Scaling Marketing: How Nico Dato grew Podium from $1m to $100m

November 13, 2023

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Episode Summary

Nico Dato has an impressive background in growing businesses as a marketing leader.

During his seven-year tenure at Podium as VP of Marketing, Nico helped launch the platform into explosive growth.

Today, Nico is the CMO of Entrata, a property management software provider, where he recently helped organize their first user conference.

Outside of work, he also hosts The 4th Node Podcast, exploring the rich history of technology and business in Utah.

When Nico Dato joined Podium in 2015, they were a single-product review tool for SMBs with under $1m in revenue.

Over a 7-year period, Nico helped grow Podium to a multi-product lead conversion platform with over $100m in revenue.

For those counting at home, that's 100x growth.

In today’s episode, Alex and Nico discuss:

  • How Podium grew primarily through webinars and industry tradeshows
  • The two most important relationships for every marketing leader (spoiler: it's Product and Sales)
  • Why MQLs are a deceptive metric
  • Planning Entrata's massive user conference
  • Why you shouldn’t sleep on Utah as a tech hub

Links and References


Joining Podium

Alex Kracov: So I'd love to start today's conversation with your time at Podium, where I think you joined as the seventh employee and when the company was under a million in revenue. I think you spent seven years there and grew the team to over 65 people and hundreds of millions in revenue. But I'd love to go back to the beginning. Can you talk about what it was like when you joined Podium? How did Eric, the CEO, recruit you to the company?

Nico Dato: Yeah, so you'll find some things out there around Podium in its first office which is called 'the bike shop.' It was legitimately this space above a bike shop in Provo, Utah. In the summer, it was wicked hot. In the winter, it was wicked cold. Most of the best stories around the early days of Podium come from this office, which is where we initially got to probably 15, 20, 30 employees before we finally moved.

Maybe backing up a little bit. I had been working for another software company here in Utah. I'd gotten some outreach from a local venture firm, which is now Album Venture. Sid Krommenhoek had reached out and was like, "Hey, I know you don't know me. But I've got this company. They're called Rep Drive." That's what they're called at the time. "You should meet the two founders." I think there's some early product market fit. "Just come have lunch with them. Let's chat." And so I went to lunch with Eric and Dennis, the two founders. Super quickly, I came to the conclusion that these guys had a ton of passion, and it was something I was really interested in. At that time, it was just review collection on really Google, a little bit on Facebook. Review collection was still really new. So it's kind of a trending area, if you will.

So I joined as the seventh employee, first marketing person. When I came on, Eric was like, "Hey, we've been selling this thing door to door. We think that is really inefficient. We think we can sell this over the phone. We know a lot of other software companies that have done it. Can you help us just figure out how to get leads and start selling those leads?" So that's kind of like how it all started.

Alex Kracov: And so how did you do that? How did you go about in those really early days? He presents you with this thorny problem of, all right, go bring in a bunch of leads. There are so many different marketing channels, so many different places to start. Where did you start?

Nico Dato: Where I started there was really around in a few places. The first one was around email marketing, which I still believe pretty heavily in today. What we did was a really, really targeted approach. I literally would go and zoom info. I had an SDR who had just been hired about the same time I was hired. I'd build a list of 30 people. They were like dentists, or tire shop owners, or car dealership GMs. We would build this list, and we'd create a six-email cadence. The SDR and I just sat next to one another. We literally, our goal is just to start getting one a day. Like, let's just get one appointment a day out of these 25. We run that cycle through for a week or two, and then get another 25 and do the same thing. So we did a lot of that for a long time.

Then the other thing I mentioned, reviews are really, really new. So we started saying, well, hey, no one knows about them. They don't know the benefit of them. So we started creating content around it. Most of the content that we created - because we found it was best consumed this way - was through webinars. And so we would use those same lists to go create just really random content on here's why you should get reviews as a dentist. We just rinsed and repeated that over and over and over again and started expanding out past that.

But for the first six, eight months that I was there, that's really what we did, just with the goal of get one appointment a day. Then we'd get one. We'd do that really consistently. We'd say, okay, now let's get two. We got to the point where this SDR by himself was doing probably five or six appointments a day. Then we're like, we should probably hire another one and keep expanding from there.

SMB Verticals

Alex Kracov: You've mentioned there are so many different types of SMB verticals, right? There's dentists, HVAC, auto shop. How did you think about that challenge and which verticals to go after? Then I'm curious. Was the messaging the same for each one, or did you have to tailor it? It was like the dentist care about something really different than HVAC, or was it like all of the same messaging?

Nico Dato: It's a great question. So when I come on, Podium was originally founded because Eric, who's still the founder and CEO today, his dad had a tire shop or a couple of tire shops up in Calgary. That is where they originally found some traction. It was with tire shops. Then they found a little bit of traction with dentists and a little bit of traction with auto dealers, but not significant anywhere. And so we had that baseline to start working from. Then we just started going deeper on what each industry cared about.

What we actually found is, probably 60% to 70% of what they cared about was the same, which is, "Hey, look. This is my livelihood. I need to make more money, which means I need more customers, or I need great feedback around these customers." That was issue number one that they're trying to solve for. Then from there, probably the remaining 40% or 50% was odds and ends that were industry specific. Like for auto dealers, they would say, "Hey, we actually care about a ton of the feedback within the review. Because we have 12 sales reps. I don't know everything they're doing." Obviously, this is before Gong. This is before all these other sales tools, who knows if they've made their way there? But it was like a way for them to check in on their sales reps, right?

So it really did differ by industry on the long tail of the benefit. But the core benefit was, how do we just get more customers? We would create webinars that were geared right toward a dentist and right toward an auto dealer. We did that at the very beginning. Even as we expanded, years later, we still had what we called vertical marketing managers. Those folks were really focused on a single vertical, and knowing that vertical, and tailoring messaging to that vertical, and doing channel optimization around that vertical. So the vertical thing never really left.

Alex Kracov: Very cool. Then how long did that outbound plus webinar strategy last? I'm curious what the next evolution looked like. Because I know, as the team grew, you expanded into more proper revenue marketing in different channels. When did you start to make that shift and test other channels?

Nico Dato: Again, I've been gone from Podium now for like a year and a half, almost two years. But I do know they still use some of those same channels that we used back then. So it never really died down. I think that was one of the secrets of Podium. We just didn't have any ego around using what was really cool and trendy. We were kind of like, hey, look, at the end of the day, it's pretty simple. All of us get our paychecks and get bonuses if we get more people coming into the funnel and buying our product. So we kept it super, super simple.

But that core strategy that I discussed, we probably did that really heavily for a year and a half to two years. Then we got that motion down. I actually remember hiring someone. I think we were actually going through Y Combinator, so I might have actually hired them in year one. I remember hiring someone and saying, "Hey, this is the motion. It works really well. I just need you to take this." They're like, perfect. They did that. Then we went and hired someone else to come and start doing digital ads and all of that. So we started expanding out past that probably about a year and a half after.

Another thing that we did that became a really great program for us and back to the unsexy activity was trade shows. By the time I left Podium, we were doing 350 trade shows a year. It was crazy. Not all of them. Actually, 95% of them were dinky little 10x10s at the Minnesota Dental Association. We would just do those over and over and over again. Again, we'd set goals. We'd say, "Hey, this is going to cost us $8,000 to go do, all in for airfare hotel, the booth, power, whatever. We just need to triple our money or quadruple our money." I actually think it was 4x within three months. And if we did it and it worked, we'd go back to that show next year, and we'd just keep doing it over and over and over again. So it was really just taking on a channel at a time and saying this works. Let's get it to a good spot, pass it off. Find something else. Get it to a good spot, pass it off. We just started to feel this compounding effect of things that actually worked versus wasting money on things that didn't.

Alex Kracov: I love the rinky-dink trade show strategy. Because I think everyone wants to go to these big, flashy Las Vegas whatever trade shows. They are such a scene. I did them for Lattice of HR people. But yeah, the little ones are where the value is, where you can mine for gold, not where all your competition is going. So it's a really good strategy.

Nico Dato: I agree. And look. The company I'm at now, Entrata, they do events better than anyone I've ever seen. They did before I got here as well. They have massive booths and everything. But what's funny is, we're just going through some of our trade show strategy recently. They're like, "Hey, some of these little rinky-dink shows still matter for us." I'm like, it's not surprising. You can go generate a pretty good ROI off of something that no one really wants to do, but it actually works relatively well.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, I love it. Did you ever experiment with direct mail? Because I feel like that would play well with the SMB market and this outbound strategy you're running.

Nico Dato: We did. We did experiment with direct mail. We would do a lot of flyers, particularly around new product announcements, too. So if we launched a new product or new feature, we'd send them to existing customers. We would also do direct mail really targeted towards a specific vertical.

What's interesting about direct mail is, it's similar to Sirius XM or podcast ads. You can put 'go to' on that mailer or in that ad, and you're going to get 20 people to go there. But what you start seeing is, in your organic traffic or your direct traffic, you'll start to see these trends that you really can't attribute back really perfectly. That's how we ran direct mail. That's how we ran some of these other channels. It's like, hey, you're just going with we're 70% confident here. But every time we turn it off, we see a dip. Every time we turn it on, we see it climb.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, same experience we had at Lattice. We would try and do billboards and these big multi-channel campaigns. Then we would do it in these different cities, and then you could just see the lift on the website. You can see the lift in the leads and different things like that. I don't know. It's hard to attribute a billboard. But you sort of knew. Like, where's all this coming from? It's coming from this multi-channel strategy.

Nico Dato: I've talked to some performance marketers here at Podium, other places. You'll say, "Hey, you just have to trust this process a little bit. I promise. It works." They're like, "Yeah, but they're so quantitative." Some of them they're like, "Hey, look. I can't see the direct tie. I'm not going to put money there." And so it's funny that you saw that. Because I've actually witnessed more, or I've experienced more people are uncomfortable with that than not.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, I think it comes from CEOs and CFOs. There's a mindset. People think like, oh, everything's perfectly attributable on the internet. There's a whole generation of marketers. And yeah, a lot of it is. But only really digital ads and email marketing. Then the rest of it is more traditional marketing. That stuff works really well, too. So yeah, you got to take a leap of faith. We found the stuff where we took a leap of faith performed better. It was way less transactional. There was way more leverage in the marketing spend. It was things that helped everything across the funnel, not just getting one shitty Google ads lead.

Nico Dato: Yeah, I totally agree. I totally agree.

Radio & Podcast Advertising

Alex Kracov: On this topic, you've invested a pretty good amount, I think, into radio and podcast ads, right? So you're pretty confident. They worked. I guess, yeah, I don't know. What was your strategy behind that?

Nico Dato: Yeah, they did. Podcast ads, we were far more targeted with. So there are a bunch of niche or niche podcasts that have maybe a couple thousand followers max or maybe even 100 sometimes. It might be a dental podcast or whatever it may be. We would go to them and just be like, "Hey, we'll just give you $1,000 if you'll let us sponsor all of your ads for the next month." They'd be, "Great. Perfect. This is our side gig." So we'll do that all day.

On the podcast side, we were much more targeted. We weren't going after the SmartLess of the world or Bill Simmons. Those costs quite a bit of money. We just weren't comfortable with that. So we went far more targeted. On Sirius XM, we did find our stations that worked really well. They were the stations you wouldn't expect. Sometimes it was like conservative talk radio. And it worked really, really well. That was one of those things where we throw up a landing page with forward slash, whatever. And we'd get 10 leads from it. But it would have run for like three months. But we'd look at the traffic, and my head of revenue marketing who's with me at Entrata now, he would be like, "Trust me. It's working." I can't tell you exactly how much we're getting, but it's working. We just did that over and over and over again and took the leap of faith initially. It ended up working out.

Building a Marketing Team

Alex Kracov: Let us switch gears a little bit and talk about building the marketing team. Because you went from a team of one, and then you ended up somewhere around 65 people. What were those first few hires that you made? Maybe we'll start there.

Nico Dato: I had mentioned email marketing and webinars were really useful for us in the very beginning. I just went and basically hired people who could take this thing that I built a v1 of and said, "Can you build a v2, and then a v3, and then a v4," and then just let them own that thing.

The first person I actually hired was a content marketer. He's also with me today at Entrata. He just focused on webinars. He just made the webinar process and strategy and content really, really good. Then the second hire I made was a junior demand marketer who did a lot of the email marketing. That person took that and ran with it. Then I had mentioned that we started finding success from trade shows, so I went and hired someone to come in and run the trade show strategy for us. Then, at that point, I had three people doing these really focused channel work. I went and hired a director, a head of revenue marketing. That one was a bit more opportunistic. I probably wouldn't have hired him or that position normally. But he was someone who showed up and was like, "I love what you guys are doing." He'd already had a couple exits himself as a founder and was like, "I don't want this job. I don't want the head of marketing job. I just want to come in and have an impact." So I hired him and just let him run as well. Then he started building out that demand team.

It was around that time when I hired my first designer. That first designer was the only designer for another year or so. It really took until maybe year three or four for us to start building out individual functions and adding product marketing, and adding copywriters, and adding videographers and all of that. And so we kept it really, really tight and really scrappy for the first probably two and a half, three years of my time there even though we were growing really quickly.

Alex Kracov: By the time you left, what was the department structure? Who were maybe your lieutenants under you and those team leads? What did that look like?

Nico Dato: I had a revenue marketing, a VP of revenue marketing. I had a VP of product marketing. I had a VP of social and comms. We merged those two together. I had a creative director. I had a project manager who reported to me. I never really wanted that role to report into an individual function, because I felt like the Switzerland scenario of a project manager reporting it to me kept everything true.

I'm trying to think if I had anything else past that. I had about five or six people, but that was the main structure. We kept it that way most of the time. I mean, we had a brand function. We had a product marketing function, revenue marketing function, social and comms, and events. Events was the other one that reported to me.

Marketing Relationships: Sales & Product

Alex Kracov: Makes sense. Then what was your relationship like with the sales team? You mentioned a little bit early on how you're pairing up with the SDRs. But how did marketing collaborate with sales? What did that look like?

Nico Dato: It obviously evolved over time. I personally, to this day, think the two most important partnerships a head of marketing can have is the head of product and the head of sales. Hands down. Those are the two most important relationships.

I was really lucky at Podium. Our head of sales, he's still there. His name is Than Hancock. He's amazing. He and I had a really good relationship. We still do. We text all the time. We basically had said like, "Hey, look. We're in this together." If we had a revenue goal on an annual basis, how Eric, our CEO, would split up is basically like, "Hey, Nico. You're responsible for 50% of the revenue coming in through inbound channels or some of the outbound channels. Then Than, you're responsible for the other 50%," or whatever that breakdown was. And so Than and I really made sure that we had a really strong relationship. We were really collaborative. We were chasing the same goals. Then the people underneath us - our plus ones, and then plus twos, and plus threes - we're really tight as well. It's something that you can't just force it to happen. You got to find people who want to be revenue-focused.

You and I talked about this, I remember, years ago at that dinner that you, Eric, Jack, and I went to. We just said like, hey, look. At the end of the day, the thing we're trying to do is drive revenue. I still, to this day, look for marketing folks who think that way. Because if they don't, it's really easy to become adversarial with sales and do the finger pointing thing. And so that relationship, in my opinion, is what either allows you to succeed or to fail.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, the way I think about it is just one team, one dream. You're not here just to drive MQLs or whatever made up metric you want. It's about growing a business and revenue. You should all be incentivized at the end of the day to do that. That's the nice part about startup equity and all that stuff. You shouldn't be there to grow this big business. So yeah, I don't know. It blows my mind when people don't think about marketing from a revenue perspective.

Nico Dato: I think you'd be shocked though. I do a fair amount of advising. Someone will pull me in, and I'll go talk to the head of marketing and sales. I'm like, "Hey, do you work with each other?" They're like, "No, not really. They provide us MQLs." I'm like, well, that's part of the issue. It's like the throw over the fence mentality is totally broken. And so you have to align those goals. We did that too. I'm sure you did something similar at Lattice. But my marketing folks on the revenue side, they were gold and comped off of accepted opportunities, like opportunities created. Because the MQL metric is just not - it's not a real metric, in my opinion.

Alex Kracov: It's very subjective, yeah.

Nico Dato: It's subjective. So it's like, hey, what are those steps that'd allow us to create predictability and conversion rates down the funnel? It's like demos, or it's opportunities, or whatever else it is. So I think that's a really good point. The throw over the fence mentality and the MQL mentality, I personally think someone could probably fight me, and they'd probably win. I think it's broken. I just think you have to have shared goals.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, I always thought marketing's goal was pipeline. It's like, are we driving pipeline that's at least close? It's ultimately revenue but the closest thing. Okay. Pipeline is like what I would report on to the board and talk about. That's what we would call ourselves around, because it was at least like, okay, dollar amount tied to it. It's like back it to revenue.

Nico Dato: You can't control everything passed when pipeline is created. Sales reps are going to go run their cycles. But I totally agree. Pipeline is most important.

Alex Kracov: Then you mentioned the other really important relation at the company was head of product. And so I'd love to talk a little bit about product launches and how you went about doing that. Because I know Podium eventually went multi-product and expanded well beyond online reviews. I think you had website chats and feedback surveys, but I think one memorable one was the payment launch. Can you talk about the decision to build payments and how you went about that launch?

Nico Dato: The product relationship is incredibly important as well for multiple reasons. One is because you have to be able to understand exactly what the product is, what it does, and then articulate that in a way that allows sales to actually go sell it and drive revenue around it. And so working hand in hand with that product person really helps you shape. Like, oh, we could position the speech this way. I understand what you're doing here. But, by the way, so and so, competitor does this. Let's just make sure we keep thinking about that. And so that relationship is super, super important.

For us, I had a couple of chief product officers that I'd worked with during my time at Podium. But by the time I left, I was working with a guy named John Foreman, who was the Chief Product Officer at MailChimp for a long time. John is one of the smartest people, not even within product but just the smartest people I know. He really helped accelerate some of the multi-product initiatives we had. He also came in and really looked at the feature breakdown of each product and said like, "Let's figure out how we get the connective tissues of all these things to work really well together."

To your point, we had initially jumped from reviews to website chat. It was the web chat product. In that launch, I guess backing up a second, going multi-product is super hard. Going from a single-point solution to multi-product is so, so, so hard. Launching any product is a gamble or a bet. You can do all the research you want, but it's still a little bit of a gamble and bet. We had gotten really fortunate with website chat. It had done really well, and it's a really popular product today. I bet if you go to a bunch of auto dealer's sites, or dental sites, or tire shop sites, or furniture stores online, you'll see Podium. You'll see it on some decent percentage of it. So we had done really well there.

Then after we had done that launch, we'd said, okay, what else do some of these business owners need? One of the things we had thought was, well, hey, a lot of these people are using really archaic payment systems. They're like, if you go into a tire shop, for example, they're using a really shitty, old credit card machine that they've probably had for 10 years that some door-to-door person came in and sold them. They haven't thought twice about it. It's not integrated into anything. It's printing off on a piece of paper. They then have to take that and go input the numbers into whatever CRM they're using. And so we had said, we think we can make that process a lot smoother. We also think that there's adjacencies with things like review generation - so being able to send out a review invite after a credit card swipe or something like that.

And so there were a lot of different connective tissues for us to decide to launch payments. It was a really hard launch but a really successful and satisfying launch. Because payments is a whole another beast. It's not like you're dealing with a lot of different pieces that you've never dealt with before. But for me, it's one of the most satisfying launches I've had because it was so hard, and it's such a beast to launch a product like that.

Creating a Successful Product Launch

Alex Kracov: And so what goes into that launch? Who's leading it? Is it just the product marketing manager? Then how do you think about even approaching a launch?

Nico Dato: It's definitely not one person. It's definitely a team. So we had a product person who was a specialist on the payment side. That person helped obviously lead the technical charge. We had a product marketing manager who was tied in with that person during the entire development lifecycle. We had, obviously, a chief product officer who was incredibly involved. We had sales folks who were trying to understand. Okay. This might slow down our sales cycle a little bit. How do we make it a no-brainer?

I think that's actually the secret to a launch. You can't just go build this thing in a silo on the product side or the product marketing side, and be like, "Okay, cool. Here's this thing. Good luck. We'll do an hour-long training. Go sell it." It's a very iterative process. I think you've probably heard a ton about painted-door tests, of saying like, we're going to go just test this thing even before maybe it's a real thing. That's something we did a lot of, which was, hey, if we had this thing, here's what it could do. How do you think about it? It's not just product people on those calls. It's sales folks. It's marketing folks. We're really starting to understand early on in the product development lifecycle what this looks like. Then that ends up allowing everyone to come along on the journey and craft it together, versus making this thing and handing it over. Does that make sense?

Alex Kracov: Yep, totally. It's a really important point. I think all of the big launches at Lattice, I'd like to think we got it right, where it was like, okay, we did what you described. But there's definitely so many little features wherever where I was tossed over the fence to the sales team. It's like, "Go sell this. This is how it works now." It's like you needed to have a much better process of getting buy in, and enablement, and education. Because yeah, it's hard for sales folks to change their script, and to change the positioning, and to change all that stuff. It's way easier said than done.

Nico Dato: Well, you're better than me. I definitely did not nail every launch. I screwed up far more than I did anything right. But I agree with you. Sales folks, it is hard to get in a cadence. You'll get your very best sales rep. A sales leader will come and be like, "Hey, everyone, we're going to watch how this sales rep does a demo. Because they're crushing all of you. Let's figure out how we emulate it." And what you'll find is, they just have a motion. It's such a motion. That talk track is 95% the same every time. So the second you just go plopping a new product, it's like, "Hey, by the way, we need a million dollars of this in revenue by the end of the quarter," that just throws even the best sales rep completely off.

And so starting that process early allows them to start thinking about how they ease it in or even just say, "Hey, by the way, we have a product launching at the beginning of Q2, and it does X, Y, and Z. That might be something you're interested in." And if they get that in their motion by the time it actually launches, it's much easier to integrate.

Growing at Podium

Alex Kracov: Yeah, that's very true. On a personal level, you had such a tremendous growth at Podium. What was that like for you? How were you able to scale yourself? It must have just been a crazy journey for you on a personal note.

Nico Dato: Yeah, I appreciate that. I don't think I did anything magical, to be honest with you. I think that what it comes down to for me is, I look for people who work hard. I feel like I work hard. It's interesting. I had the opportunity of introducing a keynote speaker for one of our customers yesterday, Mike Eruzione, who was one of the Olympic hockey players in the 1980s that had won the winning goal against the Russians. I think it was against the Russians. Maybe it was Finland. He had said something yesterday that stuck with me, and that's how I feel every day. He was like, "I was the captain of the team. But I literally thought every morning when I wake up, I'm like, I wouldn't be surprised if I get cut." I think that's how I just always thought. I keep that same mindset today. Whatever I did the day before, even if it was great, I'm like, I wouldn't be shocked if Eric or my now boss, Adam, who's the CEO would show up. He's like, "Sorry, Nico. This is the end of the road of it." I get it. I think keeping that mindset of never resting on whatever you did well, and just staying hungry and staying almost healthily paranoid, I think, was really healthy and helpful for me.

Alex Kracov: I think I had the same mindset. I think the mindset of startups for shoot to be like that. Honestly, I think because the growth goals are bigger and the scale of the company is different, and what you need to do from marketing perspective changes every six months, or every year, or whatever. And so it's like, you're always asking yourself, like, can I do the next stage? Can I do the next thing? Am I ready for that? Then you need to have that internal motor to be like, okay, I'm going to do this. I'm going to step up. I'm going to change how I do these things. That's the fun part of trying to scale with these companies.

Nico Dato: I bet you felt it at Lattice, too. Because I remember talking to, I think it was like the chief commercial officer of HubSpot at one point. He had told me. He's like, "I've been at HubSpot for 8 years, or 10 years, or whatever it was." He's like, "I've been a part of 20 different companies."

What he meant by that was, like, we reinvented the company every six to eight months. Podium was the same way. I actually think that's the case for any business. You have to just be comfortable with the change. People are going to come in and out - peers, managers, whatever it ends up being. Just be comfortable with the change, and just know that whatever you did yesterday really doesn't matter today. And if it does matter today, it won't matter tomorrow because you can't rest on that thing. So I heard you. I think the startup thing does force you to get that, especially when you're an early-stage startup and the money is so sparse. You're like, "Hey, look. If I don't make this work, I know that there's not enough money to keep paying all of us." And so it does kind of force you to think that way.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, then it flips eventually. You're successful. You have a big marketing budget, and then you need to spend it as fast, and grow. It's a funny dynamic at some point when that changes.

Joining Entrata

All right. I'd love to spend some time talking about your current company, Entrata. You've worked there for like, I think, just under two years. It's very different than Podium. Entrata sells to property management companies. It's been around for, I think, 20 years. There's hundreds of millions of revenue. Very much an established company. Can you talk about why you joined Entrata and what it was like when you first started?

Nico Dato: Yes, our CEO, he took the gig maybe three years ago. He was actually the president at Podium for four, four and a half years. He caught wind that I was leaving Podium. He had reached out to me, and he's like, "Hey, I would really love to chat with you about maybe coming over here." In my mind, at that point, I was like, I think I'm going to go back to a startup. I like the startup phase. It's fun. I'm like, I'd like to do it one more time maybe before I go and do something a little larger. Then we met for lunch. He walked me through the business. And super quickly, I was like, oh, I'd be an idiot not to join this business. It is incredibly healthy. No one really knows how healthy the business is. It's a verticalized software play, which I really like. I think it's really interesting. It's fun to go deep in a vertical. I have always been really, really drawn to businesses that have super real-world impact. Podium was helping small business owners. I love that.

Here, we're literally powering the thing that helps people have shelter, which is one of the staples in life. And so all of those pieces just really quickly fell into place for me. He was like, "Here's the only thing. The marketing team is really incredible at events. They're the best I've ever seen. There's not a ton past that. It's no knock on anyone. That's just the channel that they created, and they did really well with. They haven't really branched out past that. So you're going to have to come in and create some of these other things." That was also really intriguing to me.

So when I came into the business, there's probably 20-ish marketers. A lot of them sitting on the brand side and the event side. And today we're still not much bigger. I actually would love to keep it as small as possible and spend the money on the revenue generating things like advertising events, et cetera. And so we're probably 30-ish, 32 people today. I've come in and added a few other elements to marketing to round things out, keep acquisition really predictable and stable. Like demand marketing, we didn't have any kind of demand generation function. I built out the brand team a little bit so that we can just move faster and be a little bit more put together on how we move. It's been a lot of fun. I've loved it. It's an awesome industry, and it's an incredible company.

Alex Kracov: You mentioned you added demand gen. What does that look like at Entrata? Because from my understanding of this, there's pretty big deal sizes. It's a pretty enterprise sale. Is it like ABM strategy you're running? How do you think about it? What does demand look like at Entrata?

Nico Dato: It's super interesting. It's actually across basically every market segment, really. Most of our business sits in the enterprise - long sales cycles, multimillion-dollar deals, multiple touch points. But we also do sell to smaller owners and operators where we can actually do it over the phone, like within inside sales team. Then we actually have a whole bunch of residents that obviously live in the properties that we support. We also sell things to the residents as well, like resident insurance. There's something called the posit alternatives, rent reporting, et cetera.

We actually just launched a new brand a month or two ago called Homebody. That's geared right toward those residents. So this demand marketing team is actually spanning all of those segments. They're focused on Homebody, which is for the residents. They're focused on the inside sales team. They're also focused on the mid-market and enterprise. And so the motions differ, obviously, for each one of those segments. That inside team is obviously doing a lot more inside sales, inbound leads. They're doing cold calling as well. Enterprise is a lot more relationship selling, a lot of field events, still doing a lot of true enterprise-type content. We just launched the Forrester report a month or so ago. Then on the Homebody side for residents, it's a lot of what you'd expect - direct mail, digital advertising, all of that. So it really spans the whole market, if you will.

Alex Kracov: You joined this company with an established marketing team who's mainly focused on events, which I want to talk about in a second. How did you go about building trust within the team and adding these different programs into the mix? How did you think about that? Because that must be pretty intimidating, where there's just a bunch of humans who have been doing marketing in a while. It's like, okay. I'm the new boss. We're going to change. How did you approach it? How did you approach that challenge?

Nico Dato: It's hard. It really is hard, candidly. Well, it's gotten easier, obviously. But it was really hard. I think there are a few elements to it. The first is, we have a really great executive team who I think some of those people would come in before me, and retrofitted some of the areas to which they felt really good about.

I have some great people around me. Jason Taylor is our CTO at Podium. He's a long tenured CTO. He's the CTO here. Our Chief Product Officer, Catherine Wong, was at Domo, and then Adobe and Omniture. She has done amazing things. Our CFO is at Pluralsight, Skullcandy, et cetera. So we've had really great people who've come in and done it. So I think for some of my people, they were like, okay, this is just marketing's time. We're going to go do what others have done.

I also think I got really lucky because I walked into a handful of direct reports that were really great at what they did. Like my head of events, she is incredible. My creative director, incredible. My head of product marketing, incredible. So they did make it easier. With that said, there was still a lot of work to do around saying, "Here's why we're going to do this. And here's why it's going to make your life easier. Or here's what the impact is going to be."

The thing I always go back to is the shared common goal which is revenue. I think that makes it super easy. So when I came in, I just said, "Hey, look. We don't know exactly where our revenue is coming from. So we're going to put in place attribution. We are lumpy quarter to quarter. That's not fair for the sales team. That sucks for predictability. We need to figure out to smooth this out." And so I just explained these things. They're super smart, ambitious people. They're like, okay, let's do it. So while it was really hard to get in place, I feel like I was fortunate that I had a team who was really receptive to it.

Alex Kracov: So it sounds like you really just showed your thinking around why you're making all these decisions, be super transparent, explain how it's going to impact the business. Then obviously, that builds trust and then get everyone on board.

Nico Dato: Yeah, and then I think showing the quick results are really important. I talked to my team about this a lot. You have to do a little bit of internal marketing as well. To be like, "We did this field event. Look what it generated. We wouldn't have gotten that otherwise. We should do that again." And so just showing those wins in the momentum, I think, mattered a ton too. For any of the haters, if there were any - I'm sure there were. There are everywhere. They look at that, and they're like, how do I argue with $30 million in pipeline? Yeah, obviously, we keep doing that. So I think you're right. Showing thinking but also showing results are the one-two punch that you need to use.

Planning the Entrata Summit Conference

Alex Kracov: And so you've mentioned Entrata's longtime focus for marketing was around events, both smaller field events and larger user conferences. I think it was last month you did your Entrata Summit Conference, which is like your big conference. Can you take us behind the scenes of creating a giant user conference like that? What are the goals for it? What goes into it? How do you think about it?

Nico Dato: It's a beast. It is a big undertaking. We wrapped up about a month ago. I literally have a call in two hours with my head of events to start booking talent for next year and start putting in the tent poles. We've already booked the venue that we're going to be at for the next two years. It takes a lot of planning. That just goes to show it never really stops. You finish, and then you start back up. It's a lot. With that said, again, with a really great team who's doing 95% of the lifting, I'm just able to come in and poke holes and say, I don't think this is going to work, or this is how we should think about this thing. But yeah, it's tough.

I think for us, we try to have a blend of it being entertaining, fun, and educational. And so we have a lot of really great keynote speakers every single year. Like this year, we had Maverick Carter, who's LeBron James' business partner and childhood best friend. We had Rashida Jones. We had Shane Magee. We had Nate Bargatze, the comedian, one night for entertainment. We had Weezer perform. So we really focused on the entertainment side. But then, on the flip side, we have a ton of breakout sessions that are really focused around the educational aspects. I think it's a combination of our team, whether it be product folks, product marketers, whoever it is running sessions. We have customer-led sessions. Silver Lake is one of our big investors. They have a really great AI team. And so we had one of their operating partners on the AI side come to a session, which was really popular. But we really try to find a balance between the two.

It also takes a village. Our weekly meeting around summit planning leading up to it for the three or four months leading up to it is honestly 25, 30 people. Because there are so many different moving pieces to make it work really, really well. But at the end, it's super worth it. It's really fun to see the result.

Alex Kracov: I'm curious how many people attended the event. But then, you mentioned the results too. Is it mainly for customers to get them to love your brand more and to keep spending with you? Or is it mainly to attract new prospects, or is it a mix? How do you think about the relationship between those two audiences?

Nico Dato: It's both. It's, for sure, both. There's a legendary executive here in the Utah area. Her name is Carine Clark. I remember her telling me at one point, she's like conferences are so funny because you're literally like, "Hey, why don't you buy a ticket for me, pay for your airfare, pay for your hotel to come, and let us just entertain you, and tell you about new things that are going on within the business?" So I think for us, that's similar to how we've structured these events. We're like, hey, look. If you're invested in us, and you want to understand what we're doing and what we're putting out there, and you want to learn about how people are using our system, we'd love to have you. And if you do that, we're going to make it really useful for you. On the flip side, for prospective customers, we want them to come and get a sense for us as a business, talk to our customers, see how much they love us. We want them there as well. So it's really a mix of the two.

As far as how big it was, this year was our biggest year. With employees and everything else, we had right around 1,000 or 1,200 people. It's much smaller if you look at some of the other conferences out there. I mean, Dreamforce, I won't even talk about it because that's in a different universe. But Qualtrics has thousands of people, right? They might even be like 8,000 or 10,000 at this point. I don't know if we ever want to get to that size. I think we want to make sure we keep some intimacy. But at the same time, we want to make sure that people can share in the education and entertainment. So we've kind of found our sweet spot.

Alex Kracov: How do you think about enabling the sales team around these events? Are they trying to set up meetings around the event, or are they just there as a friendly face to try and sell their product? How do you think about that?

Nico Dato: Yeah, they're for sure setting up meetings. They're having meetings. They're doing count reviews. They're talking about new products, et cetera. We also, going into Summit, that's where we're launching a lot of new products and features are announcing them and saying that they're coming in a certain timeframe. So we're equipping them to be able to talk to those things.

Fortunately, Entrata is so funny. Our sales team is really incredible. A lot of them have been in the industry for a decade, two, three decades. And so they have incredible relationships. They love our customers more than any other company I've ever seen. A lot of it for them is, hey, we just want to see these people. We haven't seen them in a little while. We want to chat with them and just keep building that relationship. What comes from that is, ideally, more revenue. But at the same time, even if it's not, we want to make sure they're happy and they're okay, and they're good. So we do a lot of enabling. But candidly, they are so self-sufficient and know what they want to get out of it that it makes it a lot easier than it might be normal.

Alex Kracov: That's awesome. That's really nice to have, salespeople who authentically have real relationships and deep understanding of an industry.

Nico Dato: It's unbelievable. That was actually the biggest surprise to me as I came into Entrata. The average tenure of an employee has got to be two to three times what the average software tenure is. All of these people literally know every customer, everything about them. They love them. It's pretty fun to watch.

Alex Kracov: What does Entrata's field event program look like, the smaller events? Do you have a sense of the volume you're doing? Do you think about the type of mix of these different events?

Nico Dato: It's evolving right now, to be candid. I mean, last year was our first full year of really doing a full field event strategy. It's ranging from everything - to a baseball game, to the masters, to we did F1 in Austin last week, to U.S. Open, whatever it ends up being. So it really is a broad spectrum.

Again, for me, it always comes back to cost, which is how much we're spending at one of these events. What's the estimated payback, and what's the payback period? I think that's the evolving piece for us. Our sales cycles are long. So we've gone through the first phase or wave of doing a bunch of them. We're going to start to watch how that converts over the next couple of months. Then we'll continue to re-up on the things that work and cut out the things that don't work. But yeah, it's a pretty wide spectrum of things that we're doing - dinners, sports events, musicals, whatever it ends up being.

The Utah Tech Scene

Alex Kracov: Awesome. I'd love to end today's conversation talking about the Utah tech scene. So you grew up in Utah. You spent your career working for Utah tech companies. Now you have a podcast. I think The 4th Node Podcast that talks about Utah businesses. Shout out. Go listen to it. What is the tech community like in Utah? And why is it so successful? Why is there this gem of tech companies happening in Utah?

Nico Dato: Yeah, it's interesting. Utah gets looked over pretty often. I get why. We're kind of sitting in no man's land in Utah. We're not in the Bay, or New York, or Boston, or Austin, or wherever the texting may be. But what's funny and what a lot of people don't know, and it's why our CEO and myself started The 4th Node Podcast, is a lot of tech evolved out of Utah. It has been in Utah for a long time. I mean, dating back to the '80s with WordPerfect and Novell, they were two of the largest software companies at the time in the world. Then you fast forward. You look at what Josh James had done with Omniture, which is sold to Adobe. It's why we have such a big Adobe presence here in Salt Lake City. Now Josh has gone on to found Domo. And it just evolved. I mean, you have Pluralsight. Aaron Skonnard did a great job with Pluralsight. They went public, and now they're taking private again. You had Qualtrics who has obviously done really incredibly well here. They've done a similar path to Pluralsight but on a different scale. There's just still a lot that's going on here that not a lot of people knew about.

And so what we want to do is just tell that story with this podcast. I think why it works really well here is, we have a really educated workforce. The cost of living here is relatively inexpensive compared to something like the Bay Area. And we have a bunch of really great go-to-market functions here in Utah. And so you build a great product, and we have a lot of great technical people here. Then you have to go sell that product. We have a lot of really great go-to-market people here. We're even seeing a ton of companies outside the state bring people in just for the go-to-market function. It's really fun to see. We just want to document the history and the momentum of the state.

Alex Kracov: Yeah, it's really cool to see how startup ecosystems develop. You just need a couple big outcomes, a couple big companies that are successful to show the way to develop talent. Then those people go on to start companies and do other things. I mean, that's what makes the Bay Area so special. But it's really cool to see it happening in places like Utah, too.

Nico Dato: Yeah, I know. I appreciate that. It's definitely on a different scale. But I think we're making waves, which is fun. You look at people like Ryan Smith who founded Qualtrics. I think he still might be the chairman, but now he bought the Utah Jazz. He's really focusing on cultivating things at a more national level, which I think is cool. But it'll be interesting to see how it scales over the next 5 to 10 years.

Alex Kracov: Well, thank you so much for the conversation and time today, Nico. If people want to follow-up with questions, where's the best place to find you? Are you active on LinkedIn or somewhere else?

Nico Dato: I'm somewhat active on LinkedIn, and that's about it. I'm the worst tweeter on Earth. So you can go follow me on Twitter, but you'll probably not get anything from me. So yeah, LinkedIn is great. I'm fairly active there.

Alex Kracov: Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Nico.

Nico Dato: Thanks, Alex.

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