On March 1, former ExactTarget Inc./Salesforce.com Inc. Director Kyle Lacy will join Indianapolis-based Lessonly Inc. as vice president of marketing. The move comes after Lacy spent two years at Boston-based OpenView Venture Partners, a venture capital firm. The 32-year-old Anderson University alumnus and 2010 IBJ Forty Under 40 honoree spoke with IBJ about why he went to Boston and why he came back to Indy.
The following are edited excepts from that conversation.
IBJ: How long were you at ExactTarget and what was your role there?
Lacy: I was at ExactTarget for three years [Jan. 2012—Jan. 2015]. I joined as part of the thought leadership team under Jeff Rohrs. Through that process, we started the content marketing team at ExactTarget and ran the content marketing team through the Salesforce acquisition.
At the time we were producing content for six countries all out of Indianapolis.
IBJ: Was content marketing fairly new at the time?
Lacy: For B2B companies it definitely was. If memory serves me correctly, that was late 2012. And I credit Jeff Rohrs, who's now CMO of Yext in New York City. He was the one who really envisioned the idea for [the research series] "Subscribers, Fans and Followers," and it was a content campaign that did extremely well.
I think ExactTarget was one of the first B2B software companies to say we're going to use content to drive thought leadership in the market. So "Subscribers, Fans and Followers" was research, qualitative and quantitative, and it's still being used today by Salesforce in the form of its "State of Sales" and "State of Marketing" reports.
IBJ: What made you decide to take the job with OpenView?
Lacy: I think I was at an inflection point at Salesforce. I had started at a marketing agency, I had experienced very large software companies and I wanted a different type of experience. So it was either a consumer facing brand, like Yahoo or eBay or Facebook. Or it was venture capital. Because I wanted to fully understand the inner working of what makes companies grow, especially software companies, and the venture capital environment seemed to be the best way to do that.
IBJ: When you got there, was it what you expected?
Lacy: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean I basically got an MBA without going to a school. The beautiful thing about a venture capital firm is you get to see hundreds, if not thousands, of companies. Right? You're doing due diligence. Your trying to figure out what's right, what's wrong, what's working and what's not.
So at OpenView, I was truly able to learn the biggest issues facing software companies at a high-growth stage and what you have to do to combat those issues.
IBJ: What were the extent of your ties to Indy while you were in Boston?
Lacy: I was constantly trying to pitch Indy companies to OpenView. And Scott Maxwell, the founder of OpenView, was an investor in ExactTarget and sat on its board for a number of years. So he has a tie to Indy because of [former Exact Target CEO Scott Dorsey] and the relationship there, and I continued to try to support Indianapolis companies. Because part of the reason why it's so important that firms like OpenView invest in Indy is because outside money is extremely important to the growth of Indianapolis as a tech hub.
IBJ: OpenView led a $5 million investment round in Lessonly last spring. Did you help facilitate that deal?
Lacy: Nope. It was a joint deal between OpenView and High Alpha. And Ricky Pelletier, who's on the board at Lessonly and a partner at OpenView, led that.
IBJ: What compelled you to return to Indy?
Lacy: The people, and our relationships and our family and everything we have in Indiana is so much stronger than anything we could experience outside of this state. Cost of living is a huge component of that. And every time I came back to Indy when I was in Boston, I knew it was home and it was just a matter of time before we came back.
And I truly believe that Indianapolis, for a lot of reasons, has the potential to make a massive mark in the tech space. Cost of living. Talent. Now there's a lot that needs to be done, but as a family we made the decision to invest in the city like we had before.
IBJ: Did you learn anything about Indy that you hadn't until you went to Boston?
Lacy: There's something about the mentality of a sense of humility. And this sense of humility does not impede on hard work and us winning. Scott Dorsey is the shining example of that. He's the humblest person I've ever met and he went up against the West Coast and the East Coast. ExactTarget, through his leadership, competed globally out of Indianapolis, Indiana. His ability to lead thousands of people with humility, but with rigor, is extremely beneficial. And that mentality lives in Indianapolis, and I don't think I realized that until I left.
IBJ: What made you decide to join Lessonly?
Lacy: No. 1 is the culture. I talked to a lot of companies—San Francisco, Indianapolis, Boston—and the Lessonly culture fit what I believed was a great software culture.
No. 2 is [Lessonly CEO] Max Yoder. We were talking earlier about the idea of humble and fierce. He's extremely humble, extremely gracious, but extremely intelligent. And I believe he's one of the best young CEOs in the country.
That moves into No. 3, which is OpenView's investment. OpenView looks at hundreds of companies every year and they only make investments between three and five. And Lessonly was one of them last year.
IBJ: What are your goals at Lessonly?
Lacy: Overall, it's positioning Lessonly as the top, modern team-learning software in the world. With the millennial generation being the biggest now, and all of us being in the workforce, there's a huge disparity between the way that companies train and the way that employees learn. The learning-management systems out there now don't do a very good job at empowering their employees to win.