Momchil Kyurkchiev and Andrew First crossed paths while working on the monetization side of Youtube. They decided to leave Google to start Leanplum, a service that helps product managers and marketers optimize mobile content and messaging by providing a platform for mobile A/B testing, personalization and analytics. I recently called the two founders to learn about their progress and how they have benefitted from being part of Techstars.
How did you come up with the idea?
Andrew: We used to run hundreds of A/B tests at Google. The Google culture is very data-driven, they constantly iterate and always test hypotheses. We realized that the speed and ability to iterate had really diminished with the move from web to mobile apps. We decided to bring the best practices from Google to mobile app development.
Tell us about your experience with the Techstars program.
Andrew: To be honest, the Techstars program was probably the most productive time of our lives. Not just because it was a lot of work, but also because we got the right things done. As engineers coming out of Google, we knew how to build systems but we didn’t know a lot about the business side of things. We learned this at Techstars and it was invaluable to us.
How did you benefit from participating in Techstars?
Momchil: The mentors provide amazing and very direct feedback that puts you on the right track. We ended up establishing great relationships with our mentors who gave us lots of advice and helped us connect with the right people, including our first paying customer. On top of that, being in an office where you have nine other companies who are in the same boat as you is very powerful.
What was the hardest part of Techstars?
Andrew: The hardest part of Techstars is what they call “the rollercoaster.” A day that stands clear in my memory was early on in the program, when we discovered we had a competitor. Up until that point, we thought we were the only company in the world who had thought of this idea. We set up a meeting with you to share the bad news. The first thing you did was laugh out loud and then say, “What are you talking about, guys? This is probably the best thing that could happen to you!” We were a bit confused. You said, “Look, if you have a competitor, that is proof you have a market.” We realized there was a market worth fighting over. At that point, we went from the worst of days to one of the better of days.
What was the best part of the program for you?
Momchil: It was getting the chance to control your own destiny. The fulfillment you get from having your own business is just incredible. In terms of professional happiness, nothing really compares.
What do you wish you had known before starting Techstars?
Momchil: One of the things that caught us by surprise was that nobody invests between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. We raised about half of our
goal between demo day and Thanksgiving. Then, nothing. Until January 5, when the people who had radio-silenced us for a month showed up with a check, ready to invest. That was a nerve-wrecking month.
Can you tell us more about your progress?
Andrew: We raised $250,000 before demo day. After demo day we got highlighted on AngelList as one of the top-trending startups. A big reason
for this was our demo day video. The Techstars videos are so professionally made, and the pitches have been practiced dozens of times, literally. That made a big impact on AngelList. We reached $500,000 in funding before the holidays and the rest came in January. As of now, we have raised about $1.1 million in total.
What is your advice for people who are considering applying to Techstars?
Momchil: I am gonna quote master Yoda on this one: “Do or do not, there is no try. ”
Leanplum is out of the Seattle 2012 program, which runs for three months from August through October. The application round for Techstars in Seattle opened on March 17 and if you think you’re ready, I encourage you to apply. The deadline for applying is May 4.
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