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Starting a Software Company: A Retrospective

April 25, 2019

Matt Zentz, Marketpath’s founder, is a developer to his core, and why you hear that Marketpath is built by developers for developers. It was captivating to be able to listen to his journey from his first custom woodworking business to converting his passion into a startup then to Marketpath’s existence today. While he understood his talent for building things and his attraction to entrepreneurship, little did he know the two would iterate to become Marketpath.

Who is Matt Zentz?
How did you attract users and grow your company?
What’s a lesson you learned from the early days that you’d share with other developers just starting their business?
What is Marketpath like now?
What went into building and maintaining the current product?
What are your goals for Marketpath for the future?
What is one thing you have found particularly helpful along your journey?
What piece of advice would you give to developers looking to venture out on their own?
Postscript Advice


Who is Matt Zentz?

Building things has always been my passion. It started with my custom woodworking business in the ninth grade, where I learned the value of margins and time. Since 1995, I have been building websites, and I branched out into software application development in 1997. Two years later, I graduated from Indiana University with a B.S. in Computer Science. 

While employed I was researching what it takes to start and run a business. After I was laid off with thousands of others, I began my first venture called Agora Technology Corporation. This ecommerce solution took its name from the Greek word for “marketplace” and, by plan, began with an “A” to be listed first in phonebook and directories (still somewhat important at that time).

The first semblance of a content management system (CMS) was in 2001 while working with ExactTarget and RCA. While this version was clunky, it did work and I put maybe 20 sites into it.  I continued development, learned several lessons, and had ideas for a first full-featured CMS. In 2006, I brought in two partners to help design and build the first iteration of our full-featured CMS. It did well for its first few years and I quickly understood the value of good sales and marketing.

How did you attract users and grow your company?

With Agora, word of mouth and relationship selling were my priorities and worked. When Marketpath launched, I hired a team of copywriters and marketers to really promote the CMS. People would tell me “Wow! You guys are everywhere.”

Also during our initial growth , I didn’t have the same responsibilities and commitments that I have now. I was able to work all the time and whenever I wanted. I was putting in 15 hours a day. I’ve always valued spending time with my family and as that grew, my time available for Marketpath shrank a good deal. Or, at least I had to be smarter about how I spent my time. I’m sure that I’ve sacrificed some growth but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

What’s a lesson you learned from the early days that you’d share with other developers just starting their business?

As a developer presenting the first iteration of Marketpath CMS to ExactTarget co-founder, Chris Baggott, I gave a functional (but not polished) demo of Marketpath CMS. We were so proud of our work and harped on all the possibilities until Chris said, “I’m sure you can build a beautiful website with your software but if you want to convince me to use it then show me how I can build a beautiful website.”

I don’t encourage building smoke and mirrors and I certainly know better than to just build something that works. You have to build something that works, solves one or more major paint points for your prospects, and is beautiful and easy-to-use. Functional but ugly was more tolerable in the early days of the Internet but not anymore.

What is Marketpath like now?

It’s a challenging combination of varying responsibilities for me. I’m constantly pulled in different directions - development, operations, sales, etc. Because I am fighting on all these fronts, I can’t always focus on the end goal, but I try as best as I can. 

Marketpath’s customers are the reason I can face these challenges daily, and customer service and support are two of my priorities. Our current customer base must have their needs met, and this makes it more difficult for Marketpath to pivot and change direction like we could early on.

What went into building and maintaining the current product?

The current CMS is a culmination of many years of experience and input from many people. Initially, it was just an idea of what we thought people needed. Our first CMS versions gave us a ton of insight into how customers used them. Then, as we added staff, they all brought their own experience and knowledge.

For the latest version of Marketpath, our plan was just to reskin the old version. When Levi, one of our senior developers, was hired he brought new ideas which led to discussions and planning and finally to the eventual decision to start this CMS iteration from scratch.

When it came to building Marketpath CMS, Emily, our UX and design expert, wanted the best but advised and understood we couldn’t make everyone happy. Other team members provided their perspectives, which were valuable and frustrating because there was no simple and straightforward solution.

Over the years, I learned a lot of lessons, and the one that sticks out is implementing and executing a proper development cycle. It is a night and day difference when you compare our process at the time of conception to the current Marketpath product. We emphasize only adding features that are properly vetted, designed, and built. This helps us also eliminate regressions, which is another priority for us. In the growth stage, we knew all our clients. If they alerted us to an issue, we’d tell them we’re working on it. They’re response was simply, “Let me know when it's done.” Now, our target market has changed and we need to be proactive and process oriented to avoid any interruptions for our customers.

What are your goals for Marketpath for the future?

I want developers, companies, and agencies to use the CMS in ways we’ve never dreamed of. I want users to be able to piggyback off the functionality we have and better the product. Or, just bring their own ideas to life!

I also want Marketpath to be a tool for people to learn web development and marketing, and build their skill sets. Marketpath sites are free during development so it can be used to learn how to code or build a website.

What is one thing you have found particularly helpful along your journey?

Take advice. I especially believe in “Work on your business not in it.” As a builder, I really enjoy working in the business, which pulls me in different directions and prevents me from identifying and achieving the end goal. At times, you’re going to have an employee leave, and you’ll have to step in to cover their roles. It’s important to replace the employee or delegate responsibilities as soon as possible. This personnel change is a great opportunity to do an analysis on your team’s strengths and deficiencies. It might just be time to bring in another person who can enhance the team you have and take your company or product to the next level.

What piece of advice would you give to developers looking to venture out on their own?

Follow the advice and lessons I offered in the previous questions. I’d also encourage you to read constantly. I highly suggest E-Myth (Gerber), The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (Covey), and The Power of Habit (Duhigg) to everyone, no matter if you're hoping to be an entrepreneur or not.

Lastly, always build new and existing relationships. New companies and ideas are built by relationships. Very seldom are successes built by word of mouth or an amazing product feature.

P.S. Last Bit of Advice

Prepare to fail. Accept failure. Know when to quit (but don’t quit).

Related Tags: Development, Marketpath CMS News, Website Development