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5 Business Lessons From Mark Organ on Building Billion-Dollar Companies

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The concept of advocate is so simple, it makes you wonder why it took this long for someone to really implement it. Think about it: you target your biggest brand ambassadors (your happy customers) and have them lead your marketing charge. It’s organic, it’s smart, and it’s effective.

Rick Madonik / Contributor | Getty Images
TORONTO, ONTARIO - Mark Organ, CEO of Eloqua, in his King Street East office. Eloqua thinks the industry can handle a 'new science of selling.'

Mark Organ created Influitive back before anyone was really focusing on advocate marketing. And he succeeded, launching a platform that capitalizes on happy customers and brand experiences, two positive things that are rarely seen as potential for capital.

Related: Money Is Not What Makes Successful Entrepreneurs Tick

Prior to that, Mark founded marketing automation pioneer Eloqua, which was so successful that it was acquired by Oracle for $871 million in 2012. In between, he helped over a dozen software companies in the U.S. and successfully go to market.

I recently sat down to speak with Mark to discover what he has learned launching two very successful SaaS companies. Here are five of the top insights from our talk:

1. Happy customers are your best marketers.

Content and aren’t going anywhere, but it’s created a new problem for marketers -- too much content. There is so much content -- and noise -- that a lot of prospective buyers do not know what to focus on. The best way to cut through the clutter is to develop prospects with social proof and have trusted advocates communicate your message.

“Advocate marketing is going to get a lot of attention over the next two years. While it’s definitely still in the early days for advocate marketing, I've led this kind of before and I believe that virtually every company in the world will have some form of [advocate marketing] program and strategy in the next 10 years.”

2. Identify a billion-dollar business category.

According to Mark, the challenge for most tech entrepreneurs today is figuring out how to get above the noise of a flooded market.

“I think that the solution to building a big company is about understanding -- with an incredible amount of detail -- a niche that is likely to become really valuable in the future... And just because you haven't seen it doesn't mean it is not possible.

"A billion-dollar SaaS company always needs a specific niche. But the good news is that there are still a lot of opportunities today in the business world to build a billion-dollar category, “because the need to market is fundamental.”

Related: How Mark Organ's Eloqua Nearly Ended up Bankrupt

3. Take time to make specific, actionable goals.

It’s not easy scaling from a few thousand dollars in revenue to a couple million, much less to one billion. According to Mark, it’s a matter of hitting small, achievable goals every day.

“I wake up in the morning, every day, even on the weekend, and I write out what my goals are for the day. And I feel good in that I get most of those things done, both for the company and as an individual, on a monthly and quarterly basis.”

But it’s equally as important for entrepreneurs to try and enjoy the journey while hitting their goals. The deep level of personal and team-based growth that an entrepreneur experiences at a startup -- even if it ends up failing -- is irreplaceable.

“I think the kind of personal growth that makes you an entrepreneur is phenomenal. Even if my company didn’t make it, I think I'd be heartened by the fact that I've truly grown as an individual.”

4. Find the right customers.

The key to starting any scalable startup is to identify your main group of customers and ignore the rest. But how many of us actually follow through to cater to their specific needs?

“For me the process of building a company really comes down to first identifying a certain niche -- which means identifying a group of people that are on your search -- and hopefully picking the right group of people.

“So the question is what do those people look like? Are there any of them out there today? What kind of products and services can I give those people that are going to make their lives better in some way?”

It’s not enough to put yourself in the customer’s shoes, either. You also have to decide which of your customers are the best ones -- and reward them. What is it about these people that is driving the most value and how do you get more people like them?

Related: 5 Killer Lessons I Learned from Interviewing World-Class Entrepreneurs

5. Be attuned to pains and frustrations.

Mark’s background in neuroscience has helped him cultivate a sensitivity towards daily pains and frustrations that has been crucial to creating a business.

“You must be attuned to pain. I think if you go through life really attuned to feeling stress and frustration and write those things can find the intersections between those frustrations and pains and you feel where disruptive technology is going.”

Why are so many entrepreneurs bad at this? Because creative people tend to fall in love with an idea for a solution rather than with the problem that needs solving.

“I think being obsessed with a problem is a lot better than being obsessed with whatever you sketch out on a piece of paper for how you want to solve it.”

In short: starting a business comes down to making it personal. If you can’t lose yourself in a problem, if you can’t understand the need personally, then you can’t feel out the best way to solve it.

What being a serial entrepreneur really means.

Finally, I wanted to know the difference between what Mark did at Eloqua to make it so successful, and what he’s doing at Influitive today. Here’s what he had to say:

“The difference between what I’m doing at Influitive versus Eloqua is that I decided that I'm going to be a professional entrepreneur. It’s going to be my profession and I'm going to try to do it as well as I can.”

Perhaps the best takeaway from Mark is that professional entrepreneurs must consider their constantly and use them to evolve their problem-solving skills. He advocates personal growth. Don’t stop building companies. And don’t stop building yourself.

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