When I started LeadsCon in 2008, arguably there were a few companies that to me, defined the ecosystem. They were DoublePositive, LowerMyBills, Targus, and Velocify (then Leads360). These were the companies that, in my opinion, were not being serviced by existing conferences, and they were unique in what they did and who they served. Forget leads, nowhere else were people talking about the underlying components that make the process effective, whether it was top of the funnel marketing, verification, lead management, or calls.
It's exciting to know that each of these LeadsCon pillars is still doing strong, and fortunately for the ecosystem, since that time we have seen growth be it in new companies entering the ecosystem to existing players. Among the most exciting of the trends over the past six years has been the rise of the billion dollar brands. In 2008, were we to exclude the end brands such as Apollo's University of Phoenix, there were no billion dollar valuations. Bankrate became the first, and now, quite a few others have joined the list.
The most amazing thing about the latest crop of billion dollar companies is that they have the ability to transform how people see the world of online lead generation. These aren't marketing companies, which were the early pioneers and still comprise the vast majority of the players. They are technology solutions that have very little to do with top of the funnel. These are SaaS companies.
Take InsideSales.com. A few weeks ago, news came out that they had raised a $100mm Series C round which valued the company at $1bn. Perhaps, most amazing, is that InsideSales.com is not a startup. They were formed in 2004, and amazingly, the business sits almost entirely within the SalesForce ecosystem with companies who use SalesForce installing the InsideSales appexchange app.
Almost a year ago, telephony technology provider Twilio raised $70mm at a $700mm valuation. Today, with their continued growth. There is no reason to think they aren't valued at $1bn. In 2009, CEO Jeff Lawson demo'd at LeadsCon. I had no idea what they did. Now, easily half the LeadsCon ecosystem uses them in some capacity.
And, earlier this year, Invoka (formerly RingRevenue) raised $20mm at an undisclosed valuation, but given the typical venture math, we can be sure it was $200mm or more. Not necessarily a billion dollars (yet), but as they continue to ride the wave of SaaS and marketing automation, it's certainly not impossible.
At the end of the day, what is lead gen? It is a means for identifying and engaging prospects, connecting qualified people with companies that can meet their needs. In the earlier days, it is not surprising that the pioneers would be those on the forefront of consumer demand, unlocking new media and turning those consumers into potential customers. The new breed of companies use the same underlying digital technology, but instead of attacking where the consumers are spending time consuming media, these new breed of companies help expedite, track, connect.
We have finally entered the second evolution of lead generation, the shift from outbound to inbound and real-time intelligence around the call / data layer. Not only are we seeing the shift, but the companies that the forefront of the charge are, at least in the eyes of investors, being rewarded for their roles.