The Program

TechStars Blog

14th September 2012

Apptentive: Traction and People, Not Users

Apptentive at their first 11:11 meeting

Apptentive is in the current class of 2012 at TechStars in Seattle. They make it easy for app developers to communicate with their app customers for increased ratings and higher retention. On the backend, the service manages customer conversations, aggregates customer contacts and works to solve the volume challenge that faces anyone who has hundreds of thousands of active customers every month. As an example, not everyone using your app wants to rate you highly, Apptentive helps you find the people who love your app and prompts them to rate your app highly. I talked to Robi Ganguly, founder and CEO, a month into their time at TechStars.

Q: You’re very forthcoming that you believe in “people, not users,” and you even published a tutorial about how to turn your haters into evangelistsYour code is open on GitHub. This transparency seems to foster a lot of trust. Has that helped create traction for Apptentive?
A: Absolutely. Some of our most prominent clients to date are Urbanspoon, Yahoo!, Savings.com, and Coradine. In addition, we’re working with several hundred developers – everyone from the one-person shop to twenty person teams. We are very transparent and write a lot on our blog because we like to be leaders on the topic of communicating with your customers. This is already paying off for us. For example, I used to work at Yahoo! but I didn’t use my connections there to land them as a client. They found us through a post we put up last year that was shared internally at Yahoo and ended up in the inbox of one of the VPs there. Apparently, he said, “We need to talk to these guys.” His product manager got in contact with us and it was only at that point that I informed them I was a former employee. We’re also deeply focused on relationships and in that vein, Urbanspoon came through our network. We’re so fortunate to have connections in Seattle that knew their app would be a perfect candidate for the product we’re building.

Q: Your collective team resume includes the likes of Microsoft, Yahoo and Apple. What happens when you combine this professional history into a startup?
A: In short, magic. We’re very fortunate to have exceptional experiences in relevant domains that inform the solutions we’re building for app developers. Because we’ve seen the challenges firsthand and we’ve been steeped in the principles of some of the best companies in the industry, we have a distinct advantage in our ability to execute on our vision. More importantly, though, our team has known one another for a very long time. Mike (CTO, co-founder), Andrew (co-founder), and I all went to Pomona College together. Sky (co-founder) and Andrew lived together for a number of years and Josh (director of design) worked with Mike at a previous company. Finally, we’re a company of builders. Each person who joins our team ships something first, so we can see what it’s like to work together and understand if there’s a good fit. We think the combination of our team’s experience, our long history of knowing one another and our disposition towards shipping things is a large part of the reason why we’re already able to support three distinct platforms: iOS, Android and Mac OS X.

Q: When you won the Lean Startup competition in Seattle, you mentioned that your next big goal was revenue flow. Any update?
A: Sure. Shortly following that competition we closed our first few revenue deals, proving that there was a willingness to pay, which was important to us. However, we found that we had a scarcity of team resources; we were spending too much time on the billing portion and so we de-prioritized working on billing until we’d really gotten our product to a place where people were consistently signing up and integrating our services. Thanks to TechStars and the HackStars program, we’re re-emphasizing billing and hope to get it running next week and start to charge the customers that have been willing to pay. Brad Bouse (HackStar in Seattle) has been so helpful building this for us.

Q: You have been in the program for a month now. What’s in the works for the remainder of your time at TechStars?
A: We have a pretty ambitious roadmap of where we want to be by demo day. We will be expanding our offerings in a variety of ways. We spent the first month here focused on customer development and were able to discover some meaningful things we could build or fix. We want to share this stuff live during our pitch, feature the profile of people in your app and their behaviors. Answering questions like, “How are they using your app?” and “How do you talk to them most effectively?” are top of mind for us. When developers use our tools, we want them to have an understanding of how to interact with customers in a way that deepens the relationships and optimizes the experience of the people using their apps. From the customer traction perspective, we have several app publishers in the pipeline and we’re hoping to have some pretty extraordinary partnerships to unveil on demo day. Mentors like David Cohen, Chris Devore and Brenda Spoonemore have been so helpful introducing us to companies that are relevant and interested in what we’re creating. I’m looking forward to telling our story on Demo Day in a crisp, exciting way that really does a service to our customers, our team and our product. TechStars, powered by the mentorship of some of the best entrepreneurs in the world, is helping us craft and communicate what an Apptentive world is all about.

If you’re a a front end web engineer or have significant experience with UX , contact founders@apptentive.com with your resume and introduction. The company will be hiring in the next three to six months.