The CEO of App Annie, one of Silicon Valley's most popular app data platforms, explains how it completely revamped its culture as it prepares to be IPO-ready

Ted Krantz App Annie

  • App Annie,
    the $468 million mobile app data analytics startup, is preparing to
    be IPO-ready,
    making a play at M&A, private equity or going public in the
    next two to three years, says Ted Krantz, CEO of App
    Annie.
  • App Annie, which is often cited in Apple‘s
    announcements, has grown quickly, but the biggest challenge has
    been the company culture, Krantz says.
  • Krantz explains how the company worked to revamp its
    culture and raise employee engagement in the past few
    months.

Before taking the reins as CEO of App Annie in July, Ted Krantz
recalls the awkward silence in the room during all-hands
meetings. 

Employees would sit uncomfortably while executives or managers
made presentations, he recalls. No one would ask questions.

“None of us were feeling too great, and that’s inclusive of
myself,” Krantz said. “We were losing the engagement of our
employees.”

That was a wake up call that the company, one of the biggest
players in the mobile app data analytics space, needed to change.
Employees felt like their voices weren’t being heard, and Glassdoor
reviews plunged. App Annie embarked on a major reinvention that
brought in new executives, replaced old practices, increased
company transparency and helped its employees become more
involved.

Krantz spoke with Business Insider about how
App Annie
, the fast-growing $468 million app platform that is
often cited in Apple’s announcements, revitalized its culture from
the inside out. It’s a work in progress, but he says the positive
results are already making a difference.

The cultural turnaround inside App Annie has been one of the
company’s top priorities that Krantz hopes will put it on solid
footing for the next stage, as it moves closer to a possible IPO in
the next two to three years. 

“We want to move to the next chapter and move to the next level
and focus on innovation, talent and culture,” Krantz said.

“They were not feeling like they have a voice”

Last year,
App Annie
started seeking a new CEO to replace former CEO and
co-founder
Bertrand Schmitt
because it needed to scale. Schmitt was very
much involved in the process of transitioning a new CEO, and he
still plays a role in helping the company grow.

Read more:
This French CEO launched his startup in China — and ended up
making one of Silicon Valley’s most popular app platforms

Krantz, who had already been serving as
App Annie
‘s president and brought in a background of working at
Oracle and SAP, was a natural pick. The company desperately needed
culture changes, Krantz said.

Successive rounds of layoffs had taken a toll on morale.
Although necessary for the company to be more efficient, Krantz
said that the cuts put the employee base through “torture” since
the company didn’t do it the right way the first time, and it ended
up being the biggest source of employee dissatisfaction.

“They were not feeling like they have a voice and confused that
perhaps what they’re hearing is some orientation of
spin-selling,” Krantz said. “There’s something behind this that
isn’t good.”

“We’ve been a bit naive with assuming they’re all right
when they’re silent”

Krantz had previously worked with SAP CEO Bill McDermott, and he
cites McDermott as an inspiration. That company, he said, was known
for being a stale corporation, but it made a major culture
turnaround and ended up winning a Glassdoor award.

Krantz wanted
App Annie
to make that turnaround as well. He started with a
new company focus on transparency by giving employees the
straight-up facts and numbers and allowing employees to draw their
own conclusions from the insights.

He worked on describing the company vision in a clearer way to
employees and posted its key performance indicators across the
company — something the company wasn’t doing before and which may
have caused some of the mistrust, Krantz said. 

The change in attitude needed to happen at all levels. Instead
of denying or brushing off employee feedback, the executive team
made sure to respond to employees. Management now organizes
meetings to be more town hall style, rather than bombarding
employees with slideshow presentations, and they focus on talking
to employees, rather than talking at them.

“I do think the listening is key,” Krantz said. “That’s been a
big takeaway for me. We’ve been a bit naive with assuming
they’re all right when they’re silent but it’s the
opposite…Before, there was no listening. It was more of,
‘here’s what we’re going to do. Here’s why. Are you guys
excited? No questions? OK, let’s go.'”

App Annie also started focusing more on career development
opportunities for its employees and having managers ask their
employees what their goals are. Krantz said this helped with
retention as employees felt like they were being heard and there
was room for growth.

“We encourage having 1-on-1’s across the organization and try
to be sensitive to that especially with our top performers,” Krantz
said. 

Now that team members are more aware of the roadmap ahead, the
company can focus on product innovation. In November, the company
launched App Annie Labs, an initiative to accelerate product
development by partnering closely with customers and getting their
feedback. And
App Annie
expects a release this coming quarter.

“It’s the first big new product offering since I’ve been on
the company,” Krantz said. “Everyone’s getting a pulse to get
things moving. Right now, more differentiation than they’ve had
in the last three to four years.”

The roadmap ahead

The internal improvements also mean the company is now better
equipped to look ahead to the next big milestones. An IPO is
possible, but Krantz says it’s not the only option. In the next 18
to 36 months, he says, AppAnnie will “make a play” at either a
public offering, an acquisition or a private equity deal. 

“I’m not obsessed with an IPO, nor is the board,” Krantz told
Business Insider. “The dynamics have changed…where it used to be,
the gold star is IPO, the second prize is the other options. I
don’t think it’s that way anymore. We want to be in a position
where we’re growing the company responsibly.”

Although App Annie has made progress, Krantz says there’s still
work to be done, and he probably won’t start feeling good about the
culture until 2020.

“Culture has definitely been the biggest challenge,” Krantz
said. “It’s hard to turn the tide. We put so much work, energy
and effort into it where I feel like it’s stabilized. We get
signs we’re moving into a green zone, but you don’t want to get
so excited.”

So how are the meetings now? “Now it’s a completely different
reality,” Krantz said. “We have to extend all-hands and the
questions go on for an hour…It’s based on trust and an open
dialogue. The thing that’s interesting to watch is the boldness
of the questions and the challenges that they place.”

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The CEO of App Annie, one of Silicon Valley's most popular app data platforms, explains how it completely revamped its culture as it prepares to be IPO-ready