If we’re not talking about flying, what is Autopilot?
Autopilot’s mission is to empower every marketer to create remarkable customer journeys. We help companies acquire, nurture, and grow leads into customers – using a visual canvas that makes automating personalised marketing as simple as drawing on a whiteboard. We integrate with over 700 apps and popular tools like Salesforce, Slack and Segment, making it easy to connect data and message consistently across email, SMS, in-app messaging and physical mail.
How did you come up with the idea?
I founded Autopilot with my brothers in 2012 out of frustration with existing marketing automation options. At the time, marketers had to choose between all-in-one platforms that were too complex and too expensive, or email automation tools that only supported generic batch-and-blast marketing that’s interruptive and spammy. So we built Autopilot as a visual, easy-to-use alternative that plays nicely with other technologies and enables anyone to automate personalised and contextual messaging.
We believe the best kind of marketing is so tailored to each customer that it doesn’t feel like marketing atall. This kind of technology should be accessible to everyone.
The best kind of marketing is so tailored to each customer that it doesn’t feel like marketing at all.
What’s the biggest win you’ve had so far?
Signing up 1,000 businesses one month after launch was a huge win. It proved that we had created a product that genuinely met a need in the market and would level the playing field for marketers everywhere. Having Microsoft go on Autopilot is pretty exciting too!
What’s your biggest mistake?
Although we’ve had multiple ventures before, we weren’t required to have a board of directors until Autopilot. At the first board meeting, my brothers/co-founders and I overloaded members with slides and statistics showing every facet of the company every quarter. These meetings just weren’t working, so instead, we tried ‘strategy beers,’ where we took board members out for a drink individually to update them and ask for advice. This was crucial for our growth as a young company, especially in developing our understanding of how to build and manage relationships with the board.
How’s your experience been funding your startup?
Raising funding is always an exciting adventure. We’ve been fortunate to raise $20.5M in funding from extremely supportive partners, all of whom have also become friends and advisors. These include Rembrandt Venture Partners, Salesforce Ventures, Southern Cross Venture Partners, Stage One Capital, Blackbird Ventures, Tim Draper and Terry Garnett.
What needs to change/improve for Australia to become a global leader in tech?
The investment companies backing us felt Autopilot would do better in the US, so after building the business for a year in Sydney, we moved to San Francisco. Sometimes this is necessary, but to make Australia a global leader in innovation and tech we need to be mindful of transitioning businesses, and talent, straight out of the country – and instead see if it’s possible to nurture them to succeed at home.
We took board members out for a drink individually to update them and ask for advice.
Have you had any challenges with sourcing and growing your team?
We have grown rapidly to a team of 35 employees internationally, with headquarters in San Francisco and a second office located in Sydney, but it hasn’t always been easy. When we decided to make the move to the US, we had to ask all seven of our engineers to move with us. It was a risk, but the leap of faith paid off.
Do you have any tips for acquiring new users and/or scaling your business?
It’s critical to know how and when to engage your leads and customers at each stage of their buying journey. Experiment with different channels and messaging to find otherwise overlooked opportunities to rapidly grow and scale. Sounds simple yet today 65% of companies say they can do a better job staying in touch, and 72% of today’s millennial buyers are turned off by generic, interruptive forms of marketing.
Quick wins include engaging new visitors in real-time on your website with live chat or messaging, automating a personalised onboarding journey for new customers, following up with inquiries instantly via SMS, hosting a Twitter chat or Facebook live stream, or starting a Slack channel that brings your community together.
It’s critical to know how and when to engage your leads and customers at each stage of their buying journey.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?
Likely pursuing another startup with my brothers. Before launching Autopilot we had already launched three other business: Stayz, a home-rental sharing company; Driven by Limo, an Uber-like call-a-limo service; and Sharkey Media, a digital marketing agency designed to help companies realise revenue through online marketing programs. Or, I might have become a commercial pilot. We founded Stayz to fund my dream of becoming a pilot but I gave up my license to pursue Autopilot!
If you could go back to the start, tell us two things you would do differently.
There’s really just one that stands out for me. If I had time to do something over, it would be to focus sooner. When I was younger there never seemed to be enough time to do all of things I wanted to do – be a pilot, host a radio show, and complete one of my 100 startup ideas. As I’ve grown older I’ve realised ideas and ambitions are worthless unless you have the discipline to pick one of those things, focus on it and be the best at it.
Ideas and ambitions are worthless unless you have the discipline to pick one of those things, focus on it and be the best at it.
What’s the best advice you could give to someone starting out?
True entrepreneurship is about solving a hard problem and changing the way people do something for the better. My advice would be to pick one thing and be the best at it. Be focused, be persistent.