In May last year Apttus, the San Mateo, California based tech “Unicorn” that describes itself as a “category defining” quote-to-cash solution threw its London launch party, having taken office space at the top of Tower42.
In the afternoon before the party kicked off, CEO Kirk Krappe appointed Lance Gilmour as Senior Vice President, and General Manager of EMEA.
Lance’s brief was simple – replicate the success of Apttus operations in the US, across Europe, from the new HQ in London.
Easier said than done. But Gilmour always felt he had the right credentials, and after working at Dell and Oracle for several years, was ready to swap the environment of a large corporate for the rollercoaster ride of a start-up, albeit one that has hardly had to struggle too hard to date.
Since it was founded in 2006, the company has raised $186m across 3 rounds of funding, the latest being in September 2015; backed by the Kuwait Investment Authority, Apttus raised $108m.
Working closely with Salesforce (their Quote to Cash software is built to dovetail seamlessly with CRM platforms) Apttus’ product has been praised by Salesforce chief Marc Benioff himself, and the management team, led by Krappe, with Kamal Ahluwalia as CRO, Neehar Giri as President and Kent Perkocha as Chief Customer Officer, bring a wealth of experience to the startup from the likes of Oracle, Apple and startups they have founded in the past.
Big shoes to fill then, but Gilmour told me last week by telephone that his role, which he describes as “building out and stitching together” the different EMEA teams, driving sales and ensuring high levels of performance and product delivery, has been made easier due to the fact that Apttus has its very own Academy Programme; all hires made in London are flown out to Silicon Valley for between 1-8 weeks depending on the role.
Nice work if you can get it – which aspiring sales / tech or management grad wouldn’t want to spend up to three months learning their trade in California amongst the best in the business?
“It’s a big investment in terms of time and money”, says Lance, but worth it, he says, because it gives newbies a chance to understand and learn the core competencies and techniques that have underpinned the firm’s success in the States, as well as giving them a chance to spend time with the Senior Management team, which helps to “eliminate any sense of them and us”.
“We’ve tweaked the formula a bit since I started – everybody goes – business development reps, tele-sales, sales engineers, field sales, professional services, but for different lengths of time depending on the role.”
“When we began hiring we were looking for general skill sets and we found appropriate hires but now we look for qualified, tenured individuals who have experience within particular roles.”
Progress has been solid to date, Gilmour says; “We’re doing well. We’ve experienced high growth, 60% year on year and – we’re ready to make a significant push in EMEA over the next 3-4 years.”
All of Apttus’ EMEA operations are run from the London HQ, although the company has had major European clients for some time, including PayPal, GE, Salesforce itself, Adobe, the World Economic Forum and TDC, a Danish Telco company.
Quote to Cash is a competitive space; Lance says, “although it can be a cliché to say it, we really do feel none of our competitors run the whole gamut of the Quote to Cash space like we do, be it Contract Lifecycle Management, Billing, CPQ, eCommerce, and so on. We feel we’re a good distance out in front.”
“We can help organisations change behaviours and learn more about their clients using data science and machine based learning, for example. We’re a very innovative company in that regard.”
The team in London now numbers 91 staff – across marketing, biz dev, engineering, customer success; “a good mix of ages, sexes, and ethnicity” says Lance, but the company, he adds, “still has the DNA of a start-up”.
“In terms of our culture, environment, and the buzz you feel when you come into work”, we still have that edge and drive that comes with a start-up mentality. And then we have the perks, like free lunch for all staff on a Wednesday, we have a masseuse that comes into the office.” The HT can confirm that Apttus London Launch party was a memorable gathering indeed…
“We have a big commitment to achieving our results and deliverables – for me coming in from a really large company (Gilmour worked in what is now known as “travel tech” for 15 years before joining Oracle and “falling into” a role within IT sales) I knew the environment and the balance at a rapidly growing company would be different, and that’s a big part of what attracted me to the role.”
“We have to fiercely protect out start-up credentials and one of the key things that Apttus has always had is a very flat structure where the management team are very accessible. So Kirk, Kamal, and the rest of senior management are very, very accessible. And that’s absolutely key to what we’re all about – transparency, and involving all of our staff in everything we do.”
Salesforce in the US hosts “Dreamforce” every year in San Francisco – a 4-day conference that operates almost like a festival, with pop stars and rap artists playing the opening and closing concerts, accommodation on boats moored in the city’s harbour, exhibitions, and lots and lots of networking.
Since Apttus are closely affiliated to the US “Decacorn”, will they try to make their mark on London’s corporate events scene?
“We do a reasonable amount and you have the Salesforce World Tour here in London every year which is like a 1-day version of Dreamforce – and of course we go big, in terms of presence, commitment and investment. It is a great opportunity to meet with clients and prospects. As a global B2B company we’re also looking to expand our reach through our marketing initiatives, through making every marketing dollar work hard.”
“We understand the value of our brand and it’s something we look to use and to push but we also know that as a service provider it’s the strength of that service that we provide that really counts and persuades clients to come on board and stay with us.”
What about Brexit – did the Management Team freak out when they heard the referendum went the way it did?
“They were surprisingly well informed about the whole thing”, says Lance; “it resonated more than I thought it would with them – but we are committed to London – we are here for the long term, Brexit, in our view, is not something that dramatically affects us a business right now.”
What about the burden of regulatory changes – different import / export tariffs, new rules and regulations, and incorporating these seamlessly into the quote to cash process?
“We’re a cloud based company and as such it’s much easier for us to be flexible and adapt quickly – if we need to make adjustments, we build it, test it, put it into the cloud and it’s there for our sales team and for our customers so we can be pretty responsive – we don’t have too many concerns on that score.”
After such rapid growth, a 50% growth in staff in just 6 months, Lance expects he will need all of his experience building, developing and merging teams and “making sure they are all energised”.
“in 12 months we’ll have a more accurate picture of where we are”, he replies in response to a question about how profitable Apttus’ EMEA operations have been to date.
“We’ve grown so quickly, it can be unpredictable at times, but we’re in a great place, with a strong product in a growing market segment – for us it’s about execution, demonstrating the value of our offering, and bringing those teams together in a positive, collaborative spirit – hiring good quality people – and getting it right!”