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Leanplum CEO: Our goal is to become a unicorn

Leanplum CEO George Garrick and CRO Marc Chabot
Image credit: Leanplum CEO George Garrick on the left and CRO Marc Chabot on the right
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Headquartered between San Francisco and Sofia, customer engagement platform Leanplum has so far received over $125M in funding from leading Silicon Valley venture capital firms such as Norwest Venture Partners, Kleiner Perkins, and Canaan Partners as well as CEE-focused LAUNCHub Ventures. Earlier in 2021, Leanplum, announced several strategic developments to drive global market expansion.  These count the appointment of a Chief Revenue Officer, Marc Chabot, who joined with over 15 years of experience in leading high-growth sales and marketing teams as well as major enhancements in the scalability of Leanplum’s infrastructure, now capable of processing 20+ billion user interactions while sending over 1 billion messages per day.

CEO George Garrick also told The Recursive that Leanplum will be aiming for a unicorn valuation, so we reached out to him and Marc to learn more about the company’s activities since the last funding round, future plans and goals, and the role of the team in Sofia. 

The Recursive: If we start with the big goal George shared with The Recursive earlier, what are the next strategic milestones Leanplum needs to pass before that happens?

George Garrick: I would say that the first milestone is to show a level of growth this year that proves we’re a strong growth-stage company. Over the last year, we did some restructuring and really studied the marketplace relative to our strengths. We’ve come out of that in a healthy state, and what we’re looking at this year is to reestablish all of our growth operations and our growth metrics. 

That started with bringing Marc on board in charge of all of our go-to-market activities. If we are successful with the above, we can be in a position to raise a growth funding round. When we do that, it will give us the fuel we need to accelerate our further expansion.

Although naming a valuation you hope to achieve is something a lot of companies do, you can’t just define that as a goal and hope to achieve it.  The valuation is hopefully the outcome of what you do. You have to have something of value that people are willing to buy.  If you do that right, then the valuation will come. 

Now, thinking about our customers, they are in businesses that are different from ours. It could be content, it could be commerce, it could be games, it could be home delivery, whatever. Their core competence  is not managing an engagement platform and developing better and better ways of engaging with users. Their primary expertise is in doing what they do. 

So they rely on companies like Leanplum to provide those additional capabilities that they need to fully succeed, while they can focus on their core competency. If somebody came to us and asked us to develop a game, we wouldn’t know where to begin. But if you asked us what’s the best way to develop and maintain a relationship with your players in a game, we could talk to you all week about that and we can help you. And we know that we can develop a 300 or 400% increase in your level of monetization. 

By partnering with us, our client companies can focus on what they do best. And we can give them what we do best, so that the combination of the two is sort of one plus one equals three. If we continue to do that, and if we can do it for more and more customers, our valuation will be a result of us providing value to our clients.

I would add that there is a temptation to try to do too many things at once and to position ourselves as being able to cover a very broad set of offerings. In today’s environment, there are so many companies, you just really can’t do that unless you have the resources of somebody like maybe a Salesforce or an Oracle or one of those companies, which we’re not. 

So one thing that we will be doing increasingly is to focus. We’re going to focus on the things that we do best, we’re going to back that up with results in the form of improved economics for our clients. And we’re going to align ourselves with customers in businesses that match our focus and the things we do best. And once we feel we have a certain level of development in a vertical, or additional vertical,  we will expand by then gradually rolling that focus out to additional slices of the app business world (verticals), rather than trying to serve the entire marketplace at once because we can’t.  Nobody can. 

Who are the typical customers of Leanplum and what have been the most successful industries and markets for you so far?

Marc Chabot: Our customers tend to be mobile-first and app-first companies that aim to take leadership positions in their industries.  But the app is the only, or the primary, focus of how they engage with their customers.  They really want to understand their users and are working hard to do this in their apps. This way they learn how to engage, delight, and inspire their customers. They need to prove their value very fast so these customers stick with the app and remain open to monetization opportunities, but we help them do this in a way that also improves the user experience.  So it’s a win-win.  The user has a better and more customized experience, and the company earns better economics.   

In a nutshell, we first help our clients really understand how to get customers to their applications – we help lifecycle marketers understand how to best engage customers to drive them to the app experience. For instance, in gaming, we help LiveOps professionals, the folks that actually manage the real- time workings of the app itself, to easily implement ways to engage customers, users, or players in the app experience. So they’re using push notifications, in-app messaging, email, or SMS to drive opportunities and inspire, in creative ways, those customers in order to really delight them and to make sure that they really understand them. 

And then, at the same time, they’re using remote configuration capabilities within the apps themselves, to actually change the app experience for users in real-time – to personalize the experience to get better outcomes with their users. 

All of this is really difficult to do. But Leanplum sits right at the center of these activities and we help our customers drive great experiences so they can grow their businesses. And with that, we grow ours. So it’s an exciting place for us to be and we think there’s a much bigger and growing future for us.

One of the segments where we have a lot of customers and where all of these needs that I described appear, is gaming. Specifically, gaming studios around the world that are launching mobile-based games. They’re trying to do everything we talked about, especially monetize their customers.  They have players that are buying virtual items or adding points in-game, using virtual currencies in economies that are built within the game experience. 

We also have companies that have app-based solutions with subscriptions. So, a lot of companies offer lifestyle and wellbeing products and services. They’re having freemium-based subscription apps, where the customers can join them at no cost, and then try to build trust and establish value, and get customers to opt into a subscription. So, again, these companies are really focused on making sure they offer a great experience, that they really understand their customers, and we can help them achieve those goals.

Another key segment tends to be app-first commerce companies, which are driving a significant portion of their transactions through the app. Often these are traditional e-commerce companies but you also have delivery companies that are moving around different products; wine, food, and in general, this new economy, around mobility and delivery.

Finally, nowadays, there are many companies that help you connect with people and they also tend to be among our customers.

Can you tell us more about your role as Chief Revenue Officer and your immediate goals at Leanplum?

Marc: Sure.  The teams that roll up to me are our marketing organization, our inside sales and enterprise sales organization, and our customer service and success teams. Basically, everyone that touches our customers. What we’re really trying to do is make sure that we provide great value for our customers, that we help them be successful, that we’ve become really great partners for them in their mission to serve their own customers, users, and players.

When it comes to immediate goals – we are growing this business. So, we are accelerating our ability to grow. That means optimizing for growth, we’re adding team members around the world, we are marketing with more precision, selling into more geographies, and supporting a larger and larger customer base each day. And we will be accelerating that as fast as we can over the next several years.

What’s next for the team in Sofia?

George: Sofia is our product development headquarters, and has some of the finest engineers in the world.  We have almost completely consolidated our engineering and product development function in Sofia, and we have invested heavily in training as well as streamlined our organization.  In addition to continually producing new features, we have successfully reduced our tech debt, and at the same time we are making constant improvements in our gross margins through systems efficiencies.

We have also transitioned several roles from the Bay Area into Sofia, including roles within accounting, sales development, and human resources.  And finally Sofia is an excellent sales office location as it is convenient to many clients in Eastern Europe.  

Marc: I’d add that we’ve been engaged deeply with our customers to get feedback on our solution and the problems they’re trying to solve so that we can create a really compelling and customer-led product roadmap for the development team in Sofia.

I think it’s also kind of unique that we have almost our entire product management and dev team in Sofia now. We’re really committed to growing there, because we are able to attract great talent in the city that has proven that they can do a great job for us. We’re really proud of the team that we’ve been able to get on board so far.

From your experience, what are the fundamentals of successful revenue growth?

Marc: I think to grow a business first you have  to really make sure that people can understand the value we can provide them.

In today’s global market it’s really noisy – this is a challenge. We have to really communicate well what exactly we can do, because when we reach out and talk to somebody, they need to understand that we really understand them, we really understand their problems, and then we can provide value to them. 

That’s how we can start conversations.  And that’s really hard to do. So a lot of our focus in enabling our growth is on making sure we’re great communicators in the market. I think that’s a big challenge for us. And we’re very focused on executing. 

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Etien Yovchev is a co-founder and Chief Editor at The Recursive, online media dedicated to the emerging tech and startup ecosystems in Southeast Europe. He has told the stories of over 200 ventures from the region and aims to provide high-quality constructive reporting on the progress of the SEE innovation ecosystem, making sure that the stories of promising local founders reach global audiences. Etien holds a MSc degree in Innovation Management from RSM, Erasmus University Rotterdam and has more than 4 years of experience in the commercialization of new products, having worked with many early-stage companies and a few corporate innovation departments across Bulgaria, The Netherlands, and the USA.