Bill Nussey, who sold his Atlanta marketing tech firm Silverpop to IBM in 2014 for a reported $270 million, has left Big Blue. A clue to the next phase of his career can be found on his LinkedIn profile. It’s a little generic: Founder at An Energy Project.
No official name. No announcement of team members. No funding. Nussey admits to not having a lot of background in the energy sector, but what he does know is how to chase the “next big thing” in tech.
“Over the last 10 years or so, I’ve been looking for what I think will be the largest disruption in the business world, and I came across the big one, and I’m going to do it,” Nussey told Hypepotamus.
For Nussey, the “big one” is the shift from centralized energy production to renewable energy. While he frames this as an earth-friendly mission that promises positive impacts on the developed and developing worlds, he’s not immune to the financial incentives. Citing Al Gore’s contention that the next stage in the energy industry would be one of the biggest business opportunities in history, Nussey decided earlier this spring to leave his role as Vice President of Corporate Strategy for IBM to find out for himself.
“The challenge was that I was really enjoying working at IBM, and obviously I had a ton of history with Silverpop and was part of a community that I cared deeply for, so leaving both of those was really hard,” he said.
Those emotions are evident in last week’s blog post, “Parting Thoughts On My Last Day at IBM”. He thanks colleagues for helping to build “a hundred million dollar business from scratch that ultimately touched hundreds of millions of people across every corner of the planet.” Nussey also offers advice to invest in people, have fun, build products worthy of being made and work to make the world a better place. Nussey now gets to practice what he preaches while also charting new entrepreneurial territory for himself.
“Energy technology is improving at such a pace that we’re moving away from a moral imperative to an economic imperative. What I mean is, things started because a lot of people want to save the planet, but what’s actually happening is the best financial options for creating and distributing energy are going to increasingly be renewable. It will be cheaper to build solar plants than to build coal plants.
“While it has a sense of mission because of the great changes that our world is experiencing, it is a business, and I’m going to go do it.”
Nussey has been bringing that sense of purpose to the business world since starting his first software company while a student at North Carolina State University. Another startup launch and a stint in venture capital preceded his move to Silverpop, which he joined as CEO shortly after its 1999 launch as an email marketing firm.
As in other industries, technology opened new doors in marketing, and Nussey helped Silverpop grow its suite of offerings to include automation/customization. He also watched as his company joined Pardot, Vitrue, MailChimp, Terminus and a host of startups in helping to brand Atlanta as a marketing technology hub. (Like Silverpop, Pardot and Vitrue were bought by larger companies.)
Two factors played into that transformation, Nussey said. “When it comes to Atlanta and marketing, it’s just how long you’ve been doing it. You end up with graduates – people who have been in it long enough. It takes 10 years to become an expert in anything, and we had an awful lot of people doing marketing tech for ten years, much more than other communities.”
The other factor? Coca-Cola, which taught the world to sing in a famous commercial while also instructing its Atlanta hometown business leaders about the value of marketing and sales. “Coca-Cola is one of the greatest brands in the world,” Nussey said. “It respected marketing and understood it more than others.” Despite having led Silverpop for a few years, Nussey didn’t feel like he understood email marketing as well as he should. A friend suggested he write a book about it. The result was 2004’s The Quiet Revolution. The same friend suggested the book-writing strategy to help Nussey study up on the energy industry, so that’s what he’ll be working on for a while.
In the meantime, he has thoughts on where marketing tech goes from here. “I think there’s going to be a shift from optimization and automation, which is where we are today. We’re going to shift perspectives in the next ten years towards the customer. Everything we’ve done so far is internal, to sell more and market better.”
The next phase will involve customer experience/success, which Nussey says is not the same thing as customer satisfaction. “There’s well-proven research around customer satisfaction, but relatively less about customer success, and ultimately that’s the reason people buy your technology.”