It’s all about “outcomes” in technology today – the phrase dominated the opening exchanges of a discussion I had this week with Kirk Krappe, CEO and Kamal Ahluwalia, CRO, of Apttus, the “Quote to Cash” Specialists from California who landed in London a little over a year ago, announcing their arrival by throwing a knockout launch party befitting a bona-fide tech “Unicorn”.
Last week Kirk and Kamal were in London ahead of the announcement of 3 major developments at the company; two that underline its deep tech credentials – a new AR and AI inspired robot helper, named…MAX, a new partnership with Kuka, the robotics manufacturers who have appointed Apttus as their digital commerce provider, and one that shows the management team are capable of raising serious funding; an $88m Series D that sees new investor GII come on board and K1, Iconiq and the Qatar Investment Authority increase their stakes.
The company has now raised $274m, and with the latest raise achieved a value of $1.3bn having been self-funded for the first seven years of its existence – the market for Quote-to-Cash solutions, Apttus say, is projected to grow to $41bn by 2018.
“This year we did things differently”, reflected Ahluwalia; “we reset how we wanted to go to market – the focus was on outcomes, not just selling technology – we targeted growth, efficiency, and automation for our clients. We changed our systems UI and UX, and we said that for each client, their individual challenges determined their outcomes.”
In other words, Apttus is now in the business of discovering their client’s holistic needs and servicing them accordingly, providing the right software to ensure a smooth sales process as before, but also crucially making the right calls about added features and tool suite’s that can help a firm make more, better targeted sales and avoid churn – thanks to a combination of “bleeding-edge” tech such as AI and machine learning, and the management team’s decades of experience in the sector, from Salesforce to Apple and Oracle.
But don’t be fooled by their CRO’s pragmatism – Apttus are tech mad – the full “Silicon Valley”, and they want to make London sit up and take notice.
The company has a large client base in EMEA, including GE and KUKA, the robotics and system engineers’ provider, and Krappe believes that EMEA “is exploding right now!”.
In a wide ranging interview, the charismatic Krappe, who seems to exude a sincere love of technology and a sharp mind with a boundless capacity for ideas – most of them to do with what Apttus has in store for its customers – opened up about the company’s upcoming visit to Dreamforce, in San Francisco, the new funding round, being in London, and a next-generation product launch – Max, the “world’s first intelligent agent, that may change the way sales-people operate – permanently – for the better. For good measure, he will be releasing a book next week all about the world of quote-to-cash sales.
Dreamforce, Salesforce’s annual glitzy shindig in the Valley, takes place next week and Apttus, shiny green logo to the fore, considering its long-term relationship with Salesforce, which Apttus suite of products are built on top of, are going big. The company is a titanium sponsor.
I’m barred from telling you exactly what the company plans to unveil during the conference in their state of the art booth but if I say that builders of messenger bots and AI virtual assistants have been asleep at the wheel recently, and its time someone woke them up in a big way hopefully I’m not giving too much away.
This AI / messenger hybrid is named Max, a sight catchier than Cortana and Siri, perhaps, and it just might be possible to hold meetings, Star Wars or James Bond style, at which holographic attendees join real people, and sales charts are conjured out of thin air, leveraging some of the Hololens technology Apttus say they have in the pipeline.
Max can go through customer sales histories, provide discounting guidance during the sales process, functions can be set up and voice activated…picture it, says Krappe, you’re in the taxi on the way to your next meeting…” Max, tell me who I am meeting next, what is their overall spend over the past year – show me a chart of my sales targets over the next month…” It’s Wall Street on acid.
If anyone’s doubting, they should probably go and check out the company’s stall at Dreamforce – it’s laid out a little like the interior of a private jet and that may just be for a reason to do with an AI flight simulator. It sounds more Burning Man than Dreamforce but it’s unlikely anybody will be complaining.
From a day to day perspective, Kirk expects sales-people to be able to dialogue with their new assistant, book meetings, review accounts, accept feedback and conclude sales – and he is not expecting another Microsoft Tay – the AI messenger bot that started spouting racist invective almost as soon as the Twitter trolls got a hold of it.
For one thing Apttus’ assistant doesn’t tweet – it’s not public facing, and as Krappe points out, it is not an open source product – there is a finite number of tasks it can handle – and none of them involve engaging in banter with the general public by the watercooler.
Krappe says there is a “dizzying array of options on the table for Apttus, both in the US and Europe”, and also revealed that the company has been working closely with Microsoft – in fact the PC giant that is beginning to seriously re-invent and update itself after missing mobile by a decade crops up many times during our interview. The firm has never been so obliging to its customers as it searches for the revenue streams that will keep it competitive for another generation or two.
Both Kamal and Kirk fantasise about the concept of “driverless apps”, automated assistants that just get things done in the background, efficiently free-ing up time for their human masters.
Kirk, a Dutchman by birth, had arrived in London on the back of a trip to Germany where he took some clients to the Oktoberfest –as well as CRO Kamal, who’s turban made a welcome change to all that lederhosen, I was told. Krappe was due to fly to Glasgow the next day to close another deal.
He described Oktoberfest as “very cool” and you get the sense that genuine fun was had – Krappe comes across perhaps as a slightly more middle aged version of Mark Zuckerberg, constantly on the move and evangelising on the fly – in fact, both he and Zuckerberg have similarly aged children – I had to abandon a call with Kirk last year after his partner went into labour.
Like many good start-up founders his enthusiasm for life is a value-add in itself.
He likes to think of Apttus as a “very human” company that looks after its staff as well as its customers, flying almost every new hire to San Francisco for onboarding and a visit to Kirk’s house, where he likes to throw a barbecue, “tell a story” or two and get to know everybody a little better. “They love it”, says Kirk, “we try to make sure senior management meets and greets every employee in the company.”
Krappe is probably the most “Zen” founder I have interviewed since I sat down with Tien Tzuo last year, the founder of Zuora – both are steeped in the legendary Silicon Valley culture.
“I want that culture in London!”, declares Krappe.
At the moment the company gives its staff an attractive range of corporate benefits; a gym membership, even a masseur – all very Google, as Krappe suggests.
That said, Apttus are on the corporate side of the start-up divide, if such a thing exists, as evidence by their choice of office – The City, not Clerkenwell or Shoreditch for example, and right next to Salesforce, the platform which it was originally built on. Apttus effectively runs on top of Salesforce, and has an arrangement with them that each time Apttus raises new funding, Salesforce co-invests alongside the new investor.
Kirk is proud of the fact that the average age of the Apttus workforce is 28 and insists that the company culture – lean, mean, green and threatening to become the next big thing in B2B, “has to be what we call Tier 1 everything”.
He explains; “we are selling to the biggest clients, and they need to know we are Tier 1 – we must look it and act it because nothing else will do”.
For the kind of business Apttus is conducting, selling contract management software to corporates and SMEs whilst trying to win more business in London, the location and the culture does seem to be spot on.
It will be interesting to see if Apttus are able to scatter a little of the legendary Silicon Valley magic about the place, and get London excited about machine learning, VR and especially AR, which Krappe is perhaps more excited about than anything else – product demos carried out in virtual offices with teams from different continents sitting together whilst a sales agent uses a virtual screen to make a presentation certainly get his juices flowing.
In Krappe’s mind, it’s only a matter of time – it’s not about if, it’s about when.
These are some of the more extreme “outcomes” the company are dealing in but most of all they want to give their customers choices. They don’t just want to sell them software, they want to help them change processes and join them on something of a disruptive tech crusade, but one that is also steeped in the reality of what it takes to stay on top of its game.
Many of the companies Apttus sell to, GE for example, are huge operations that might only update their selling systems once every decade – Apttus has to be there at just the right moment – and back up the sales chat with a robust suite of products.
Listening to Krappe, it doesn’t sound like they will let up until they have accomplished their goals.
But of course there is always competition – Apttus operate at the “bleeding edge” of tech and whilst they certainly talk the talk – now they have the funding to walk the walk too.
Last year the company raised nearly $180m from the Dubai investment authority, now they are announcing an $88m Series D round, – an up round no less – not bad given the shocking number of down rounds or underperforming IPOs that supposed tech “unicorns” experienced last year – bringing total funding raised to $274m.
Apttus say “The funds will be used to deliver transformative business solutions to Apttus customers across the globe, and allow Apttus to run its operations profitably, while continuing its rapid growth and long history of innovation.”
Krappe also commented: “Today, we’ve secured funds that will return us to operational profitability and continue our advancement of the industry we created over a decade ago. This enormous step forward in our path to IPO, and all of our accomplishments, stems from our deep dedication to the success of our customers.”
“We’re doing unbelievably well”, Kirk declares as our interview draws to a close. “On a GAP basis we’re growing around 60-80% per annum.” He’s also keen to point out that the company was self-funded for the first seven years of its existence, and profitable.
It’s not quite breaking even yet after all the funding, but is close to doing so, possibly this year, Kirk says.
If Zuora really are IPO’ing, it sounds like Apttus may follow suit in a few years’ time, I suggest – perhaps Microsoft will enjoy the fruits of their burgeoning relationship with the men and women in Green that they will make a bid, perhaps the company will be absorbed back into the red of Salesforce?
Rather like Athena bursting out the centre of Zeus’s forehead, or a Ridley Scott Alien punching its way into the light through its hosts’ rib cage, Apttus is high on momentum and enjoying the ride.
Kirk might appreciate the imagery – he has probably watched a few sci-fi films in his time.
I’m sad I won’t be at Dreamforce, the mega conference rivalled only by CES Las Vegas in the States for tech extravagance, but excited at the prospect of following Apttus progress.
Can they consolidate and dominate their business sector, maintaining their “category defining” status, and continue to deliver and roll out game changing technology that is truly ahead of their time?
Spend an hour with their founder, and you will probably conclude they won’t die wondering!