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Andrew is Co-Founder & Chief Technologist of Leanplum, the mobile engagement platform helping global brands like Tinder, Grab, and Zynga meet the real-time demands of their customers. 

Founded in San Francisco, Leanplum has offices across North America, Europe, and Asia, and has received more than $98 million in funding from leading Silicon Valley Venture Capital firms. Leanplum has been recognized as a Fortune Best Companies to Work For, an SF Business Times’ Best Place to Work, and a Best Entrepreneurial Companies in America by Entrepreneur Magazine. 

Andrew co-founded Leanplum in 2012 after graduating from Techstars Seattle alongside Co-Founder & CEO Momchil Kyurkchiev. Under his watch, Leanplum has grown from a team of two to a team of 250+ across the globe, with revenue tripling year-over-year for the third year in a row. 

Before Leanplum, Andrew was a software engineer at Google, where he worked on optimizing video ad revenue. In 2017, Andrew was named to Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list. 

Connect with Andrew on LinkedIn and Twitter.

  • AL

    Arsene Lavaux

    7 months ago #

    Bonjour Andrew- Thanks for doing this AMA.

    As a growth hacker with some mobile engagement hands-on knowledge, I am always looking for benchmarks regarding mobile engagement.
    I don't see many for the various verticals.

    Specifically, I'd be interested in benchmarks pertaining to richer forms of push notifications (with Picture/video showing up on long press for example).

    Would you be able to point me in better directions than what I've found so far?

    Merci!

    • AF

      Andrew First

      7 months ago #

      Hey Arsene! Rich push notifications, which can include images, videos, audio, and interactive elements, are a great way to engage your app users. This enhanced experience makes interactions more meaningful, and allows you to easily drive loyalty for your app with the push of a button.

      While we don’t have engagement metrics for rich push off-hand, our data shows that users respond to playful, visual content. For example, when you use visual characters like emojis in your push notifications, you can see up to 254% more engagement. Check out our recent report, “Unlocking Engagement & Growth With Emojis” for more details on that.

      When all is said and done, the best way to determine if rich push will help your app engagement is to A/B test it! Split your audience in two and send one message with a visual (like a photo) and one without. Repeat the process with similar messages a few times to ensure you get the full story. And report back to me with what you find — I can’t wait to hear the results.

  • BF

    Brittany Fleit

    7 months ago #

    Hey Andrew! I'm curious: what technology trends do you think will impact your company?

    • AF

      Andrew First

      7 months ago #

      At Leanplum, we’ve been paying close attention to machine learning and AI. There are lots of advances in that area, and so far we just scratch the surface of how we can leverage this new technology to better engage our customers. The Leanplum platform offers a lot of flexibility in how brands engage with their users — the times you can interact with them, different messaging channels, audience segmentation. With machine learning and AI, we can start to automate all of these features both according to best practices that we’ve developed, as well as what we think is optimal for your particular business and users.

      In other words, we can incorporate what we know about how your customers engage with your brand, and use that to make marketing a lot more intelligent and relevant.

      Right now, we have a focus on mobile because it is the primary device that people interact with. But what’s happening in the world is that there are more and more devices — it’s not just smartphones anymore, but technologies like Alexa, Google Home, smartwatches, and maybe eventually your car or fridge. Mobile has given us the technology to understand customer needs and respond in the moment, knowing who you are, where you are, and how we can interact with you — none of which was possible in the past on web alone.

      Moving forward, marketing will be contextual, real-time, relevant, and personal. We’re excited to be at the forefront of smarter, better marketing.

      3 Share
  • MK

    Mariana Klober

    7 months ago #

    Hi Andrew!

    Really excited to have you on! Thank you for taking the time for doing this!

    I'm curious about the evolution of Leanplum, and have some questions for you:
    1. How was your first idea for Leanplum like? Where did it come from?
    2. Was there a tipping point in which you had to make a hard decision to adjust the sails or even change the direction of the product somehow?
    3. About growing to such a large team, how do you make sure everyone is on the same page and the company's culture is as strong as ever?
    4. Could you point out 3 of the main challenges you faced in the last couple of years of growth and how they were overcome?

    Thanks!!

    • AF

      Andrew First

      7 months ago #

      Great to connect, Mariana! I'll tackle 1 and 2 together.

      My co-founder and I initially became interested in mobile when we worked on the YouTube Monetization team at Google. There, we optimized video ad revenue by testing new ad formats. As ads affect revenue and user experience, all the changes we proposed had to first be A/B tested. One time, Momchil was trying to run an A/B test on a mobile app, and Google told him that there was no mobile A/B testing framework that yet existed.

      So, the original idea for Leanplum was simply A/B testing for mobile apps. However, we realized that there were much bigger ways to leverage the power of mobile — an industry in its infancy at the time (2012).

      My co-founder Momchil Kyurkchiev’s mother used to own a boutique clothing
      store in Bulgaria. She knew all the shoppers who came in by name, and would contact loyal customers personally whenever a new shipment arrived. Fast forward to the digital age, and this relational aspect of marketing seemed to be lost. As consumers, we are all familiar with ill-timed promotions or having an item you just viewed online appear eerily on your Facebook News Feed. With a clear gap to fill, we thought that mobile could be the missing link. Because mobile is our most personal devices, it is capable of unlocking the intimate one-on-one customer relationships of times past — but now at scale.

      And thus, Leanplum was born!

      By the way, Leanplum still offers A/B testing, but as a component to our suite of features.

      2 Share
    • AF

      Andrew First

      7 months ago #

      For your third question, from Leanplum’s beginnings, my co-founder Momchil Kyurkchiev and I were aware of the importance of company culture, and have consciously designed and promoted a people-first workplace. Besides our core values — Lead Humbly, Be Nimble, Be Transparent, Push Innovation, and Show Gratitude — there is a strong emphasis on fostering meaningful human connections between employees. What’s unique about Leanplum is that we live the values that we preach, and you can see them in action every day.

      As we grow, it’s important to make sure that the programs and initiatives that reinforce our values evolve along with us. For example, when Leanplum was first founded, the whole team met on Fridays to share the highs and lows of the week. Unfortunately, this ritual was not scalable as the company grew, so we shifted to company-wide all-hands meetings every Monday where big milestones, updates, and challenges are shared.

      2 Share
    • AF

      Andrew First

      7 months ago #

      And to answer your last question about our three challenges:

      1) Finding the right people — people who are appropriate for this kind of fast-paced, unpredictable startup environment — was a huge challenge for us. However, as we’ve grown, we’ve established a legitimate, visible brand through a variety of brand building initiatives, and people have a much better understanding of who we are and what we do. We’re also able to clearly articulate the value of working here, and the blood, sweat, and tears that went into building our culture is paying off.

      On the engineering and product side, the problems we are working on are at a bigger and more exciting scale, and our Product Development team has become incredibly well organized. Because of these changes, it’s easier to attract talent than it was before.

      2) When you’re operating as a scrappy startup and just beginning to gain traction as a company, you sometimes have to do things in a heroic, non-scalable way. On the product side, for example, we’d have heroic efforts to get features out, but we’d sacrifice predictability.

      At the current phase of the company, we’ve built foundations that we can scale into the future. For example, we’ve introduced the Scrum framework so we have predictable planning processes for product development. This improves reliability so engineers no longer need to fight fires. On the Sales side, we now have a Sales Op team who is setting up repeatable sales processes.

      3) Another big initiative is implementing metrics across the board. On the Sales side, we now have metrics in place to understand what is happening across all stages across the pipeline down to the individual sales representative. On the Product side, we have lots of metrics around reliability, performance, and customer satisfaction so we have a better understanding of what needs to be improved.

      2 Share
  • PH

    Pradyut Hande

    7 months ago #

    Hey Andrew,

    Great to have one of the pioneers of multi-channel marketing automation here! Hailing from the same industry, I had a few questions for you:

    1. Growth is a function of nimble innovation and well-directed momentum. As your company's size continues to grow, how do you go about retaining Leanplum's original approach to growth experimentation, especially when the stakes continue to rise?
    2. Global expansion into newer markets brings with it its own set of challenges depending upon its maturity and resistance to change. How have you gone about tweaking your brand/product messaging across geographies to appeal to newer audiences?
    3. What is the future of conversational marketing in enabling brands to deliver personalized customer experiences at scale?
    4. How important is Guest Blogging from a Content Marketing perspective? And, how have you gone about leveraging the same?

    I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the same!

    Thanks so much!

    • AF

      Andrew First

      7 months ago #

      In terms of your second question about global expansion, while there are geographic trends, the fact is that some companies are more mobile-centric than others. The maturity of a brand’s customers impacts how mature that company is — and if it’s interested in utilizing a mobile engagement platform. As users grow and become more and more advanced, companies that don’t join this trend will be left behind. We help companies worldwide who are aspiring to be mobile-centric, leverage the best engagement strategies.

      3 Share
    • AF

      Andrew First

      7 months ago #

      To answer the first question, from the product and engineering side, we work with a limited number of customers, so that we can really act as strategic partners. When we have a new feature that can help our customers hit their goals, we can easily launch, let them test it, and gather their feedback.

      At Leanplum, each of our nine pods is independent, small, and agile, so we can develop autonomously without depending on other pods. Pods are customer-centric, and there aren’t many layers between engineers and customers — customer feedback is heard almost immediately. We value transparency, so we share customer feedback and metrics throughout the organization. When people have access to the same data, it empowers them with better decision-making.

      We move fast — but do it wisely and follow Scrum practices by delivering small changes incrementally and course-correct as needed. This means we can roll out features and changes safely, including feature flagging, A/B testing, and launching changes to a subset of users to a small subset of users to understand how it’s received. We practice what we preach, which means we are very data-driven and measure the impact of what we do, and then iterate based on those findings.

      2 Share
    • AF

      Andrew First

      7 months ago #

      For your third question about conversational marketing, it's a two-way street — you’re not blasting generic messages to everyone at once. You’re delivering personalized experiences based on a deep understanding of your customers. You have to know their preferences, past behaviors, where they are in a given moment, when they like to engage, and so on. Luckily, mobile gives us the answers to all these questions.

      If a customer walks into your store, you want to be able to tell them that a product they like is in stock now. That’s where conversational marketing comes in. Engaging customers at scale with machine learning, artificial intelligence, and automation, means you can collect and organize information in real-time to deliver messages that drive conversions.

      Good marketers don’t just batch-and-blast. They use conversational marketing to cater to the needs of their customers. They find out what they’re looking for and leverage technology to send messages that respond to those needs right in the moment.

      2 Share
    • AF

      Andrew First

      7 months ago #

      And for your last question about guest blogging, we’ve done quite a bit of guest blogging at Leanplum! Some guest blogging for huge brands, like Hubspot, and some for brands still gaining momentum in the space, like our friends at Appcues.

      In general, guest blogging is a great way to introduce your brand to a new audience — and from a growth perspective, the opportunities for SEO and backlinking are great.

      Guest blogging does take a bit of manual work: you have to research blogs relevant to your niche (but not competitors), develop relationships with other marketers there, and write original content. But it’s free, so if you have the time, it’s a great avenue for building brand awareness and generating a few leads.

      2 Share
      • PH

        Pradyut Hande

        7 months ago #

        Thank you for sharing such detailed and insightful responses to each of my queries. This would certainly go a long way in shaping my future perspectives as a marketer in this domain!

  • TS

    Tonya Sims

    7 months ago #

    Hi Andrew! We really appreciate your time here today. I'm curious to know if you all thought about growth from the very beginning when you started your company? Also, did you create some type of growth plan at some point and in a general sense what did that look like?

    • AF

      Andrew First

      7 months ago #

      Yes! We’ve always scaled our company with growth in mind.

      Our goal from the beginning was to transform the mobile marketing industry by creating an industry-leading mobile engagement platform. We wanted to build a successful standalone company, rather than a company to get acquired. We set our sights on becoming like the leading SaaS companies such as Salesforce and Adobe.

      Our approach to building growth plans is to start with the high-level strategy and work down into the tactical details. First, come up with a vision, and then work backwards from there to figure out what your goal is for the year, then the quarter, and finally all the way down to the next project you need to work on.

      Breaking up your growth like this helps keep your growth goals achievable. For example, I remember one year early on where we said, “Hey, we’re not going to take over the world this year. We just need to grow by 3x.” And guess what? We did that multiple years in a row.

      1 Share
  • DH

    Dani Hart

    7 months ago #

    Hi Andrew,

    Awesome to have you on for an AMA!

    1. A lot of mobile apps try to increase the amount of time spent on their apps. I understand that for a majority of apps, this is very difficult and many fail. However, for the successful ones, how do you recommend companies strike an ethical balance of increased engagement without addicting users to their platform?
    2. I know LeanPlum just opened an office in Amsterdam. What was the decision-making process that led to that decision?
    3. If a company was just getting started with testing on their app, how do you recommend they get started? What will help them overcome common challenges?

    Really looking forward to learning from you!

    Best,
    Dani

    • AF

      Andrew First

      7 months ago #

      Great question Dani! Tech addiction is a hot button topic right now, and for good reason.

      I believe that mobile messages must have integrity — that is, they don’t exist solely for the intention of fueling mobile addictions. To achieve this, mobile teams must put batch-and-blast messaging behind them in favor of personalized outreach, or what I call high value notifications.

      Here are the building blocks of a high value notification:

      1. Tailor messages to the interests and needs of users.

      Throughout the app experience, users are sharing details like their location and preferences. It is the responsibility of brands to properly leverage this information to deliver notifications that make the lives of users easier and more convenient.

      2. Send triggered alerts rather than generic blasts.

      Great notifications start with some type of trigger — something changed that the user would be interested in. The notification is then delivered at the moment when they can make the most impact. For example, a price drop on an item they recently viewed on a mobile retail app.

      3. Provide valuable information users won’t want to miss out on.

      You want users to feel grateful to receive information they otherwise would have missed. A good example is a timely alert on a flight delay that may save you hours of waiting at the airport.

      Outside of notifications, it’s important for brands to define engagement metrics for end users. The longer a user spends in your app doesn’t necessarily mean that they are meaningfully engaged. For example, with our customer Grab, the leading ridesharing app in Southeast Asia, the more time spent in the app might mean that the user is lost. A better metric would be the number of rides taken. The better defined these metrics are, the better apps can focus on delivering real value.

    • AF

      Andrew First

      7 months ago #

      To address your second question, we opened an office in Amsterdam to better serve our European customers. We always aim to open offices in the time zones of our customers so we can address their needs and concerns in a timely manner. Also, Amsterdam is a great (and fun) place to live!

    • AF

      Andrew First

      7 months ago #

      Regarding your last question, I recommend that brands take a scientific approach when it comes to testing on their app. Start with a comprehensive understanding of the overall goals and KPIs for your business and make sure you track them on a continual basis. This way you can see how they are affected by the tests you run. Make sure they are measured accurately as it’s common to make wrong decisions based on poor data quality.

      It is also important to follow best practices and avoid pitfalls. If you’re running an experiment, you first need a clear hypothesis. Know how long you need to run your test before you start to fully understand how users are affected by your change over time. It’s tempting to end the test as soon as you see positive results, but then you risk it being a false positive or not watching your users over a long enough period of time to observe longer term effects.

      Finally, incorporate testing as a process in your company to get the best results. Prior to Leanplum, I worked in YouTubue Monetization at Google. Within advertising, it was a mandate that every change was to be done first as an A/B test. This is also what we see with our most successful customers.

  • CT

    Clara Timpe

    7 months ago #

    What does a day in the life of a Leanplum software engineer look like?

  • JM

    Jeremy Monton

    7 months ago #

    Hi Andrew, what’s the interviewing process for a software engineer at Leanplum?

    • AF

      Andrew First

      7 months ago #

      Hi Jeremy. The process is tailored to the individual, but the general framework is as follows:

      - Recruiter phone call
      - Technical phone screen (60 minutes long with an algorithm question)
      - On-site interview (contains algorithm, coding, and design questions)
      - Culture interview: We pride ourselves on our award-winning culture, so we screen every candidate to make sure we think that they would fit in and thrive based on the culture we’ve developed!

      Hope this helps!

  • DS

    Dottie Schrock

    7 months ago #

    Engineering has traditionally been a heavily male industry. Does Leanplum have programs and initiatives in place to promote diversity and inclusion within the prod dev team?

    • AF

      Andrew First

      7 months ago #

      Hi Dottie! Great question. Leanplum is very passionate about diversity and inclusion, especially within Product Development. Here’s how we support raising the gender ratio on our team:

      - Within ProdDev, we have an employee resource group for female engineers to meet and support each other. They meet weekly.
      - We partner with groups that support women in eng. Like Girls who Code, Women in Infrastructure, Women Who Code, and more.
      - We have processes in place to ensure our recruiting is inclusive: running all job descriptions through a gender decoder.
      - All hiring managers have gone through Unconscious Bias training to make sure we are interviewing in an inclusive way.

  • EA

    Eric Arline

    7 months ago #

    What advice would you give a recent college grad or someone looking to transition careers who is interested in going into engineering?

  • DR

    Dave Rosenblatt

    7 months ago #

    Hi Andrew,

    What are some achievements — both personal and professional — that you are most proud of?

    Thanks,

    Dave

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