Category Archives: Entrepreneurs

Why We Led The Investment in InsideSales.com

Today our investment in InsideSales.com was made public.

SaaS is the prevailing theme in Polaris’ technology portfolio, and the world that I personally work in on a daily basis.

The Consumerization of IT — and with it, re-innovation of the sales and marketing industry demands that the next generation of great, transformative sales & marketing automation companies be built.

This next generation will arm the high-velocity, low-touch selling models — and the data-driven, growth-hacking, customer acquisition marketing models which are disrupting the industry.

We’re big believers that business model disruption can be as compelling as technology disruption.

The explosion of Inside Selling has disrupted the Sales industry. It’s transformed the way companies sell their products to enterprises. 

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It’s the new enterprise sales model.

But this new model has exploded without a purpose-built platform to optimize productivity and accelerate the time to close business.

InsideSales.com’s platform not only manages this process, but its learning engine and algorithmic approaches bring intelligence that dramatically increases the ability to close customers.

They exhibit the rare combination of enabling business model transformation by means of truly disruptive technology.

Two years ago, “the lines crossed” with regard to worldwide Inside Sales headcount, as compared to Outside Sales headcount.

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InsideSales.com’s sales acceleration platform brings visibility, automation, and intelligence to the inside sales process — for which time, productivity and measurability are of  the essence.

The science of predictive analytics stands to be one of the most impactful technology trends of the next decade. InsideSales.com differentiates itself from other sales & marketing technologies by combining

  • industry-leading predictive analytics, with
  • inside sales individual and management best practices, with
  • advanced and patented approaches to machine learning and cognition.

Having led large sales organizations early in my career, I can say first-hand that never-ending challenges with Inside Sales Teams center around shortening productivity ramps, managing personnel retention and churn, and providing guided selling coaching and processes that are consistent, transferable and above all — measurable.

Within our own portfolio of  40 SaaS companies, those that have adopted InsideSales’ platform have  averaged 3X improvements in funnel optimization, 60%+ improvement in new rep productivity, and 30%+ increases in sales close rates.

All of this summarizes the underlying context behind our enthusiasm for InsideSales.com’s opportunity to build a multi-billion dollar company.

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As outlined in the WSJ  and TechCrunch articles which appeared todayonce in a while, a company has an opportunity to truly transform an entire industry.

We believe InsideSales.com is that kind of company.

Our funding round validates the groundbreaking 2014 Sales Acceleration Technology Market Size Study, which indicates that North American companies already spend $12.8 billion annually on sales acceleration technology — with a heavy emphasis on sales communications and intelligence. And the market is growing. SaaS is a nearly $40B addressable market, compounding nearly 30%. The study estimates that North American businesses could spend in excess of $30 billion on sales acceleration technology by 2017.

Dave Elkington, ISDC’s co-founder and CEO, outlined their “unfair advantage”:

Customers, partners and investors frequently ask us what our secret sauce is. Our secret sauce is our scientific approach to sales. We use data as a strategic weapon to systematically improve sales performance and drive sales growth for our own company and for customers who want to maximize revenue growth. is acceleration InsideSales.com is analyzing millions of anonymized sales transactions and leveraging this data in ways no other company has ever imagined. This additional $100 million in financing, which brings our total funding to $140 million, will enable InsideSales.com to continue improving and expanding its patented sales acceleration technology to better serve its valued customers and partners.

In a nutshell, like any investment, there are several basic factors which guide our conviction as investors. Included in the basics here :

  • Market Size & Timing: as noted above, this a special moment to transform a gigantic industry.
  • People: Dave and his co-Founder and President, Ken Krogue, are truly complementary visionaries and thought leaders. Dave’s thought leadership centers on Data Science, Ken’s on the practices of all things Sales. They’ve attracted a truly world-class management team with been-there, done-that entrepreneurial and management experience in scaling companies like salesforce.com, VMware, Citrix and Infor to industry leadership. Beyond strong investment, they’ve attracted a world-class and special team of Advisors.
  • Technology: As is the case with most truly-special SaaS companies, their key asset centers around data, predictive analytics, and workflow solutions.  They use data as a strategic weapon to systematically improve sales performance and drive growth. It’s hard to find a more compelling value proposition. Incredibly-innovative algorithms, machine learning and predictive analytics, paired with cognitive learning technology, amplified by a truly-unique level of domain expertise. So, it’s also hard to find stronger long-view differentiation.
  • Execution: Beyond top-line growth, the company’s sales operating metrics and economics are among the very best I have ever seen in the software industry.
  • Philosophy:  The day I met Dave, I instinctively aligned with how he views his opportunity, how he’s building both his company and a very special culture, his commitment to giving back to community, and how he partners.  It’s safe to say we both found a partner with shared core values and beliefs, complementary experiences, and shared enthusiasm for the vision as well as the journey.

My Polaris Partners and I could not be more stoked to help Dave, Ken and their team achieve their goals.

Pat Kinsel, Venture Partner

My Polaris Partners and I am are stoked to announce Pat Kinsel’s elevation from Entrepreneur–in-Residence to Venture Partner.

Pat’s been part of our Technology Team since joining us as Entrepreneur-in-Residence last year.  During that time, he’d been thinking through ideas for his next thing, while also actively involved in sourcing, vetting, and helping to lead prospective investments.

As importantly, he’s been expanding the network he brought to the firm — and building  new relationships with super-talented entrepreneurs.

Building the kind of close partnerships which are the keystone of how @polarisvc works.

As EIR, Pat’s passion for creating and developing technologies and ideas became increasingly-augmented by his active involvement in mentoring young entrepreneurs.  And by his interest in becoming an investor.  He’s made several personal investments and has been part of a number of our most recent projects and decisions.

His forward-looking focus as a Venture Partner will primarily be around SaaS, Data Analytics, Social, and emerging businesses focused at the intersection of consumer and business utility.   As I mentioned in TechCrunch today, he’s got serious chops around identifying and building disruptors to search and data mining technologies – and bringing them to market.

Pat joined us as EIR after Twitter acquired his Polaris-backed company, Spindle, last June. I worked closely with Pat as he co-founded Spindle along with Simon Yun and Alex Lambert, and got a great sense for his intellect, street smarts — and knack for really listening.

And for coaching from the perspective of somebody who’s been through many of the same challenges as the entrepreneurs he helps to guide and support.  For networking and collecting talent.

All integral skills to a successful early stage investor.

Most importantly to us, we saw how entrepreneurs in the Boston & Silicon Valley/SF communities responded to Pat.  How much they respected his input.  And how effective he was at getting them rallied around their ideas.

Since joining us, Pat’s been highly-involved in the Boston/Cambridge entrepreneurial community as a mentor and visiting practitioner at the Harvard innovation Lab and a mentor to Techstars Boston. He’s earned an incredible reputation with entrepreneurs in both Boston and Silicon Valley.

Prior to Spindle, Pat led teams at both Microsoft FUSE Labs and Microsoft Startup Labs, reporting into Ray Ozzie, then Microsoft’s Chief Technical Officer and Software Architect.  Pat was a co-inventor of several issued and pending patents in the areas of social search and collaboration.

We’re all looking forward to the contributions he’ll make to @polarisvc.

To identify transformative innovations and innovators.  And to help Polaris build more great partnerships.

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The Importance of Special

I was having a conversation the other day with one of our portfolio CEOs, shortly after having had a very similar one with another with whom I’ve just begun working.

The discussion was about hiring, building culture and setting organizational tone.

Even more to the point, the importance of establishing and driving high team standards into every function and operation of a company.

To put a target on the point, the criticality of discipline in sticking to those high standards when recruiting and selecting teams.

People are the most important asset of a company, in case you’ve not heard.

In plowing through the J-Curve of a startup’s growth, it can become all too-easy to compromise on a tough hire.

A few scenarios:

  • Thinking, for example, that it’s taking too long to find the “perfect” CMO, so “let’s back off a bit” on expectations. After all, the thinking goes, there’s an urgent organizational need to get things done. Urgency is a key cultural value of this company.
  • Thinking that a particular candidate may not be is a “slam dunk” chemical fit with the rest of the team, but can be an absolute rockstar individual contributor.
  • Thinking that hiring a “name” talent from a big company is what’s needed to help bring the company attention.
  • Thinking that a candidate may not have ALL of the skill sets & experiences necessary to be extraordinarily successful, but “perfect is the enemy of good enough”.

Deadly risks, all.

The key ingredient to building a great team is having an uncompromising company principle — central to the cultural backbone of a company — to not hire ANYONE who’s not special.

  • Hiring someone who may be on the upswing of her or his career and lacks some of the experience for a role can be great.

As long as they are truly special.

  • Hiring someone who’s a “name” from a successful company that’s successfully plowed through the J-Curve can be great.

As long as that individual helped contribute to the plowing.  Has the chops to roll up her/his sleeves and get things done as a contributor and leader. No matter what the role.

As long as an exec has proven to be a leader who leads by contribution, collaboration and iteration. Not by hierarchy.

Young companies can’t be managed and led by heirarchy. It’s the toxic killer of early stage culture.

Heirarchy’s not collaborative.  It feeds personal agendas & ego. It discourages learning through risk-taking & mistakes. It’s antithetical to a culture of rapid, iterative decision-making & team growth.

Special sounds like hyperbole and subjective buzz jive, but it’s not.

Special means superior in as many dimensions as possible. It’s more than intellect.

Many CEOs and BoDs equate intelligence with leadership. And live to regret it.

Special = Deep, proven knowledge in an area critical to the success of the company + Work ethic + Integrity + Teamsmanship + Passion + Ability to manage, lead and contribute by influence, energy, and passion – (ego + individual agenda)

Special can be that proven Growth Hacker, having all of the above, who may only have 3, 4 or 5 yrs of total experience. But those 3, 4 or 5 yrs featured adaptive, iterative learning.  And real impact on her/his last company.

It’s also Attitude. Make-it-happen-as-a-world-class-TEAM attitude.

I in team

So how to find special?

Through connecting with special people and people-collecting. Always. Networking even when a specific hiring need is down the road.

By finding the mentors and protégées of special people.

By doing deep diligence on each and every person brought into a company.

By making certain that candidates have truly-superior abilities.

And desire to both yearn — as well as to learn.

To find special, CEOs and BoD members need to be architects of team composition.

They need to encourage each and every team member to hold their teammates up to the highest standards. And they need to drive that ethos into the keystone of a company’s culture.

Special loves special.

Special people want to work with special people. And are driven away when they feel that leadership has compromised.

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Passion. Character. Commitment. Excellence in an applied area.  Words that describe what “special” is all about.  Whether building a young company team —  a football team.

If the “perfect” candidate for a given phase of a  company’s growth not found —  if a candidate surfaces who is slightly more junior, or lacks one or two of the skills outlined in the aspirational description of the “perfect’ candidate, it might still be OK.

As long as that person is really, truly special.

The @CoderDojo Movement

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Today, Polaris announced our support for The CoderDojo Movement – the effort begun by James Whelton in Dublin 2 1/2 years ago.

CoderDojos are free volunteer-supported coding clubs for young people, aged 6 to 16.

At Dojos, young people learn how to hack, code, build websites, apps, games and more – all in a fun, social and collaborative environment.

And they learn how to teach these skills to other young people.  As well as how to mentor, lead and present their ideas and work to others.

CoderDojo is supported by The Hello World Foundation James founded, which in turn, is supported in part by Polaris as its founding donor. My partner Noel Ruane, who first met James three years ago, sits on the HWF Board.

Since James began in June 2011 with the first CoderDojo held in County Cork, Ireland with 40 kids participating, over 215 CoderDojos have introduced over 10K children in 27 countries monthly to the wonders of coding.

In August 2011, just after James met Noel, he also met Tom Preston-Werner from GitHub.  It proved to be a seminal meeting, as Tom so resonated with the CoderDojo movement’s values that he helped James set up the first US Dojo in GitHub’s offices.

Which led to Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Engine Yard, Cisco and others jumping onto the team to help set up ad-hoc CoderDojo events with James.

The Hello World Foundation and Polaris’ support of it is all about helping to accelerate and scale these first U.S. beachhead events into a continuous, self-sustaining global movement.

And about building on James’ vision of an interconnected, self-sustaining, collaborative community of Dojos throughout the U.S.

Why Coderdojo?

  • Industry: CoderDojo’s meeting an industry need.  There’s a global technology skill shortage which isn’t being addressed. Millennials and their children will form the talent pool for the next generations of great start-ups.
  • Education: Code education is not readily-accessible for children wishing to learn.  Coding teaches creative and logical problem-solving skills. And helps to reveal confidence, self-esteem and leadership abilities.
  • Society: Not only is there a major gender imbalance within the tech sector (less than 10 % of developers worldwide are women), but there’s also a lack of community, recognition and platforms for young coders.
  • CoderDojo aims to help fill the voids left by traditional and mainstream education systems.
  • CoderDojo really does turns hacking into a social hobby!

The Foundation’s goal is to scale to over 1,000 Dojos by 2015, resulting in over 50,000 new coders (with the objective of 40% female) to be created and inspired.

Its over-arching goal is to create a self-sustaining, global, interconnected & collaborative Dojo community.

Hello Boston & Cambridge:

Polaris today announced that we’re partnering with Boston’s Mayor Thomas Menino and his staff (led by Chief of Staff, Mitch Weiss) to bring CoderDojo to the children of Boston.

First, in the Innovation District’s new District Hall facility across the street from our new office-to-be in Seaport on Saturday, November 23.

After that, to the neighborhoods themselves in communities throughout the city.

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And Cambridge will not be far behind.

The first Boston Dojo session will teach how to create and style a website with HTML & CSS, including how to embed YouTube Videos, Twitter feeds, Google Maps and more. At the end of the session, all attendees will have the opportunity to put their site up on the internet. Future sessions for more advanced coders will teach the basics and intermediate drills of Ruby, Python, Java, HTML5 and Node.js.

You can follow @CoderDojo on Twitter, and @CoderDojoBOS as the Movement starts to begin here in Boston/Cambridge.   And the CoderDojo.com events page to find out more about the first Boston event on November 23.

James Whelton, Polaris Entrepreneur Out-of-Residence:

As above, my partner Noel Ruane and Polaris have been working closely with James for several years now, as he described today on the Polaris blog.

James is a special, unique, truly-extraordinary talent, who’s joined us as Entrepreneur-Out-of-Residence.

“Special.” “Unique.”Extraordinary.”  Words we use to describe the repeat entrepreneurs with whom we’ve built enduring relationship for over the past 17 years.  And a big part of Polaris’ success over that time and in the future.

James qualifies.  Having never attended university, James has lived his life with a passion for coding and innovation.  And has captured the minds and excitement of a generation of young, aspiring developers.

And he’s achieved.  He’s been named the youngest-ever Ashoka Fellow, named to Forbes’ “30 under 30″ for his work as a Social Entrepreneur, and as the 2013 Irish Internet Association’s Person of the Year.

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Why “Out-of-Residence”, you might ask?

Simple.  James, in addition to working on his own start-up ideas, will be taking to the U.S. to help spread the gospel of CoderDojo.

He’s a living, breathing example of a truly-special talent who has benefited from opportunity to be exposed, at a nascent point in his life, to the wonders of coding. And to the power of innovation.

We’re thrilled to have him on board.  And stoked to help him change a piece of the world through advancing The CoderDojo Movement.

As we said in our press release today, our support of The Hello World Foundation is the latest phase of our efforts to help build and support the technology ecosystem and community in the Boston/Cambridge market.

Imagine the entrepreneurial power of a new generation that can thrive technologically in the same manner that our generation did in areas such as athletics and the arts.

We’re supporting something very special here.

Innovation is a journey.  And that journey is a continuum.

You’ll see Polaris’ innovation supportive efforts continue – and continually re-invented to support points all along the continuum.