When it comes to the digital world, Aaron Shapiro has always thought big. As a second-year MBA student, he competed in the School’s business plan competition (which he had helped develop with Professor Murray Low and has since become the Eugene M. Lang Entrepreneurial Initiative Fund) with an idea for web TV. “Back then, bandwidth wasn’t robust enough to do Internet television, so in hindsight it really wasn’t a good idea for a business,” Shapiro says. “But it was a sexy, exciting thing, so it ended up doing well in the competition.”
So well, in fact, that Shapiro used the business plan as a launching pad for Silverpop Systems, an e-mail marketing company for which he raised $40 million in funding in 1999. In 2005, after leaving that company and after a short stint in venture capital, Shapiro teamed up with a small group of designers to build Huge. While the company initially focused on designing websites, Shapiro quickly saw a larger opportunity to help firms hone their digital strategy.
“Clients would approach us saying they wanted a website redesign. But what was really happening was that they saw how much the Internet was transforming their business, and they were trying to figure out how to adapt,” Shapiro says. “While our competitors were talking about font colors and how to make a website pretty, we were talking to our clients about core business issues, how to adapt to the digital economy, and how digital could make their company successful.”
When Huge won JetBlue as a client, redesigning their e-commerce website, Shapiro’s company exploded in size. Today, Huge has 700 employees in eight markets throughout the world. And they meet all the digital needs of Fortune 500 companies, from research and strategy to social media, mobile, and in-store digital. An expert on digital strategy, Shapiro recently published his first book, Users, Not Customers (Portfolio/Penguin, 2011, 2013), which offers advice to companies on how to make the most of a digital presence.
“Focus on user needs and think about the user experience,” Shapiro says. “That’s the key thing companies can do to drive business performance and overall marketing success in our digital age.”