Drama at HubSpot as CMO Fired After Book Investigation


HubSpot has fired Mike Volpe, its long-time Chief Marketing Officer, for “ethical violations” involving a book about the company. One other executive, Joe Chernov, Vice President of Content, resigned.

And the company has sanctioned a third executive, Brian Halligan, Hubspot’s Chairman and CEO, for not reporting the employees’ actions to the Board of Directors in a timely manner.

Halligan is also one of the founders of the company — but now that it is publicly traded has to answer to the Board of Directors.

The inbound marketing software company’s press release says that Volpe was terminated for ethical violations “in connection with attempts to procure a draft manuscript of a book involving the Company.”

It’s an unusual situation. Companies that provide software to small and midsize businesses rarely have this much public drama.

Twitter chatter on the account of Scott Kirsner, a Boston Globe columnist, speculates the book in question is being written by Dan Lyons. It is titled  “Disrupted,” and Lyons described it as a “memoir of my ridiculous attempt to reinvent myself and start a new career as a marketing person inside a software company during the second tech bubble.”

Lyons is known for a popular blog called “The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs” he wrote under the pseudonym Fake Steve Jobs. He previously worked at HubSpot.

The company has not confirmed that it is Lyons’ book involved.  It’s also not clear what was to be in the book, or exactly what the attempts to procure the book involved — whether alleged computer hacking, false statements, bribery, or something else.

According to the release, “The Company has notified the appropriate legal authorities about these matters.”

Volpe was one of the company’s first employees, starting in 2007. He is well liked in the industry and regarded as the energy and brains behind the marketing machine that made HubSpot synonymous with the phrase “inbound marketing.”

HubSpot’s Board conducted an internal investigation, and says it continues to have confidence in Halligan, its Chairman and CEO.  Lorrie Norrington, Lead Independent Director, says, “While we wish Brian had reported promptly, we are confident as a Board in his ability to lead HubSpot …. ”

The Cambridge, Massachusetts, company says this matter did not affect its operating performance or financial condition.

Hubspot was founded in 2006. It celebrated an initial public offering (IPO) in October 2014.  Since then, the stock price has risen about 56 percent, currently trading at its highest price to date.

HubSpot has more than 15,000 paying customers for its inbound marketing software platform. Many of them are small to midsize businesses.

Its free CRM platform, along with its sales acceleration platform Sidekick, is now being used by 60,000 companies, according to statistics released in June.

Kipp Bodnar is being promoted to become the new CMO, replacing Volpe. Bodnar has been the company’s Vice President of Marketing for the past two years, and with the company since 2010.

Bodnar is also the author of  “The B2B Social Media Book: Become a Marketing Superstar by Generating Leads with Blogging, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Email, and More” (John Wiley & Sons).

Image: HubSpot blog


Anita Campbell Anita Campbell is the Founder, CEO and Publisher of Small Business Trends and has been following trends in small businesses since 2003. She is the owner of BizSugar, a social media site for small businesses.

7 Reactions
  1. This is another interesting lesson in what can, and probably will, happen when you cede control of your company to outsiders; who may or may not have industry knowledge and only see you as an investment.

    • I agree, Stew. Had the situation happened pre-IPO I doubt it would have been handled this way. I feel bad for Mike and the rest of the HubSpot team, who I suspect all have a lot of emotions over this situation. But it goes to show, once a business goes public, it’s a whole different ballgame.


  2. Holy crap, drama indeed! I’ve always like Mike Volpe and it’s sad to see him leaving the company like this. Kipp Bodnar will do a great job in his stead and I’m sure the company will be okay, but I’m sorry for Mike.

    • Mike is very well liked. Last night as I wrote this, I was getting messages from people who support Mike and respect him. And who are stunned at the way the HubSpot Board handled this.

      As for Kipp Bodnar, I feel bad for him taking over under these circumstances, which overshadow his good news. Once the shock dies down, and everyone stops talking he’ll do well.

      And Mike will land somewhere – lots of companies that are not publicly traded would snap him up in a heartbeat, drama be damned.

      – Anita

  3. Michele Conners

    Unfortunate, but the long-term loser will be Lyons, not HubSpot nor Volpe.

    Mike screwed up – yep, and in a sense curiosity killed the cat. But both Mike and HubSpot are way too strong to be impacted for long, if at all.

    Lyons on the other hand, looks again to be up to his exaggerating, bombastic style.

    If you haven’t seen Lyons in person — he feigns affability, while underneath you can sense an insecure, desperate man, still searching for relevance and self-confidence after all this time in the world. His passive aggressive spirit apparently still needs the pen to confront his demons of jealousy and insecurity, without regard for journalistic integrity or consequence.

    I think what will ultimately be remembered is the depths a person will go to when they realize their 15 minutes is up and they really haven’t accomplished anything of true value with their life.

    • Interesting take on the situation, Michele.

      I don’t know Lyons. He was characterized in a couple of the pieces I’ve read as having an “insider” focus on Silicon Valley. And that’s my vague recollection of the Fake Steve Jobs site when I looked at it way back when. It had all these references to people I didn’t know and had zero interest in.

      Writers of works like that, who are so inwardly focused on their world, just aren’t relevant in my world or in the world of most of the readers of this site. I won’t be reading his book, because I just don’t care. It’s an insider’s book for insiders.

      HubSpot is a player in the world of small businesses. But most of us care only to the extent of being reassured that this situation is no big deal … that HubSpot will carry on.

      Would small business owners care if the book painted HubSpot in a negative light? Maybe a handful would actually read it or care. For the vast majority the book would be a big nonevent, no matter what supposed dirt might be in it.

      That’s my take on the big picture: that this situation won’t have any lasting negative impact from the perspective of the SMBs that use HubSpot software.

      – Anita