How do you get from having a small US company as a client to being in 1500 offices around the world and raising 15 million USD in funding from Andreessen Horowitz? By identifying a problem, finding a solution and executing it right, as Larry Gadea, the CEO & Co-Founder of Envoy, demonstrates.
One of the youngest employees of Google and, later on, software engineer at Twitter, Larry was “funemployed” when he realized what a messy user experience people had when visiting companies’ offices. Said and done, he built Envoy, an iPad based visitor management product that has taken off like wildfire. With more than 1 million registered visitors, Envoy is now used in 1500+ offices worldwide, it’s available in 18 languages and it has a customer base constantly growing at a 15% rate from one month to another. It’s getting crazy, as Larry confesses, and he will join us next week at How to Web Conference 2015 to share with you his experience and the lessons learnt along this exciting journey.
A Canadian of Romanian origin, Larry Gadea is the CEO & Founder of Envoy, startup that now has in its portfolio companies such as AirBNB, Tesla, or Yahoo. We talked with him before his arrival in Bucharest and here’s a sneak preview of his impressive story.
Passionate about programming, Larry started developing games from an early age and got on Google’s radar as early as in high school, when he developed a plug-in for Google Desktop Search that allowed users to find and index files in their computers. That was a feature that Google Desktop Search did not offer at that moment and was downloaded by 400 people. As a result, Larry got an email from Google: “Why don’t you do this with us?” they said.
What Google did not know at that point was Larry’s age, less than 18 at the time. He was too young to get a visa to work in the US, and this is how he ended up doing an internship in Google’s Mountain View Office and, later on, being one of the first employees working in the Canadian office, while pursuing his academic career.
At the end of college, Larry decided it was time to embark on a new adventure. And this is how he began working for Twitter (just a startup back then) as a backend engineer, after having had an interview with Ev Williams, one of the Co-Founders. It was in 2012 that he decided to put all his experience at work to start something new: this time, his own business.
“It’s extremely hard to leave a company. It’s that fear that who knows what you’ll do next. Will you have enough money? Will you find the right team? Is this really the thing you want to work on next and be known for? There’s a ton of pressure just in general (and even in Silicon Valley) to just remain comfortable and stick around at the big company, be it Google, Twitter or Facebook. The pay is great, the people are smart, why would you possibly want to throw that all out the window and be scrappy at something high-risk and new? This is not to mention the extremely strong family and social pressure to stay safe”, Larry says.
Nonetheless, why should one take the step? Because it’s the best way to see what you’re capable of, to test your intelligence, persistence, visionary ability, your management skills.
“It’s the ultimate test. You’ll definitely get that much crazier going through it, but it’s totally worth it”, believes Larry.
Two years later, Envoy has taken off and it’s now translated in 18 languages and used by millions of visitors worldwide. Larry and his team are committed to continuously improving the product by adding new features that solve the problems of their users. This is why they recently launched Envoy Passport, an app that simplifies and speeds up the sign in process by using Bluetooth Low Energy. Using this, visitors can sign in without taking their phone out of their pocket. This adds up to a new Free Tier.
“We’re making part of Envoy free because we want people to use Passport everywhere and really enjoy it. Free also lets people in all countries and areas try out Envoy without worrying about incurring high costs”, Larry explains his decision to include more features in their freemium model.
And the best part of it all is that their growth was organic, with little sales or marketing efforts at first. In the beginning, new clients came by exclusively through word-of-mouth: people seeing the product at someone’s office, loving the experience, remembering it and then bringing it back to their own company. That’s how Envoy got to be used in the offices of Pandora, AirBNB, Go Pro, Yelp, or FitBit, among others. Indeed, being in Silicon Valley helped and is a partial explanation for their high adoption rate, besides the great product.
“The product needs to be amazing for growth like this to happen, not the sales team or marketing. A product must be capable of selling itself in its early days, with some evangelism from its founders. Otherwise, it might mean that you’re investing efforts in a wrong product. Besides, having a sales team too early in your development process could lock you down into a product that may not necessarily be good, and you won’t be able to change that because of the pressure coming from the sales team”, Larry believes.
This is why he chose not to have a dedicated sales team in the beginning, contrary to the advice he received.
“If we did have the sales team, what do you think they’d say when the majority of customers will now go to Free? This kind of experimentation is important for a company and you can’t let human processes get in the way of product. Product should be king in the early stages”, Larry says.
And so it was in the case of Envoy, an approach that brought them a first investment round of 1.5 million dollars from a group of investors including Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce. With no financial pressure, Larry and his team kept focusing on building a better product for their users.
The next investment round followed: this time a 15 million dollars one led by Andreessen Horowitz, with Chris Dixon joining the board. Andreessen Horowitz became a trusted partner for Envoy, bringing along their expertise and helping out when necessary, without intrusively interfering in the day-to-day operations.
“They have been extremely easy to work with and don’t have demands or draconian policies to hinder things. They help when asked, but don’t insert or force themselves into decisions. This is a very important quality for an investor”, Larry says.
They’ve got the product, the team, and the money, as well all the other premises to build the next billion-dollar company. The future looks bright for Envoy. Will it grow into the next unicorn out there? At this point, perspectives are promising.
Until then, however, Larry will take the stage at How to Web Conference 2015 to present the Envoy case study, the challenges he faced along his journey and the lessons learnt. Meet him there!