The Future Of Conversational Marketing

David Cancel
Founder and Executive Chairman of Drift
2hr 4min
April 20, 2023
About the Show

"No, I didn't go to MIT. People who went to MIT work for me. I don't work for them."

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David Cancel is the Founder and Executive Chairman of Drift, the world's first conversational marketing and sales technology company. David is a Bronx native who dropped out of college to pursue his career in tech. He has been part of six exits, including HubSpot, where he was the CTO responsible for revolutionizing their products and taking the company from a $100 million valuation to a public company worth $12 billion. He also founded Drift, which is currently the first company to focus on conversational marketing and AI. His work ethic and dedication to his craft is evident in his achievements and contributions to the tech industry.

The interview covers a range of personal and professional topics including cultivating work ethic, how to promote diversity in tech, raising money as a sales process, the importance of branding, discovering arbitrage opportunities in marketing, and intimately knowing one's strengths and weaknesses. David’s experiences and perspectives are fundamentally unique and inspiring - if you have never watched the entirety of an episode, let this be the first. 


Key Moments

How David Cancel Transformed Hubspot

When David Cancel took over product development at HubSpot, he came to a shocking realization - Hubspot’s product line was a house of cards that was about to topple.

His company, Performable, had just been acquired, and David found himself running an incompetent department with no viable product.

David is a well-known figure in the world of tech startups, with a long history of building and scaling successful companies. His most recent company, Drift, is the world’s first conversational marketing company in the world. It was recently acquired at a valuation of over $1 Billion. David recently sat down with the Forward Obsessed team to tell us about his incredible journey, and to pass on some of his most valuable wisdom.

David has accomplished a lot in his career, but few accomplishments are as famous as overhauling Hubspot to become the #1 Global Software Company in the world. In his role as Chief Product Officer of Hubspot, Cancel oversaw a dramatic transformation of the company's product development process, which played a key role in driving the company's growth from a $100 million valuation to a $12 billion IPO in just over a decade.

Quote and photo of David Cancel, Founder of Drift, From the Forward Obsessed Podcast

When David started at Hubspot, the appropriate word to describe their product development division was “shitshow.” The team did not know how Hubspot’s products worked, how they were made, or what the customer was looking for. After removing the bulk of the workforce that allowed the company to get to this point, Cancel adjusted Hubspot’s approach to a relentless focus on the customer. He recognized early on that the key to building a successful product was not just about having the right tools and features; it was about truly understanding the needs and pain points of the people who would be using it. To that end, Cancel implemented a number of tactics to help Hubspot become more customer-centric - tactics that helped Hubspot grow into a $12 Billion company in a decade.

1. Cultivating a new state of mind.

One of the first things he did was to introduce a new way of thinking about product development. Rather than simply trying to build the biggest and most feature-rich technology possible, Cancel encouraged his team to focus on creating a "minimum viable product" (MVP) for their audience. They set out to design a product that contained only the essential features necessary to solve the customer's problem - a robust, easy to use and implement CRM.  

By making this simple and innovative product free to use, Hubspot was able to launch one of the largest lead generation programs in the history of SAAS companies. Once customers were in the door, that when David’s team went to work on placing add-ons and additional products into the hands of customers, using their feedback to iterate and improve upon them over time, and create an entire ecosystem of easy to use, technologically advanced marketing tools.

2. Break down the silos.

Another key tactic that Cancel employed was to break down silos between teams. In many organizations, product development is siloed off from other areas of the business, such as marketing, sales, and customer support. This can lead to a situation where the product is developed in a vacuum, without a clear understanding of how it will be marketed, sold, or supported. Cancel recognized the importance of breaking down these silos, and worked to create a more collaborative environment where everyone was focused on the same goal: building a great product that customers would love.

Quote of David Cancel, Founder of Drift, From the Forward Obsessed Podcast

To help facilitate this collaboration, Cancel introduced a number of new processes and tools. For example, he created cross-functional "squads" that were responsible for specific areas of the product, such as lead generation or customer retention. These squads were made up of members from across the organization, including product development, marketing, sales, and customer support. By bringing together people with different skill sets and perspectives, Cancel was able to ensure that everyone was working towards the same goal - make useful stuff and be closer to the customers.

3. Use data and experiment.

Cancel also recognized the importance of data in driving product development decisions. To that end, he implemented a number of metrics and KPIs that allowed Hubspot to track the success of its products in real time. This data was used to inform product development decisions, and to help the company identify areas where it needed to improve. Mix in the real-time feedback from the customers, and Hubspot suddenly had a self-improving flywheel that was spinning faster every day.

Perhaps most importantly, Cancel cultivated a culture of experimentation and continuous improvement at Hubspot. He recognized that building a successful product was not a one-time event; it was a continuous process of testing, iterating, and improving. By encouraging and empowering his team to take risks and try new things, Cancel was able to foster an environment where innovation flourished.

Quote and photo of David Cancel, Founder of Drift, From the Forward Obsessed Podcast

All of these tactics - a focus on the customer, breaking down silos, using data to drive decisions, and creating a culture of experimentation - were instrumental in Hubspot's transformation from a $100 million company to a $12 billion IPO.

By putting the customer at the center of everything they did, and by fostering a culture of collaboration and continuous improvement, Cancel and his team were able to build products that truly solved their customers' problems and helped them grow their businesses.

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