Tuning and Pruning is the Hardest Part

Earlier this year we got a call from a social networking company wanting to grab breakfast to “catch up.” I was going to be in San Francisco so I figured, why not? At a swanky hotel I shared details about our business, growth, traction, customers, etc. The whole meeting stands out because of the very last thing they asked us: “How much bigger would your market be if you didn’t have to charge for your product?”

Wait, what?! How is that a market?!

Then it occurred to me, they have no idea what we do. Their world-view of eyeballs and sponsored messages has no place in what we strive to enable brands to achieve.

Urban Airship started 4.5 years ago as a developer platform for powering push notifications. We powered in-app purchases and dabbled in a couple of other things. Heck, we even thought we’d help game developers with high scores and authentication. As we dug in and worked with our customers over the next 2 years we realized an opportunity much broader than a developer platform for notifications. Apps were becoming the most valuable direct connection with customers, and push messaging was the voice of that app. Mobile’s unique requirements for success, completely up-ended 100 years of marketing know-how and big brands were turning to us for help.

It became clear that we weren’t going to be a broad developer platform play. Our customers wanted full-blown solutions, not a feature wrapped up into a company. We raised more money, folded in some acquisitions, and hired an inside and then a field sales team. Our revenues grew like crazy in 2012 and we set our sights on even more growth going into 2013. We were becoming an enterprise SaaS company.

We roadmapped, plotted and put together a plan for 2013 and set it into motion. We closed a fantastic funding round in early 2013 led by August Capital putting $25M in the coffers as we headed out into the market with our Enterprise SaaS solution ready to roll and a new mission to tell the world what they need to know, when and where they need to know it.

But growth and planning is difficult and you don’t always get it right. It turns out this shit is hard.

As we started 2014 planning in September, we took a hard look at where the business was going and realized we needed to focus our efforts. We needed to put our energies toward areas that were getting the most growth and traction, and where we knew we’d continue to win. As difficult of a decision as this was, it’s how you go from healthy to thriving in both nature and business; sort of like pruning a fast-growing young tree, so the most important parts can grow even stronger and taller. With some deep analysis and asking some hard questions, we now have both focus and a roadmap for the next 2 years that will continue to allow us to drive more mobile engagement than any other vendor on the planet.

As for the difficult pruning: on Monday last week we let 20 Airshippers go. We reset to focus on the key areas that are contributing most to our growth as we head into 2014. I have been looking hard at the company and the team in place and have made some other changes in the last couple of months as well, to continue to sharpen and tune our business as an enterprise SaaS company. These adjustments are critical, especially when you are in an explosively growing and increasingly competitive market. If you’re not taking a hard look at your business, and making changes on a regular basis, I would wager you’re probably doing something wrong. The investments and the big deals get the headlines. When companies do big pivots, they love to boast. But this lesson is less sexy since it is neither. However, it is one of the most valuable lessons an entrepreneur can learn, and I felt it was important to share it.

The future is incredibly bright here at Urban Airship. 2014 is going to be another huge year for us coming off our second year of well over 100% revenue growth. For many of our customers, mobile now makes up the majority of their digital traffic. Driving even greater engagement is becoming easier and more integrated with push, in-app messaging, digital wallets and more. Our market is also getting more competitive with some big companies just now recognizing the opportunity we saw four-and-a-half years ago. Turns out we were onto something huge when we started this…back when we had to convince people that apps were going to be a big deal.

Today, as the market leader, we’ve learned what it takes to do what we do for the world’s biggest brands and we’re going to continue focus, innovate and expand on that. If you’d like to join the team shaping the future of mobile engagement, we’re hiring for 10 strategic positions.

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