Being back in the CEO seat since September, former Salesforce executive Alex Bard has been quick to establish his place at Australian email marketing startup Campaign Monitor.
Founded about ten years ago by Ben Richardson and Dave Greiner, Campaign Monitor last year took a whopping $US250 million investment from a round led by Insight Venture Partners.
Insight is now a majority owner but the co-founders remain substantial shareholders, hold board positions, and work day-to-day as chief technical and chief product officers.
“They’re an incredibly important part of the company historically and are a critical part of our future – they are the architects of our product and our product vision,” Bard recently told Business Insider.
Until recently, Campaign Monitor had been quietly growing in Sydney’s southern suburb of Sutherland. It has been profitable since day one, and today industry groups like StartupAUS estimate it has a $1 billion valuation. Although at raising last year it was estimated the company’s valuation was around $600 million.
For the past ten years, Campaign Monitor has been a private company – not just in the sense of ownership, but in the sense that they kept their heads down and didn’t reveal too much.
But with some big US tech titans entering the business, including Bard and former Salesforce CMO Kraig Swensrud taking the helm of the Aussie startup, that’s starting to change.
“One of the things I thought a lot about before coming on and taking this opportunity is are Ben and Dave, after a decade, going to be able to relinquish some control to a new, foreign body?” Bard said.
“When I came out here, there were a lot of things on paper that I was incredibly excited about. The fact that the company had been built organically, profitable from day one, is kind of unique from where I come from in San Francisco where it’s about raising a tonne of money and burning a lot of cash until you figure out how to one day make money. These guys figured out how to make money day one which I think is really special and unique, so that excited me.”
But before he accepted the top job, Bard flew Down Under on the July 4th weekend last year to see what the company was like for himself. It was a trip which Bard told Business Insider almost didn’t happen.
“I was meant to fly out on Wednesday, which would get me here Friday morning.
That would’ve given me Friday in the office, Saturday with the guys spending all day together and then I would’ve flown back Sunday afternoon.
I get on the plane, I plug in my headphones and I think ‘I need to stay awake for four hours, I need to sleep for eight hours, land and go straight to the office and be awake and ready to engage and learn as much as I could.
I was sitting there watching a movie, I didn’t realise how much time had gone by and all of a sudden I was halfway through the movie and we’re still sitting on the plane, attached to the tarmac.
It turned out there was something wrong with the plane that they were fixing. It was fine, they fixed it and after an hour we start to pull out.
We get to where we are the next plane to take off and some woman starts screaming four rows away from me about how she’s with the CIA and she needs to get the president on the phone right away. You can’t make this up.
She may have had an ambien, I’m unclear what happened, but she went crazy.
They turned the plane around, police come on the plane so that’s another half an hour. They drag this poor woman off the plane at which point we’ve now tripped the time in which a crew can actually work – if you added on the time we were meant to fly – so they had to try and find a replacement crew, which they couldn’t.
They deplaned us, so it’s now three in the morning. I go home to catch the flight the next day. I thought ‘is the universe telling me something? That I shouldn’t be on this plane going to Australia for some reason?’
I did catch the plane the next day, although I did say in my mind, ‘if this plane doesn’t take off, it’s definitely the universe telling me something.”
Bard made it to Australia that weekend and after hanging out with Richardson and Greiner he said: “I remember when we were getting ready to leave, we gave each other hugs goodbye and Dave goes to me: ‘yeah that’s probably not our best poker face we could’ve given you’. We were still negotiating… They had me at the hug.”
Since then he’s been back to Australia about 10 times in the past six months and estimates he’s spent 13 full days in the air since joining Campaign Monitor.
Bard said taking the $250 million in funding before he came on board means he can take a longer term view with the company. The funding, combined with the ongoing profitability, were also reasons why he decided to join.
“Every month more money accrues to the bottom line which is a really good feeling, it gives you more runway and more opportunity and be much more deliberate about the decisions that you make,” he said.
“You can make much more long term, strategic decisions instead of short term decisions because you’re running out of money.”
But with Campaign Monitor sitting somewhere between Bard’s past experience — it’s not a billion dollar business with thousands of employees and it’s not his own startup — it’s a move which has made him both nervous and excited.
The first thing he did upon joining the tech company was start to think about the team.
“I almost put a fantasy football team together. I thought about every position and who the perfect person for that position would be. In the first 30 to 45 days we acquired GetFeedback because of a variety of reasons including the alignment with the business and also to bring in amazing people like Kraig,” he said.
Spending an evening at the Campaign Monitor Sydney offices recently, what struck me was Bard knew everyone of the almost 100 employees’ names. When asked how he remembered everyone’s names he said in the first two weeks he had a one-on-one with every person on the team.
“It takes a long time to have a one-on-one with roughly 70 people,” he said. “I asked them all three questions which is: What do you love about Campaign Monitor? What can we improve at Campaign Monitor? And, any advice for me?”
He said he quickly discovered the one thing he could improve was internal communication.
“The company was run, in some ways, like a privately owned family business that grew organically and slowly over time. People were thirsty for more data: How’s the business doing? How are we aligned for the outcomes that we’re driving for?
“For advice, I got all over the board, from don’t f**k it up, to help us figure out how to take this thing to the next level.”
To align the business, Bard took a card from his Salesforce playbook and implemented Marc Benioff’s framework V2MOM (visions, values, methods, objectives and measures).
“We’re going to invest organically, we’re going to invest in really great people,” he said.
“We’re going to build up parts of the company which it never really had muscle in. We’re going to invest in marketing, sales and invest more in customer success. Obviously, we’re going to make huge investments in customer success, we’re going to look at acquisitions that could help,” he said.
Although he declined to elaborate on the types of acquisitions they were considering, he did say there were plenty of opportunities ahead.
“I think we’re going to have a lot of opportunities in terms of what an exit might be. Going public is obviously an opportunity, potentially being acquired by a big company is an opportunity, staying private for a long time and acquiring other companies is an opportunity. The way that all of think about it is, we’re not focussed on the exit. What we’re focussed on is building something amazingly special,” he said.
“What’s cool is today’s environment enables private companies to be private for much longer.”