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Sales & Marketing
Jonathan Sills  |  March 30, 2015
UnicornTech: The Marketing Technologies Supporting $1 Billion+ Valuation Companies

Privately-held companies with valuations of over a billion dollars, often referred to in the tech world as unicorns, are attracting a lot of attention these days. Engineers want to work for them, venture capitalists want to back them (the earlier the better), and a whole host of marketing-technology companies want to sell their services to them.

But which MarTech tools are actually fueling today’s startup superstars? In advance of the big MarTech: The Marketing Tech Conference taking place this week in San Francisco, we decided to find out, running an analysis that entailed looking at the public data available from the code on these unicorns’ websites. We used BuiltWith and Datanyze to do the analysis; these profiling services aren’t perfect, and may miss certain elements of a company’s software tool base, particularly if a startup relies heavily on certain mobile technologies to deliver its product. But the two crawling services certainly provide useful insights as to what software and tools unicorns are using to run their businesses in a variety of areas.  As accessories used to equip the unicorns, I’ll refer to these technologies as “UnicornTech”.

We focused only on marketing technology and did our analysis by cross-referencing the 61 non-exited, still-private unicorns (excluding Asian companies) from the Wall Street Journal’s recent “billion-dollar startup club” roundup with data from BuiltWith and Datanyze. That gave us a sense of the saddles, stirrups, bits and harnesses (in that case “tack”, in our case “tech”) that are along for the ride with these mythical creatures. Here are a few worth noting in the MarTech sector:

  • Optimizely* (used by 19 active unicorns, per BuiltWith) is a straightforward and simple platform for A/B, split, or multivariate testing on web or mobile platforms. A company might use Optimizely to decide what configuration of a landing page is best at converting visitors, or what button color choice results in the most clicks. Once implemented, the service provides tools to marketers to manage and deploy these tests without having to work through their engineering departments.
  • SendGrid (used by 15 active unicorns according to BuiltWith, 10 per Datanyze) is a cloud-based email service provider. A company might use SendGrid’s service to send out order confirmations (e.g. ‘transactional’ emails) or the latest details of a new product arrival or feature release (‘promotional’ emails). This tool leans heavily on APIs alongside traditional SMTP relays to send emails and run these processes.
  • Adroll (used by 17 active unicorns, per BuiltWith) is arguably the simplest platform, outside of Google, for companies to retarget their existing visitors and customers by showing them an ad on any number of independent websites, Facebook, or Twitter. Adroll presents a simple rules-based engine for conditionally segmenting these audiences and controlling the types of ads they see.
  • Google Analytics (everybody, pretty much!) is a free tool for analyzing traffic across platforms – audiences, marketing channels, behaviors, and actions. Companies use Google Analytics to track everything from the top locations and sites from which web traffic originates to how many visitors are clicking on different page elements or completing transactions. It does not need to be the exclusive solution for monitoring these insights.
  • CrazyEgg (used by 12 active unicorns according to BuiltWith, 10 per Datanyze) is an inexpensive usability tool that allows users to view visualizations of how people interact with their websites – where they click, how they scroll, what engages them, and what they ignore.
  • TowerD@ta (formerly RapLeaf, used by 12 active unicorns, per BuiltWith) provides socio-demographic data to companies using a customer’s email address to help them deliver more personalized and relevant content – for example, marketing a spa promotion differently to single vs. married people by playing up self-indulgence to the former and gifting to the latter.

A few things jump out from this tally. First of all, companies using simple/freemium business models seem to get the highest adoption. Visit the websites for these tools and you’ll see how easy they make it to get started and begin using their products without even speaking to a sales rep. I’ve noticed and spoken about this trend more broadly as an evolution in B2B and enterprise sales.

Next, the disruptive innovators (the unicorns) tend to prefer disruptive solutions. SendGrid positions itself as a simpler and more modern expression of the email service provider; Optimizely does the same relative to incumbents (funny to use that word here!) like Adobe Analytics, which offers a similar product called Target.

Finally, all these services make the prices of their products astonishingly transparent. Seeing a menu of their prices is pretty much akin to walking into a fast food restaurant, although gateways exist to evaluate larger enterprise offerings. It’s certainly not hidden as a punchline following a long sales interaction.

So if you want to lasso a unicorn, and perhaps the unicorns of the future, saddle up and study these frequently used tools. There seem to be some good lessons for MarTech companies hoping to have these much-vaunted startup logos on their client lists.

Jonathan Sills is a former high-tech marketing executive who is now an executive-in-residence at Battery Ventures.

*For a full list of Battery investments and exits, please click here.

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