Company building: the many joys, struggles, and offices
When we started Amperity in January 2016, Derek, Stephen, and I were cozied up in a small WeWork office in South Lake Union. Due to a lot of interest in the problem we were working to solve, we quickly built an amazing team, and just five months later we were big enough to need our own office.
We found a great spot in Belltown. It was steps from Seattle’s shopping district and had enviable views of the Space Needle, the Sound, and the Olympic mountain range (when the clouds part that is). And most importantly, it was a cheap sublease from a company that was eager to get it off their books. We felt very lucky to be there.
We hunkered down and, working closely with our founding customers, accelerated development of a product that we would later realize really could transform how marketing gets done at consumer brands.
A Series of Milestones
Launching the Company
But it wasn’t all up and to the right to get there. The summer of 2016, for example, was a rough patch that tested us all pretty deeply. Born out of raw enthusiasm, we set some extremely ambitious engineering goals and timelines. Here’s some hubris for you: we set up iPads throughout the office that counted down the seconds to our first big release. As we worked, we were continuously reminded of the looming deadline. Predictably, we missed it. We learned that even with the best engineers, time only stretches so far.
In the fall, we released the first version of the product and went live in production with founding customers. Even then, we were developing the product while customers were using it, which felt like trying to fly a plane while we were still building it.
It was a period of great challenges, phenomenal successes, and enormous learnings. And none of it would have been possible without the early adopters and visionaries who understood the audacity of what we were building, and worked with us to help craft the best possible product. Keep your eye on the folks at Alaska Airlines, Moët Hennessy, Chandon, PMI, Stanley, TGI Fridays, Kendra Scott, Wynn, the Sounders, and Brooks Running: they are making big waves in their respective industries.
Ok, this might not be a milestone per se, but sometime during our tenure at the Belltown office, the still young team really began to gel. Maybe it was our natural wackiness, or how we enthusiastically encourage one another to be our most authentic selves. Or maybe it was all those happy hours and “Amp It Up” events that the team lovingly referred to as ‘mandatory fun’ (which were actually not at all mandatory).
Growing Partnerships and Leadership
There were other significant milestones as we looked back at the latter part of 2017. For example, we established a significant partnership with Microsoft. Amperity provides the customer data foundation layer to complement and enhance the efficacy of Microsoft’s advanced marketing and analytics tools, and across the Azure ecosystem. Thanks to the team there, we have met some incredible industry leaders and connected to many amazing customers.
The team also expanded, with top talent across product, operations, engineering, marketing, and the board of directors. Dave Fetterman joined as VP of Engineering, after an illustrious career with Facebook that culminated in him leading engineering for the company’s mobile products. We had also attracted Kelly Wright to the board. She came from Tableau, which she helped grow into a multi-billion dollar public company as its SVP of Sales.
Raising a Monster Series B
Shortly after launching the company, we were, in all honesty, a bit surprised to rapidly raise our series B funding round: $28M led by Tiger Global, the global investment firm well-known for making early, long-term investments in companies like Facebook, LinkedIn, Spotify, and other tech giants.
We had had quite a bit of inbound interest, and started to spend a little time with firms that we deeply respect. And while cash wasn’t a priority for us, this infusion came at an opportune moment. We have always been highly frugal, which can be very unpopular at times. But I always remind those who understandably complain about it, that the number one reason startups fail is they run out of money. It’s that simple. But, with growing demand, raising more capital to expand the team and accelerate our roadmap and overall capabilities made a ton of sense, so we took down the dough.
It’s every startup’s dream to be successful enough to grow quickly, and I personally feel incredibly lucky to be on this journey. I know all of us do. That said, growth is painful on many dimensions — and when space and people become the bottleneck for your organization, that’s the last thing you want to worry about!
It came on suddenly. We had invested in key technical teams early and then had a period of relative hiring calm, adding 1-2 new people per quarter. But within the second half of 2017, it became urgent to scale the business side of the house. The last thing a new company can afford to do is turn away promising clients or compromise on the quality of the work. To take advantage of the incredible demand and momentum we were generating as a company, we needed to triple our strategic accounts, sales, and solutions engineering staff ‒ as fast as we could.
Our recruiting superhero, Sami, worked tirelessly to bring in new talent, but kept an achingly high bar. If we wanted to grow and grow well, she and I both knew we needed to bring on only the best, and discipline was the name of the game.
I am extraordinarily proud of this team and grateful to every single person who has brought us through the past 2 years. While it was challenging for all of us at times, the quality of the work never suffered. Not once. Customers continued to give us glowing references, and the team thoroughly embodied another company value: ‘play for each other’. Product helped build solutions; engineering wrote marketing copy; marketing helped design product UI. It was inspiring and made me thankful everyday to be a part of this gutsy and tenacious team.
And then, as quickly as it had started, we shifted into the next gear once again. We had a rapid slew of hires across the majority of our teams. In a matter of several months we went from 32 employees to nearly 50.
So while the workload was starting to become more manageable, there were new problems. There were no desks for new hires. It became virtually impossible to find a meeting room without squatting in it overnight. We crammed into the kitchen for team meetings, sitting on window ledges and rubbing elbows. The men’s room… well, let’s not go there.
Oscillating from too much work to too little space, all while nearly doubling the team, put our fantastic culture at risk. We wanted to keep things fun and exciting while we scaled, evolved, and grew up as a company. Departments that had grown accustomed to ‘hack mode’ were now trying to improve operational efficiency and add useful structure. But high velocity change, coupled with a naturally stressful environment, made for some cracks in our bond as a team.
To help, we brought on Mary Miller as our Head of People Operations. Mary had spent most of a decade at another, slightly larger startup called Amazon, where she grew teams, coached executives, and nurtured a high performance culture.
During a recent conversation, Mary pointed out that we have a huge opportunity together. She reminded me that it’s very rare for a startup to grow this rapidly, and with the calibre of customers and the size of the impact we’re driving. She also cautioned that none of this momentum would scale if we don’t hire and retain top talent, and create the conditions that inspire people to perform at their best. We both know there’s no set rule book for this process. Ultimately it’s about building a culture that’s uniquely our own ‒ one that’s fun, that bonds the team together, and that helps us accomplish some really big goals. I’m excited to have Mary’s perspective, insight, and speak-from-the-heart mindset guiding us to be the most productive team we can be.
(If you are interested in joining us, please reach out: email@example.com)
A New Home in Pioneer Square
We knew we couldn’t keep our sanity if we continued to cram into an office designed for half the number of people, as exotic and “startup-y” as that sounds. And unfortunately, there’s a bit of an office space shortage in Seattle as the tech scene rapidly grows.
After an epic search for the perfect office, with just the right Amperity vibe, and views that wouldn’t make us miss the Space Needle too much, we found our new home in Pioneer Square. Just 25 months after founding the company, we took up residence in our 3rd office.
The new space is incredible, and we finally feel like we can stretch our legs after outgrowing our cozy Belltown digs. We imagine it’s a bit like the feeling of shedding a too-tight snakeskin. You loved that skin. It was your sole protection against sun, wind, and rain. But it was time to let it go.
Save the Date for Our Open House
We would love to share our excitement about the new space by inviting you to an Open House. Drink some wine, eat some cheese, and enjoy the views of Seattle’s gritty shipping port against a stunning backdrop of mountains, water, and sky.
Save the date:
What: Happy Hour: Open House
Where: Amperity Pioneer Square Office
1000 1st Ave S, Seattle
When:Thursday, April 5th, 2018
Time: 5:00-7:00 PM