Olympics, NFL Lessons Guide Integrate’s Bloom in First Year as CEO
A lot of entrepreneurs have circuitous career paths before becoming a first-time CEO. Few have the Olympics or the National Football League on their resumes.
But that’s the case for Jeremy Bloom, co-founder and CEO of Integrate, a venture-backed marketing software company. Bloom has been in the top spot for about eight months as the company tries to scale, improve its go-to-market strategy, and find the perfect market fit after a challenging year.
Understanding how to successfully navigate those challenges comes only with experience, and Bloom said he’s learning on the job.
“The thing about being a CEO is, it’s sink or swim, and you’re thrown in, and you have no choice but to swim,” he said.
Although he spent a year in a special entrepreneurship program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, he said the best training might have come from his years in sports. He was a world champion freestyle skier and competed in the 2002 and 2006 Winter Olympics, where he finished sixth in the freestyle moguls competition in 2006. He also spent parts of two seasons as a wide receiver and kick returner with the Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Prior to the Olympics and NFL, Bloom was a collegiate All-American with the University of Colorado’s football team.
It’s been several years since Bloom’s athletic glory days—his football career ended when the Steelers cut him before the 2008 season, and he last competed as a skier in 2009—but the lessons are lasting.
“Day to day, I find so many similarities with my experience as a professional athlete. Building a team, building a culture, trying to accomplish these lofty goals, I think there are a lot of similarities,” he said.
Now Bloom is in charge of Integrate, which he co-founded in 2010. The Scottsdale, AZ-based company, which has offices in Denver, San Francisco, and Boston, announced last week it has a new $5 million venture loan from Trinity Capital Investment, a firm that specializes in venture debt financing for expanding startups. The mezzanine financing brings the total raised by the company to $40 million. Of that, $22.5 million comes from equity investments by Comcast Ventures, Liberty Global Ventures, and the Boulder, CO-based Foundry Group. The remainder is a debt facility from Silicon Valley Bank.
Integrate makes marketing software, an area that’s been hot in recent years. But unlike Marketo and Eloqua, which do marketing automation, or adtech companies focused on programmatic advertising, Integrate focuses on what Bloom said is the piece that’s in between. That’s demand generation—the process of finding potential costumers, building brand awareness, and starting the work of converting leads to sales.
“There’s such a big collision right now between adtech and marketing tech, and Integrate sits between the two,” he said.
Bloom said that’s a $30 billion per year industry, but it is part of the advertising and marketing process “that’s still very, very old school.”
“The way marketers are buying that media and getting that lead data into their systems looks like how marketers bought display advertising 20 years ago,” he said. Many marketers still rely on Excel spreadsheets and have to personally manage campaigns by finding ad agencies and placing insertion orders.
It’s a huge opportunity for the company that provides the right technological solution, but the playing field is rapidly changing.
“Nobody has fully figured out where the collision between adtech and marketing tech is going, and how it’s going to play out. There are plenty of theories, but you’re guessing a little bit. That keeps it fun and interesting,” he said.
Integrate will try to win by automating the more tedious parts of that process, such as generating, standardizing, and cleaning up leads. But the company’s larger play is giving marketers tools that create better profiles of their customers, incorporate information from third-party sources and offline data providers, create and manage campaigns, and better understand a campaign’s return on investment.
The new money will allow Integrate to focus on growth and scaling up in 2015, Bloom said. Integrate looks set to double its customer base in the first quarter of next year, and it plans to open an office in the United Kingdom. It also is looking to add senior tech, sales, and services hires.
As for 2014, Bloom says it was on the whole a good year for Integrate despite some challenges. Bloom moved from president to CEO after his co-founder Hart Cunningham left the company. Bloom wouldn’t discuss the reason for the departure, other than saying “it was time for us to part ways.”
Integrate made other changes to its team, bringing in executives and board members who have sold startups to companies like Oracle and Adobe. But the company also has had to cut back, downsizing to 90 people today after having 120 on its staff in 2013.
Despite that, the company was able to grow its customer base by 50 percent and revenue from business-to-business customers by 400 percent, Bloom said. The company now has more than 250 customers and says it works with thousands of media partners that customers use to create campaigns. (Bloom declined to give more details about Integrate’s revenues, but said the company isn’t “burning a tremendous amount of capital.”)
“2014 was a year of maturing as an organization and really focusing in on our go-to-market strategy and what product-market fit is the best for us, which right now is in the B2B space,” Bloom said. “I wouldn’t say we’ve changed our products or our strategy, but we’ve made a lot of upgrades, and filled a lot of holes and gaps.”
One of his goals in his first year running Integrate was to create a more transparent company. That’s one lesson he took from the NFL—with the Eagles, Bloom felt players never really knew where they stood, while the Steelers were upfront about everything. That might have carried over to the field—the Eagles had fallen from their early 2000s peak, while the Steelers would win the Super Bowl in 2008, the season they cut Bloom in training camp.
Bloom said he wanted to emulate the latter team, sharing with employees the good news, bad news, and even the company’s quarterly presentation to the board.
“Everybody at the company knows where we stand, and they know where they stand,” he said.
Another lesson Bloom learned is about surviving in a brutally competitive environment where unexpected events happen all the time. He said new competitors are entering the demand generation market, and it’s a very fluid industry.
“It’s like in the NFL, where new rookies are always trying to take your job. In this landscape, you have companies that have exceptional leaders getting funding on a monthly or quarterly basis coming in and attempting to find a niche.”
There’s also a painful lesson that comes from near misses and setbacks.
Despite dominating his freestyle moguls the season before the 2006 Olympics, one disappointing run kept him out of the medals. In the NFL, Bloom was fast but small, and he never saw the playing field because of injuries. His promising college football career was cut short because the NCAA would not let him play after he had to raise money from sponsors to support his skiing career.
It created a lot of “noise,” but that was just part of the “sink-or-swim” life of a top athlete, he said.
“I had to focus on improving everyday,” Bloom said. With Integrate, “it’s all about having tunnel vision around that market and that product-market fit.”