By Andrew Seale
Mark Organ was entrepreneurial before he even remembers it.
“My parents told me I was selling pills out of our medicine cabinet when I was in first, second grade or something like that… I don’t know,” says the founder of Influitive – an advocate marketing platform geared towards campaigns and referrals in the B2B market – with a laugh. “That’s probably pretty dodgy but apparently I’ve always had a bit of an entrepreneurial mind.”
He’s admits it’s not all that shocking; after all, both of the serial entrepreneur’s parents were entrepreneurs themselves. In fact, both of them were adamant that he didn’t follow in their footsteps on account that it can be an arduous career path.
Luckily, Mark didn’t listen.
First it was a housecleaning business to pay for university. Then it was a custom software business in the midst of the dotcom upswing.
“Me and my partner would go to office towers in downtown Toronto, start at the top and work our way down just knocking on doors and asking people if they wanted any software built… kind of unusual,” he says.
Eventually, at his parent’s urging he pursued a PhD in neuroscience at Northwestern University in Chicago.
“At the time, in 1996, neuroscience was the most entrepreneurial of all the sciences, it was a very exciting place to be,” says Mark. “But I suppose that’s where I realized that what I really wanted to do was be an entrepreneur.”
But not just any entrepreneur, he wanted to run a tech startup.
“With the rise of Netscape and some of the other early Internet companies, it really dawned on me that there was another completely different style of entrepreneurship (than my parents’) and much more exciting,” he says. “It’s what they call disruptive entrepreneurship today.”
He realized he didn’t have the skillset to do so on his own so he abandoned his PhD in favour of a masters and moved back to Toronto to work at a management consulting firm. He spent two years there and at the cusp of the new millennium launched Eloqua, a marketing automation software-as-a-service tool.
Mark spent the next seven years running it before hiring on a new CEO. The company went public in 2012 and Oracle bought it shortly thereafter for about US$810 million.
“Eloqua gave me a taste for how to build a high grossing technology company based right in Toronto,” he says. “Influitive really is the next chapter… the new frontier in marketing is in helping companies go to market not by their traditional means of bombarding people with content and ads and all the stuff but by going through their customers, mobilizing their customers to get more customers.”
And Toronto, well, it continues to be kind to the serial entrepreneur.
“It’s a great place to build global headquarters,” he says, adding that Influitive serves customers in both Europe and Asia as well as south of the border. “We have people that speak just about every language – in Toronto, you’re kind of born global; it’s a big advantage we have over our American peers.”
The ecosystem has come a long way from the days of pounding on doors in downtown office buildings looking for clients.
“It really feels like Toronto has turned a corner… really, literally every week I get an email from an American VC saying ‘hey what’s up in the water over there in Toronto – I’m coming up, I want to have a dinner, can you help me out?’ ” says Mark. “I think American investors can now invest here without impediment and there’s some really amazing opportunities to invest in.”
It’s a sophistication divorced from the early days of Toronto’s startup ecosystem a decade ago, when even angel investors were hard to come by.
“Serial entrepreneurs are investing back into ecosystem here,” says Mark. “That is a major turning point for an ecosystem when you start seeing that happen.”