Susan Marshall’s resume reads like she should be sitting on one of the highest floors in Salesforce Tower, not the second floor of a nondescript office building on Indianapolis’ Massachusetts Avenue. It starts with product marketing at Adobe and Apple in Silicon Valley, then at ChaCha and Salesforce in the Midwest. But something nagged her. And it nagged enough that she traded the corporate world for the startup life by becoming a founding partner and CEO of Torchlite.

Susan Marshall leads Torchlite whiteboard session

“I was working at Salesforce and was on the road quite a bit talking to customers who had purchased Marketing Cloud, with the promise of being able to create very sophisticated customer journeys,” Marshall says. “But they were unable to get real value out of the product and the platform at the time. They were really frustrated. It was more difficult than any of these marketers ever realized, and required very technical expertise in order for it to work.”

The problem nagged her. But it also revealed an opportunity.

“Meanwhile, we had this growing freelancer economy,” she says. “And so I thought, ‘Why don’t we create a marketplace of Salesforce Marketing Cloud experts that could be available on demand to these customers?’”

Torchlite: On-demand Digital Marketing Help

Marshall’s entrepreneurial instincts proved as sharp as her product marketing skills. In 2015, she founded Torchlite, a marketplace of on-demand certified digital marketing experts. However, she soon saw that multisided marketplace could go far beyond just connecting companies with freelancers.

The customer side

On the customer side, companies need marketing technology (martech) software such as HubSpot, Marketo, and Google Analytics to automate and scale. But they often can’t justify the time or money of adding staff just to implement it. And it’s not just small businesses with that problem.

“The average enterprise has 90 different martech tools,” Marshall says. “They might have Salesforce as their CRM, Adobe for content creation, and Terminus for executing their ABM (account-based marketing) strategy.” On top of that, most martech software incurs costs beyond implementation

But by having on-demand access to freelancers certified in these martech tools, companies can expand their work capacity on an as-needed basis without expanding headcount.

The freelancer side

Freelance digital marketing consultants continue growing in quantity and quality. In fact, freelancers now represent 35 percent of the U.S. workforce, and may represent more than half by 2027. Moreover, 65 percent of freelancers expect their work to increase according to the PayPal U.S. Freelancer Insights Report.

“The best freelancers are career independent contractors and consultants,” Marshall says. “They’re not in between jobs. They’ve built their own brand. They are investing in themselves and their expertise. They usually have multiple certifications and are experts across multiple clouds.”

Currently, Torchlite’s network comprises about 450 of these highly skilled marketing technologists. The startup tends to focus on freelancers experienced in integrating systems and creating personalized experiences using CRM data. Those kinds of longer-term engagements differentiate Torchlite from platforms such as Upwork, where projects tend to be shorter and more transactional.

The martech side

Martech companies know their customers often need freelance help to implement their products. Yet according to Marshall, most don’t manage the delivery of those freelancers. Those that try to typically rely on building up agency programs and managing them with just a webpage and directory.

“There are over 9,000 martech companies that are growing and need to give their customers access to experts,” Marshall says. “The customers that are licensing our private marketplace platform, they typically have over $50 million a year, and their technology is required for specialized experts in order for their customers to be successful.”

Susan Marshall chats with Torchlite team

Torchlite steps in here to do more than ensure martech companies have qualified freelancers to help their customers. It also helps martech companies understand those customers better. “Hubspot, Salesforce, and other martech companies have no visibility into what happens with clients once they get handed off to a partner,” Marshall says. “They actually call them orphan clients. They usually attrit, and they have no way of recovering.” But Torchlite is changing that. 

“Torchlite is such a huge help,” says Joanna Milliken, senior vice president of product management at Salesforce. “Our customers can connect to an entire network of experts to help them. They get even more value and ROI out of their investment in Salesforce.” And martech companies get a return on investment, too.

“Martech companies can capture incremental revenue by sharing in revenue processed through the platform,” Marshall explains. “They’ve spent years building up an ecosystem around their product, but have had no way of monetizing it. Now they can.”

The Opportunity Ahead for Susan Marshall and Torchlite

Marshall’s idea for Torchlite immediately resonated within the industry. She first pitched it while at Salesforce to Scott McCorkle, the then-CEO of Marketing Cloud. McCorkle, who came from ExactTarget and is now CEO of MetaCX and executive-in-residence at High Alpha, immediately saw an investable idea.

“Companies desperately need people with these skills,” McCorkle says. “Torchlite is shaping the future of work by bringing together these highly skilled freelancers into cohorts of technical specialties. That makes it easy for companies to organize and activate them.”

McCorkle even climbed aboard as executive chairman. Others industry heavyweights followed, too. Jeffrey K. Rohrs, CMO of New York City’s Yext, joined as board director. “Many of us have worked for over 20 years in marketing and technology,” Marshall says. “We’ve either worked for Salesforce to get that target, or a partner of that target in the Salesforce.”

The Growth Is Unlimited”

In short, Marshall has invested in building a team attuned to the pain of implementing marketing technology. It’s paying off. “Between 2017 and 2018 we doubled revenue,” she says. And that’s just from entering martech.

If Torchlite can nail its solution there, Marshall sees scalability into other marketplaces. “The platform is built really for any SaaS company that wants to provide their customers with experts,” she says. “Think a learning platform with a marketplace of learning experts. The growth is really unlimited, but we’re starting with martech.”

How Susan Marshall Invests in Torchlite’s Culture

Having worked in Salesforce’s ohana culture (and alongside McCorkle, who helped create ExactTarget’s famous orange culture), Marshall understands how investing in culture attracts the talent needed to create a competitive edge.

Susan Marshall and Torchlite core values

“Culture is a big focus for me, it always has been since the very beginning,” she says. “It’s the people that make all the difference, and in a startup, if make you a hiring mistake, it can be really catastrophic.”

At Torchlite, Marshall fosters a people-first culture built upon three core values: collaboration, communication, and curiosity. “We have a Three C Committee that focuses on those core values,” she says. “We have a very open and transparent culture, and we encourage and reward people for collaborating well together.”

What’s so powerful about that culture is how it naturally orients Torchlite’s team to serving the customer. “Our mission statement is to enable marketers to love what they do every single day,” Marshall says. “It’s all about making the marketer a hero and making [them] really enjoy what they do instead of being really frustrated. Even our logo is an inverted funnel, meaning if you make one customer happy, and they’ll tell more customers, and that’s how your business will grow.”