Q&A With Appify CEO Jen Grant: Nurturing Your Superpower

December 7, 2020

The Crunchbase “Female Founder Series,” is a series of stories, Q&As, and thought-leadership pieces from glass-ceiling-smashers who overcame the odds, raised funding, and are now leading successful companies.


Jen Grant was fewer than 30 days into her first-time CEO role at Appify when the pandemic hit. In the days that followed, the renowned former CMO, who scaled marketing for Box, Elastic and Looker–leading all three through multibillion-dollar exits–had to react fast. 

She’s navigated Appify through the successful transition to virtual work, hired critical executive staff, and raised funding this year to keep her no-code app development platform company blasting along. Meanwhile, second quarter ARR grew 70 percent over Q1 and Appify’s customer base has expanded to more than 40 customers using no-code apps to automate tasks and drive efficiency and productivity across businesses. 

Appify has gained tons of traction under Grant’s leadership, primarily with large field service organizations in industries including commercial food, ATM, construction, medical devices, semiconductor and more. 

In this Q&A Grant dives into her experience becoming Appify’s CEO, why the days of women trying to break into “the boys’ club” are over, and how she found her superpower: scaling businesses.


 

Q: Did you always know you wanted to be CEO?

As a woman, that’s a hard question for me to answer. There is so much internal struggle with accepting and asking for leadership roles. We are taught to be humble (at least in the 80s we were) and so we sometimes don’t raise our hands enough for opportunities. 

It is also hard to even imagine yourself as a CEO, if there aren’t any women to look up to. I worked directly with CEOs for 15 years, helping them with their messaging, their vision and their big strategic presentations, but I always was in the background. I think at some point during those moments I would wonder, “Why aren’t I on stage? Why aren’t I being interviewed? Why aren’t I sharing this vision?” and it was then that I started to realize I was not only ready, but I had all the skills I needed to lead effectively. I just had to decide to seize my moment. 

 

Q: What inspired you to join Appify and walk away from Google/Looker?

For the last 15 years I’ve been leading companies during periods of massive growth. I ushered three companies through those blitzscaling years from <$1 million ARR to successful, billion-dollar-plus exits; two IPOs and a $2.4 billion acquisition. Scaling is my superpower. 

Google is an amazing company and, earlier in my career, I was there during a fascinating stage of their growth (post-IPO 2004 to 2008), but when Looker was acquired I knew I wouldn’t be happy for long at such a large company. As soon as my team was settled in at Google, I felt ready to jump to my next adventure.

 

Q: What problems are you trying to solve with Appify?

Enterprise software is fundamentally broken. Companies either pay millions for monolithic, rigid tech stacks that require developers to maintain or enhance, or they have the chaos of managing hundreds of SaaS apps that create data and process silos. 

Appify is a new platform-first paradigm that makes it easy for business users to create enterprise-grade apps and for IT to manage them. This is the driving force behind interest in no-code app platforms; business processes should be defined by what the business needs and not by what the software requires. 

Appify is specifically focused on selling to field service companies with mobile use cases such as work orders, quoting and inventory management, because these companies need a robust solution with deep functionality. Unlike the forms-to-spreadsheet ethos of most no-code platforms, Appify is building a platform with deep functionality to serve complex business processes for any sized company: from SMB to enterprise. 

 

Q: In 2019, only 3 percent of venture capital was invested in female-only founded companies. Did/do you feel welcome and accepted as an underrepresented group in the VC space?

Because of my years in the industry there are plenty of VCs and investors who I can count as friends, so I am lucky to have supportive and positive conversations most of the time. I have had one or two investors who were less interested in hearing my thinking on the business and more interested in hearing themselves talk, but that has been the exception and not the rule thus far.

There has been real growth in both woman partners in various venture firms and in venture funds founded by women, some specifically targeting their investments to underrepresented groups. I’m looking forward to seeing how the deployment of that capital into technology businesses helps influence and shape the tech sector.

 

Q: How did you network, find communities and make the connections you needed to succeed?

When I needed to raise an extension of our Series A at Appify, I reached out to my network to get advice and feedback and gauge interest. With my current fund backing me, my need for capital was modest, and my focus was on strategic partners that could help us grow. Almost every time I met with someone, there was always someone new he or she could introduce me to and thus expand my network.

 

Q: What is your advice for other female founders/CEOs at the beginning of their entrepreneurial journeys?

 I don’t think women should hold themselves back by only relying on the old guard VCs. There are a number of wonderful new funds that are led by strong women VCs–some of whom are specifically looking to support women and people of color.  But even those who aren’t explicit about their focus on diversity are generous in sharing their feedback and helping connect ambitious founders with others. 

Not everyone you meet will invest, but there are a growing number of partners and fund managers who are welcoming introductions to a more diverse set of founders.

 

Q: What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned as the CEO of Appify?

What I’ve learned is that my network is powerful and there are plenty of people–women and men–who are interested and excited by Appify’s opportunity and will support us as we grow. At the end of the day, we are no longer in a world where women need to try to break into the old boys’ club. We most definitely have clubs of our own. Perhaps there are fewer of them, but they are growing, they are powerful and they will change the dynamic. 

 

Q: Any thoughts/advice for entrepreneurs/CEOs in the current economic climate?

Focus on the team. I started at Appify on Feb. 25, 2020, and I never would have predicted the wild ride ahead of me. Almost every month I have been CEO something new in the world was on fire–literally as well as figuratively. But the critical component of success has been to lean in to the camaraderie and fun of the team. 

There have been moments where some folks are stretched thin, either from taking care of kids in online school, seeing the injustice of Black Americans being killed, or being evacuated from their homes during the fires. Through it all, how each individual is feeling matters. 

We can’t ignore the world or our home life anymore, especially because we are working in the middle of it and the team needs to hear that it is OK to feel, OK to get tired, OK to need a moment to step out and recover. Being allowed to be yourself at work releases creativity, passion and a spirit of connectedness that drives our success. 

Above all else, as Maya Angelou has said, people will remember how you made them feel. So make sure your team feels heard and understood. 

 

Q: How have you integrated your values and mission into your own company structure?

Hari Subramanian is the founder and now CTO of Appify. We spent months getting to know one another and talking about the opportunity for me to join as CEO before I accepted the job. Part of the reason it took so long was that both he and I felt it was very important that we were aligned on the core values and culture we want for our teams. 

Looking back, it was worth it to spend that time as the culture at Appify continues to grow in a way that we are both very proud of. Today at Appify, we are bold, fearless and friendly, and we deeply value diversity. We are constantly reinforcing those values in the way we treat each other and in the way we hire. 

 

Q: How did you connect with VCs? Can you describe your process of raising your A-extension round?

We’re in a virtual world now, so all of my investor meetings are over video, usually Zoom. As I continued to tell the story of Appify to more and more people, the story got tighter and more clear, and I learned from every question I was asked. 

In some cases I felt the need to stand up for my presentation and make sure the lighting and background around me looked professional. I remember one specific presentation where I was sharing the pitch and fielding questions from the full partnership of a firm. I had balanced my laptop on top of a table stacked on another table to get the video camera at the right angle so I could stand and present. It is definitely a different experience raising money 100 percent virtually, but human nature remains the same. The energy you can exude by standing up when you are presenting matters–and can make a difference. 

 

Q: What are the biggest lessons you learned from raising your Series A round of funding?

While I did get introduced to many investors I never had met before and honed my pitch in a typical way, I found that relying on my own network was much more fruitful. I reached out to a huge network of VCs who I either know very well or know are specifically focused on supporting woman-led businesses. 

I think the biggest lesson is somewhat in hindsight. As an operational executive building companies, make sure to take the time to meet the investors on your board, learn about investors who are big in your industry or your area of focus, and make sure you are constantly expanding your network. While it seems like a lot of coffee dates (or Zoom dates) in the beginning, it will bear fruit later in your career as it did for me.  

 

Q: What are you going to use the new funds for?

At Appify, we are seeing growth in our user base, both in upsell opportunities and in new businesses that desperately need to save money and increase efficiency in their teams. This changing economic environment has highlighted the need for businesses to be more agile, and that is what Appify makes possible. With the new funds, we are able to grow our sales team, address the real need companies have today, and get ahead of the demand. 

 

Q: What qualities do you possess that you think have contributed most to your success?

I deeply believe that everyone has strengths and it is my job as a leader to help find those strengths and nurture them. What is your superpower? Let’s find it and then focus everything you have on using it. 

The effect of finding someone’s superpower and then seeing it flourish is exhilarating for everyone, and it is what keeps me going when work gets hard (and it always does). I also think people want to work for me because I make work fun. We all spend so many hours at our jobs, no one should dread coming to work or go home tired and angry because of how they’ve been treated during the day.

 Everyone has an example of a job where they felt that way: As if the energy was constantly drained out of them from the negative or overly aggressive people and culture. I build teams that treat everyone with respect. We laugh at our mistakes and learn from them, and we drive toward a collective goal of which we can all feel proud. 

Everyone should go home at the end of the day energized by the work that we’ve done. That’s my philosophy and that’s why Appify will succeed.


Disclosure: Mayfield is an investor in Appify and an investor in Crunchbase, the parent company of Crunchbase News. Crunchbase’s investors are listed as part of its Crunchbase profile. For more about Crunchbase News’s editorial policies on disclosure, see the News team’s About page.