In the Crowd at HubSpot’s INBOUND Conference
Speaking in front of a crowd of thousands at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, HubSpot CEO and co-founder Brian Halligan announced that he had a new thesis.
The word “disrupt,” he said, is “heavily overused and heavily under-understood.” Yet, there’s a new class of startups that have managed to truly disrupt. They’re not disrupting whole industries—they’re disrupting individual experiences.
“They’re a new species,” Halligan said. “I call that species ‘experience disruptors.'”
Members of this new species? Slack, Square, Stripe, LinkedIn—services we use every day, but that (in Halligan’s eyes) make our lives easier.
Halligan’s talk set the tone for HubSpot’s four-day-long INBOUND conference in Boston’s Seaport District, heavily attended by software engineers, marketing professionals and journalists like myself. Through a series of keynotes like Halligan’s, breakout sessions and fireside chats, INBOUND provided, more than anything, a platform for tech leaders to tell their stories.
I was in the crowd for many of those sessions, including talks by HubSpot CTO Dharmesh Shah, Khan Academy founder Salman Khan, Backstage Capital founder Arlan Hamilton, Ellevest founder Sallie Krawcheck and musician and actress Janelle Monáe.
I also heard from HubSpot’s SVP of product, Christopher O’Donnell, who made several product announcements on day one. O’Donnell unveiled HubSpot’s redesigned app marketplace as well as its expanded growth platform.
For an extremely thorough rundown, I’d recommend checking out my live coverage on Twitter in this thread. But if you’re feeling speedy, I’ve rounded up a handful of takeaways below.
Innovation Builds On Itself
Someone is always laying the groundwork for the future, for better or for worse. In the better case, founders created a path for Hamilton to create Backstage Capital, a venture capital firm designed to boost “underestimated founders,” including LGBTQ+ folks and founders of color.
Hamilton was in her 30s and homeless when she founded Backstage Capital. Now, she’s been described as a celebrity in her field, a “spaceholder” and a thought leader.
Risks Are Necessary
As Halligan pointed out, the industries that converge with and are shaped by tech tend to be winner-take-all. His co-founder, Shah, agreed in his own keynote. Shah is not a risk-happy person by nature. It took an active effort on his part to dive into the creation of HubSpot (and, as he said in his talk, to learn to swim).
Khan did the same thing with the creation of Khan Academy: he quit his job and worked on the business full-time for about a year with no outside funding save for a handful of PayPal and wire donations. He’d wake up in the middle of the night, stressed and terrified for his family’s future. Evidently, though, it paid off. Khan Academy got its first funding from Google and the Gates Foundation at the end of that year. Today, it is an official partner of the SAT.
But as Ellevest founder and Wall Street veteran Sallie Krawcheck points out, it’s also key to be “risk-aware,” an important distinction from risk-averse.
Find Your People
Your team is absolutely everything. That holds doubly true when you’re founding a startup: working ridiculous hours, using a coffee pot to make ramen, booking a room at the Marriott hotel when your office literally catches fire. (That last one is a true story from the early days of HubSpot.)