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Allen Nance On WhatCounts When Building MarTech Startups

by Renay San Miguel

Sometime near the end of Dot Com Boom 1.0, Atlanta started to add another chapter to its tech startup history. It’s the one about how companies could use technology to tell better marketing stories. Allen Nance was there in 2000 to add his own ingredient to the mix when he founded an email marketing startup that would eventually become WhatCounts, one of the largest companies of its kind.

“If you look at any cluster, no matter what it is, they all are built up not around ingredients, but specifically around one or two very specific successes, because I don’t think you can bake a cluster,” Nance told Hypepotamus. “If any location thought they could just bake a cluster, then every single city would just say, ‘take three of this or two of that and you have an explosion.’ So, I think it’s all predicated on success.”

In Atlanta’s case, it was five success stories. WhatCounts joined Pardot, MailChimp, Vitrue and Silverpop as charter members of the ATL MarTech Club. All were founded between 1999-2007, and three of them – Pardot, Vitrue and Silverpop – were eventually acquired by Salesforce, Oracle and IBM.

But Nance, now a partner at Tech Square Labs and a board member/investor in other startups, including martech firm Springbot, says other factors were in play to make the city a marketing tech hub.

“When I think about the marketing cluster here, the foundation of it was a real youthful workforce where there were a bunch of people in marketing and sales jobs – not startups but a job,” Nance said. Many in that workforce were employed for agency-style marketing firms catering to Atlanta’s large Fortune 1000 population of companies.

“We’re fairly fortunate, whether it’s Delta, Chick-fil-A, Coca-Cola, Georgia Southern, Home Depot..these are consumer-oriented marketing Fortune 1000’s. It’s not like we have a bunch of gas or pipe companies. We have a marketing-centric set of Fortune 1000’s,” he said.

Given Atlanta history and the current state of technology, what is needed in 2016 to build a successful marketing startup?

When I think about marketing tech now, what it takes now because it’s more crowded, it’s more noisy,  is a much more laser focus on a particular solution for a large market. I see some marketing tech popping up that feels like features targeting small markets. Pick a unique way of solving a big problem. I see people who say, ‘Hey, I have a marketing tech thing for auto dealers that does one thing.’ I see what you’re doing: You think it will be easier to chase a small niche-y market. It’s really not. Challenge yourself to be more unique in the way you’re solving a big problem for a big market.

What kinds of technologies and trends do you think martech startups should look at this year?

If I think short-term (the next 24 months), the biggest trend in marketing tech is probably mobile experience, location-based interactions. A lot of people think marketing tech means, ‘How does it render on a phone?’ When I say mobile, I think of the thing that’s like our third hand. How do beacons integrate messaging? How does my proximity affect this? Martech also means the mobile commerce experience. How much actual buying are we doing on our mobile devices? Big innovations are coming around mobile commerce.

When I look at medium-/long-term..right now, we’re incubating a company that doesn’t even have a name yet but is looking at marketing tech as it relates to the Internet of Things. Your Fitbit or Tesla or phone or refrigerator, they’re connected to the internet, but they’re not connected to you. Your profile as a digital consumer is being splintered. Everybody’s all fascinated with the fact that my Nest is connected, but what does that mean to me as an individual? When we’re all associated with 15 connected devices, what implication does that have for marketing? I don’t have an answer yet but we’re working on one. That‘s the whole point of Tech Square Labs.

What local martech companies/startups will you be watching in 2016?

I continue to be impressed by SalesLoft. I’m impressed by the team they are building, and with their trajectory, SalesLoft has a real chance to be one of the marketing tech pillars in Atlanta.

MailChimp is a company that is going to continue to lead the industry and lead the market here in Atlanta, so definitely keep an eye on them because as they mature, as they continue to be independent, product development and innovation becomes more important.

I’ll throw a crazy company out to you that nobody thinks about when they think about martech in Atlanta. It’s a billion dollar company. YP.

YP, as in…

The Yellow Pages. They’re the largest marketing tech company in Atlanta and probably one of the three or four largest martech companies in the country. Not because of their books, but their YP mobile app is a top ten downloaded app in the App Store. If you compare them to Yelp, which is a public company, they are bigger, have more users, have more traffic and more revenue than Yelp does. And the CEO of YP was specifically brought in to turn that into a digital business.

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