do that?
Scott Dorsey: Real quick, tell me about your own style, though, Mike. I would love to hear a little more about your Friday communication.
Michael Burton: I think one of the things I've really embraced, truly, this is very sincere, over the past five years, this is the most I've felt like myself, like being true to who I am. And I think it's the most comfortable I've felt as far as just being like, " Hey, I'm an introvert. This is what's important to me," but I can still be very transparent. And so, it's freed me up to just... I talk about all kinds of things. I talk about being a dad. I talk about being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and what it's like to live every day, the good and the challenging. And so, I just felt like it was an avenue for me for people to really see who I am. So most of my Friday notes are just really genuine, and I stopped using a format. I think when I first started, I had a specific format. I wanted to go do these things. And when I let go of that format and just was writing whatever was top of mind for me, that's when people got the truest sense of who I am as a person. And hopefully they see me, too, as a leader. So I love my Friday notes, and that's how I've adapted them over time.
Scott Dorsey: Good for you, Michael. That's really wonderful. And that authenticity of being open and yourself, and transparent, that's what creates amazing teams and cultures, and creates that bond that's really genuine and authentic. So, hats off to you for doing it, and I'm honored if you maybe picked up the tip or the idea from my journey at ET. So, this was 2009. We actually had filed to go public right before the financial crisis of'08, and we were unsuccessful. We were stuck on file for pretty much all of 2008, which was really challenging. We had to update our S- 1 every quarter. We had to share our financials for the world to see and our competitors to see. And we were in this period called the quiet period where you really just can't say much, and you really can't make any future statements. So we felt stuck, and our employees were feeling it. And they were feeling the lack of communication and transparency that were hallmarks for us. And I wanted to do something dramatic, Michael, to just hopefully never hear that again. It broke my heart that employees felt out of the loop, or they felt out of touch with me or weren't really sure what we were working on and what was most important at any one given time. So, we launched the Friday note, and I made a commitment that, rain or shine, Friday afternoon, boom, that Friday note is going to hit the inbox. And we used ExactTarget technology, which was nice. So these emails were beautifully designed and had pictures and video. But they were authentic. And to your point, they were written in my words and it was a snapshot into what I was focused on that week, what I cared about, where I was traveling, meetings that I was having. But it became so much more. It became a platform for surfacing challenges that we were facing or celebrating highlights and accomplishments that were happening throughout the company. And it really took on a life of its own way beyond what I would've expected in a couple really, really unique ways. One of them is that, I made sure that the reply came right back to me, and I really encouraged our employees to please respond to me, occasionally. Let me know you're out there. And they sure did. They started with ideas. They started with challenges that maybe I was unaware of. And they started sending me in pictures and ideas to get into the Friday notes. So it became a wonderful way for me to keep a pulse on what was happening throughout the company, and then build these one- to- one relationships. And every response I ever received to a Friday note, I made sure to reply and take action upon the idea or the feedback. So, the pictures started flowing in. The content started flowing in. The Friday notes started writing themselves. And it just became a really wonderful way to communicate really openly and transparently while we were going through this hyper- growth. Well, fast forward to a year after the acquisition. I made a decision to move on and open a new chapter of my life. And I had so many people, Michael, saying, " You need to write a book, and you've got to capture this ExactTarget story." And it occurred to me that I already had. It was five and a half years of Friday notes. So my going away present to all of our team members, I brought a copy today, is five years of Friday notes. And it literally is every Friday note that I wrote for five and a half years, and it's just this amazing chronicle of what we accomplished and how we built the company week by week. So this has become a really nice keepsake for all of us.
Michael Burton: That's tremendous. I don't know if mine will turn into a book. I hope maybe there's some pieces of it. No pressure, but that's definitely exciting to hear. Some things we've chronicled along our way too, going from only a couple people here in Indianapolis. We have a great picture. It's our very first co- working... Well, actually, this is a funny story because people misinterpreted it the first time it came out. When I first left Salesforce, and I was trying to figure out where I was going to work from, because we had, at that point, an eight- month- old. And it wasn't going to be from home for a while, so I had a friend that let me work out of her flower shop, because she did basically weddings and so forth. So that was the very first location. She had it shut down for a while. So I worked at her flower shop. So the story starts morphing where people thought I was a florist that turned into the CEO of Lev. It's not the case. But we do have this great visual of this house, and then our co- working spaces up to where we are right now, which has been an incredible journey. And again, thank you for being such a critical part of laying the foundation and roots and orange at ExactTarget. And we're going to continue to carry it forward, albeit in a different color, who we are, but it's exciting. So Scott, I just wanted to, as we wrap up, just again, thank you for being here. Thank you for sharing your topics, your thoughts on ExactTarget and what's going on with High Alpha and culture and importance. So thank you again.
Scott Dorsey: Oh, thanks, Michael. This was a really joyful walk down memory lane for me, and congrats on everything you've built at Lev and everything you're going to build in the future. And my gratitude goes to everyone joining us today to keep digital marketing alive and innovating, and we've got a really bright future together. So this was a real treat for me. Thank you so much.
Michael Burton: Yeah. Thank you, Scott. And this was a great kickoff to Ultraviolet. Hope you enjoyed the conversation.
This is the first episode of the Ultraviolet Keynote Series where we share the recordings of our keynote sessions from our Ultraviolet conference this year. This keynote features Lev's CEO Michael Burton and co-founder of ExactTarget and High Alpha Managing Partner Scott Dorsey. Scott talks about his journey at ExactTarget from startup to Salesforce acquisition, why the brand and culture was so important, and how he helped to cultivate the culture. He also talks about HighAlpha and their amazing growth this past year.