Ex-HubSpot CMO Volpe to Lead Lola, Founder Paul English Is Now CTO
[Updated 7/17/18, 11:53 am, with comments from English and Volpe. See below.] Lola, the business travel software startup led by Kayak co-founder Paul English, has brought on a new chief executive: Mike Volpe, the former chief marketing officer at both HubSpot and Cybereason.
English will relinquish his CEO title to serve as Lola’s chief technology officer, according to a company statement e-mailed to Xconomy. That’s the role he held at Kayak before he left in late 2013, according to his LinkedIn profile. English helped build Kayak into a popular travel search and booking software company. He and co-founder Steve Hafner took the company public before selling it to Priceline Group (now known as Booking Holdings) in a deal valued at $1.8 billion.
“I don’t have an ego here; I’m really happy to be ‘just’ CTO” of Lola, English said in a phone interview Tuesday morning. “I’m still the largest stockholder in the company. Even though I’m not the CEO, I still control a lot of the company.” (Volpe is investing an undisclosed amount in Lola and will get a board seat, English added.)
English (pictured above, on the right) co-founded Lola in 2015. It was an idea hatched at Blade, his former venture fund/startup workspace in Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood. Lola has raised $45 million from investors such as GV, General Catalyst Partners, and Accel.
The startup began as a travel-booking mobile app for consumers, combining software tools with the ability to text with a human travel agent who would research flights and hotels, make recommendations, help book the trip, and be on call to handle any questions or problems that arise.
Last year, Lola shifted its focus toward serving frequent business travelers, and it rolled out a new version of its product that added more self-service tools.
Volpe (pictured with English) is well-known in the Boston tech community, but this is his first CEO role. He joined HubSpot (NYSE: HUBS), the Cambridge, MA-based marketing and sales software firm, in 2007 as one of its first employees. He became chief marketing officer in 2011, according to his LinkedIn profile. He was fired in 2015 for violating HubSpot’s code of business conduct and ethics “in connection with attempts to procure a draft manuscript of a book involving the company.”
The following year, Volpe joined Cybereason in the same role. The cybersecurity firm is one of Boston’s best-funded startups, having raised at least $189 million from SoftBank, CRV, Spark Capital, Lockheed Martin, and others.
“This is very bittersweet for me, to have to leave such a hot company with an awesome team,” Volpe said in an e-mail to Xconomy. “However, I’ve known Paul for years, and I’d be crazy to turn down an opportunity to partner with him as CEO. Often, first-time CEO jobs are in a troubled situation, but this is the opposite, so it is a really special opportunity.”
Now, Volpe will try to ramp up Lola’s business. English praised Volpe’s sales and marketing skills and his experience managing business operations. He has also served on multiple company boards, including Repsly and Validity, according to Volpe’s LinkedIn profile.
English said he met Volpe three years ago and they have invested in some startups together, including Boston-based job referral and recruitment business Drafted. Over the past few months, English said he has been searching for a chief operating officer with “marketing chops.” A friend suggested English talk to Volpe, and they met for coffee.
“After I pitched him, I decided … he’d make a better CEO than me,” English said.
English said Lola’s board was divided over the idea. Those who opposed it said English was the person they had bet on. “‘You have brand equity—you should be the CEO,’” English recalled board members saying. One suggested English and Volpe serve as co-CEOs, but English said he doesn’t like that model. Ultimately, he won them over.
Before making the offer, English researched what happened at the end of Volpe’s tenure at HubSpot. He said he talked with HubSpot CTO Dharmesh Shah and CEO Brian Halligan, as well as Larry Bohn of General Catalyst Partners, a former HubSpot board member. English said they endorsed Volpe as an ethical, caring, and strong leader.
“I feel completely comfortable that Mike represents the culture we’ve built at Lola and think he will … grow the culture,” English said.
Volpe’s first day at Lola will be Aug. 1, English said. Volpe will oversee a variety of business functions, but his top priority will be ramping up Lola’s sales and marketing efforts. The 50-person company basically started from scratch when it shifted gears last year to sell to business customers, English said. Lola has spent just $30,000 on marketing, and it has a sales and marketing team of five people, he added. Now, it plans to pour some of its venture capital—it still has nearly $20 million in the bank—into promoting its business.
“We haven’t really invested there,” English said.