Interview with Niels Hartvig, Founder and CEO, Umbraco A/S

Interview with Niels Hartvig, Founder & CEO, Umbraco A/S
Niels Hartvig, Founder & CEO, Umbraco A/S

“The only thing that hasn’t changed is that content is still king — it is still fundamental for both new sales and customer loyalty”

Tell us about your role and journey into technology. What made you start Umbraco?

I started my career in IT as an 11-year-old in the 80s, teaching word processing to Danish journalists (colleagues of my parents) who were struggling to transition from mechanical typewriters. Ever since, it’s been my mission to create tools that people can understand and easily use, removing the frustration often associated with adapting to new technologies. Too many software products seem to be built with the purpose of doing the work for people, rather than giving them the time and freedom to get their work done themselves.

With that in mind, I used my background in software development with some earlier content management systems (CMS) companies and started Umbraco after seeing a real need for a friendly CMS designed with the end-user in mind. After a couple years in development, we turned Umbraco into an open-source CMS designed to be especially easy for editors and content creators to work in while giving developers the flexibility and freedom to build their websites with the look and features they want. There are now more than 500,000 websites running on Umbraco (including our new Umbraco Cloud) with over 220,000 very active Umbraco community members. That’s exciting to see.

How has the CMS market evolved since the time you first started here?

The consolidation in the CMS market that analysts have been talking about for two decades finally happened, which has led to a crossroad where the platforms are either easier to use or expanded into other types of products such as CRMs, etc. The only thing that hasn’t changed is that content is still king —  it is still fundamental for both new sales and customer loyalty. With content being everywhere — and on any device, the strength of a great CMS is one that makes it easy and fast to deliver any type of content for any — and multiple — channels.

How would CMS platforms impact the effectiveness of Marketing Automation and BI/Analytics tools?

Great content is very underrated and well-crafted content even more so. A recent study from HubSpot showed that B2C brands that rely on content save over $14 on each new customer acquired. This means that the winners will be those who manage to combine Marketing Automation tools with targeted and well-crafted messages. A great CMS platform provides the content team with the tools to feed those messages to the automation systems and vice-versa with as little effort as possible. This requires a CMS that is open to third-party MarTech tools, while putting the writers and editors front and center to ensure that content doesn’t become a second-class citizen in a data-centric world.

How do you think that the recent acquisitions/mergers of CMS companies open up the market for Umbraco?

We say THANK YOU. Agencies and companies affected by the acquisitions turn to us, which giving us greater opportunities in the market. The response from both our existing customer base and new opportunities has been overwhelming. We are one of the few leading CMS companies that is still independent. This independence, combined with our profitable, gives us enormous freedom to focus on creating a product that is tailored to the needs of our customers — both organizations and our partner network.

Which Marketing and Sales Automation tools and technologies do you currently use?

We primarily use Intercom, Insightly and Campaign Monitor. Recently, I’ve been very fascinated with the potential of Segment. I do believe a dark horse in all of this, however, there is increasing awareness of privacy. I expect this awareness to continue to increase as more consumers recognize the negative consequences of their data — and persona —  being tracked from one application to the next, potentially challenging the value and power of automation tools overall. If consumers ultimately demand a tightening of online privacy rules, where we can’t trace them or know who they are, there will be nothing to automate.

Where do you see CMS gaining experience in MarTech in the next 5 years? How do you deliver personalization experience to your customers?

We want to focus on creating a stellar CMS and then collaborate with other MarTech vendors who are as passionate about their niche as we are. By integrating the best-of-breed technologies with our open APIs and dashboards, we can make sure writers, editors, and marketers get the relevant data they need to most effectively target their audiences. One challenge is that organizations track a lot of things, but they track these things across individual systems, which means the data often ends up in silos. It’s a hot topic for us at Umbraco to create reference integrations of the most popular MarTech tools and then help surface the relevant data in the context of the content they manage, thus improving the odds that their well-crafted messages succeed.

As for personalization, we’ll continue our strategy of making it possible to bring any third-party technology to a project yet make it completely transparent for the end-user. For example, you will be able to import personas from your favorite MarTech platform and tailor content to the different personas.

What are your predictions on the most impactful disruptions in Marketing Operations for 2018-2020?

I predict privacy issues will account for the biggest marketing disruptions in the next couple of years, if not longer. Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which standardizes data protection law across all 28 EU countries and imposes strict new rules on controlling and processing personally identifiable information (PII), and the anti-tracking capabilities of Safari and Firefox is the beginning of a wave of consumers worldwide becoming more privacy-centric and aware of the value of data.

As this awareness grows, there will be a market for tools that find the balance between respect for individuals and their privacy,  and the value that targeted messages brings to them. Those tools will likely be created outside of Silicon Valley, which still has too much of a growth mindset vs. a focus on more human-centric technologies built around trust and privacy like what is being discussed in Europe right now.

What startups in the technology industry are you watching keenly right now?

I’m less fascinated by startups than I used to be. I actually think we’re going to see some of the next big things coming from grassroots efforts, where I’m seeing some really interesting things discussed. For example, I was recently very inspired at the Copenhagen Tech Festival in Denmark, which had a strong focus on the intersection between humans and technology. I was honored to be a part of CPH150 — the associated think tank — that produced “The Copenhagen Catalog,” which included 150 principles for a new direction in tech.

We’ll see a world of consumers increasingly focused on the viability and moral of the products with whom they participate. A number of services and products today talks about consumers, but don’t work unless the consumers actually participate — usually unconsciously — with data. These products will be challenged both on clearer transparency around consent along with more granular control over how the data is used.

Could you tell us about an outstanding digital campaign?

Too many organizations and their CMOs turn to software in the hopes it’ll do magic, so I’d like to pick one campaign where the software played a supporting role and the main characters are a team of great craftspeople. Here’s a short testimonial on that:

Ceramicspeed, an international niche player aimed at changing the world of competitive cycling, needed a new digital platform to support its growth. Rather than starting out with a software product and then cramming their digital vision into the platform, the founders focused on their business first, including conducting anthropological research on their ecosystem of customers and dealers. Once all of it was in place, they chose Umbraco to fulfill that vision.

In the first year after the transition to Umbraco, the company saw an 88 percent increase in revenue. While we’re proud of the role Umbraco played in this success, we believe that the real magic comes from people and not technology. This is why we offer a flexible and editor-friendly CMS that allows talented teams, like Ceramicspeed, to get their work done quickly and as they want it to look instead of relying on the technology to do it for them.

How do you prepare for an AI-centric world as a business leader?

I prepare for an AI-centric world by taking a deep breath and attempting to cut through the noise. Artificial Intelligence is here, but it’s more artificial than intelligent. It’s nowhere near the roar of the marketing hype. The idea of an AI-centric world is luckily a utopia, and the winners will be those who rely on tools that put humans first. If more companies invested in those types of tools, the world would be a better place.

How do you inspire your people to work with technology?

To inspire my employees, I remind them that we are actually creating history by building a successful and sustainable open-source product that is part of a new wave democratizing digital business.

One word that best describes how you work.

Persistence — although my partners would probably say chaotic.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

Since it keeps coming back to my phone every time I delete it, it must be Twitter, which I use a lot to communicate with our passionate community. The same goes for various software development products. Every time I believe I’m done being a software developer, I end up coming back and writing a little bit of code.

What’s your smartest work-related shortcut or productivity hack?

Eight hours of sleep.

What are you currently reading?

I’m a lover of books. hardcopy and old-school. I recently finished “It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work” by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, and enjoyed their mashup of Scandinavian and North American values for running a business. “Superintelligence” by Nick Bostrom and “The Master Algorithm” by Pedro Domingos are also great books for a deeper understanding of what AI/Machine Learning actually is.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

Assume positive intent”

Something you do better than others – the secret of your success?

Being obsessed with building something relevant, rather than being obsessed with growth.

Tag the one person (or more) in the industry whose answers to these questions you would love to read:

Ben Chestnut (MailChimp), Jason Fried (Basecamp) and Thomas Madsen-Mygdal (23Video)

Thank you, Niels! That was fun and hope to see you back on MarTech Series soon.

Niels Hartvig is the founder and chief executive officer (or chief unicorn) of Umbraco, an open source CMS built on the Microsoft .NET platform. Hartvig considers himself a software designer, focused on building great software that excites people. He was named a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

Umbraco LogoUmbraco is an open source CMS built on the Microsoft .NET platform. Often referred to as the “Friendly CMS,” Umbraco gives developers the flexibility and freedom to build website, apps and other solutions with the look and features they want, while enabling editors and content creators to easily and quickly get content in front of their customers as quickly as possible. Created in 2005 by Danish developer Niels Hartvig, Umbraco also offers the Umbraco Cloud, providing all-in-one Azure hosting and predictability in cost, performance and time. More Than 500,000 websites run live on Umbraco CMS and the Umbraco Cloud, supported by more than 220,000 very active Umbraco community members.

The MTS Martech Interview Series is a fun Q&A style chat which we really enjoy doing with martech leaders. With inspiration from Lifehacker’s How I work interviews, the MarTech Series Interviews follows a two part format On Marketing Technology, and This Is How I Work. The format was chosen because when we decided to start an interview series with the biggest and brightest minds in martech – we wanted to get insight into two areas … one – their ideas on marketing tech and two – insights into the philosophy and methods that make these leaders tick.

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