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Watch Our 60 Second Introduction.
Customer Experience, Ideas, Leadership

Why I Started Truthlab

6 minute read | By: Patrick K. Donnelly




I want to say that I have dreamed of starting my own company for my whole career but I never really had the itch before.  My career has included stops at several very early stage startups, so I had a good idea of what was ahead if I decided eventually to do my own thing.

My startup experience ran the gamut. There was the company that scaled from $0 to $5M but never delivered a product. Another one grew from $0 to $10M but just missed on product market fit.  And the third took off like the proverbial Silicon Valley rocket ship, growing from $1M to $200M in just 5 years.  I was one of the first 30 employees in each of these companies. While only one of them would be considered a success by Valley standards, all of them were incredibly rewarding for me on several different levels. I have to confess that I even look back on the sweat and tears (and there was plenty of both) with fondness.

One of my favorite articles about the business of startups, and that ultimately got me thinking about launching my own company, is this one that Marc Andreessen first posted back in 2007. In the article, the legendary founder and tech investor Andreessen points out that a company’s success hinges on three principal factors: product, team and market.  I have seen and participated in numerous combinations of these success factors, with the results ranging somewhere between the sublime and the ridiculous.

For example: The first startup I worked at targeted a great market with a stellar team but had no real product (in fact, after this company failed a similar startup went onto to a successful IPO and is today valued at over $2B). Even with the big market and the terrific team, this organization could not figure out a viable, sustainable product and thus failed fast. This experience was a big lesson for me about the importance of building great products.

My second startup experience was with a company that also had a strong team, and they also had a very good product. The problem was, the product just missed on market fit.  This organization died a slow death but could never be successful.  As Marc Andreessen points out, until you have product market fit nothing else matters.

"I want to say that I have dreamed of starting my own company for my whole career but I never really had the itch before."

- Patrick Donnelly

Finally, I hit the startup “home run” that we all wish we could be a part of. This company, Marketo, the marketing automation pioneer, was a “Unicorn” before the term was popularized (and eventually overused). Marketo caught a huge market wave with a great product and an A-level team. Literally, every bell was ringing with Marketo. It was the professional opportunity of a lifetime.

I was incredibly fortunate to be part of the world-class Marketo team that was always laser focused on execution and driving measureable results.  A special shout out to my great friend and colleague Ray Carroll/@raycarroll55 for calling me and telling me there was something special about to happen there.

 

All three startups taught me invaluable lessons – the good, the bad and the ugly – that guided me when I started finally to scratch my own growing entrepreneurial itch. And that would lead me to founding Truthlab.

The fact is, once you have experienced the right blending of product, team and market (like Marketo achieved so spectacularly), you are forever in search of it again. And you want to try your own hand at creating something that lives up to (and even surmounts) that high standard of quality and success.

Inspired by my startup experience and embracing Andreessen’s success mantra of melding product, team and market, I began to concentrate my startup dreams and vision on probably the most fundamental factor in business: the customer. It was clear to me that there was a potentially huge market here. Why? Because in a B2B business world that is obsessively focused on customer acquisition (and seemingly not much else), ensuring that those customers consistently have a great experience throughout their entire lifecycle does not always get the attention it deserves.

This was an opportunity that got my entrepreneurial juices flowing because customers have always been central to my career. My background is in running sales orgs, and as a result, I have met with thousands of customers and prospects of all sizes, industries and geographies.  Early in my career, I managed upwards of 500 customers, and for the most part, they continued to do business with us because of the experience they had doing business with us. Relationships were a key part of the equation. And strong customer relationships only come from equally strong and positive customer experiences.

Fast forward to the past few months. My colleague Michael Meinhardt/@m_meinhardt and I are sitting with the head of User Experience for a large financial institution in Boston. Seemingly out of the blue, this highly experienced

Customer Experience exec unloads on us that the last thing he needs is more data about his customers or prospects.  What he “actually” needs is some way of making sense of all of that data.  He went on to say that the consumer side of the house was a decade ahead of the firm’s B2B business (which he ran) in understanding the 360-degree view of their customer’s experience.

After dozens of customer interviews, and bouncing ideas off of trusted colleagues and checking in with investors, we knew we had something real. It all started with a huge and largely unmet market need, which led us to figure out how to help B2B companies analyze, manage and improve their customer experiences in order to drive customer satisfaction, renewal and advocacy.  Now all we needed was a great product to meet that need, and an incredible team to build, market and sell it!

In terms of an incredible team, I was fortunate to have folks like Chris Lazzarini/@Chris_Lazlo, Amanda Morgan/@alareemarshall, and Sam Stevens/@samuelstevens9 join us early on (and thankfully overlook our first “HQ” location, which was really just a dank basement office in San Mateo). With them and my fearless co-founder Scott we set out to build a fast growing company, founded on the following six principles:

  1. Build a great product (With a roadmap because we hold each other accountable)
  2. Solve a real need for a large market (Listen to customers and understand what they truly want/need)
  3. Focus on growth and not comfort (We are building a high growth SaaS company, not running an antique shop)
  4. Surround ourselves with smart people who hate to lose (For those of you who have been on a team like this you know how great it is)
  5. Believe in better (Know that there is always another level of greatness that we can achieve together)
  6. And most important – provide amazing customer experiences

For those stuck in a job working for a company more focused on comfort than growth (because you cannot have both), and thinking about starting your own company, I have three words for you: Go for it! In fact, email me (patrick@truthlab.com) if you need someone to push you over the edge to follow that dream. But, be forewarned, I may try to entice you to join us!

My eternal thanks to Michael Meinhardt, who spent six months pushing me to build something better, bigger and more capable of solving really big problems that matter. I am so glad I finally listened, and Truthlab was born.  And to Scott Hutchins/@sahutchi who agreed to take this journey.

We look forward to hearing from you, and hopefully collaborating with you, on this exciting customer experience management (CXM) journey.