Upstate Venture Association of New York | January 25, 2016

Growth Lessons from Apprenda: Raising Capital and Building Culture

“The most important piece of advice I have for entrepreneurs is for them to take their time in finding the right co-founders.”
– Abe Sultan, Co-Founder & VP of Engineering, Apprenda

Abe Sultan, Apprenda Co-Founder and VP of Engineering, along with Co-Founder and CEO Sinclair Schuller, recently joined our growth community with the ambition of paying it forward to entrepreneurs. In an interview with UVANY, Sultan revealed some of the lessons he’s learned from raising capital, and shared one of the major advantages to having a company headquartered in Upstate. 

Apprenda, which offers enterprise Platform as a Service (PaaS) solutions, has raised nearly $60 million in venture funding and has more than 100 employees operating out of offices in Troy, New York City and Holland as well as a good number of remote employees. Like many entrepreneurs, Apprenda’s fundraising efforts began with friends and family. When Sultan and his co-founders were ready to scale, they began looking for investors in their networks as well as at networking events and conferences – a method he’s happy to see UVANY cultivate. Though their efforts have paid off, Sultan emphasized the difficulty of the fundraising process.

“There’s often a disconnect between expectations and reality when entrepreneurs are looking for investments,” he said. “Raising funds is a significant effort, and it helps when you have strong co-founders along for the ride.” 

Sultan credits having strong co-founders as the catalyst for Apprenda’s success, and was adamant that knowing how to produce a capable team is a crucial ingredient.  “The most important piece of advice I have for entrepreneurs is for them to take their time in finding the right co-founders. Having a strong team dynamic is critical to presenting to investors and overall building a successful company.”

Sultan explained that focusing on happy customers was helpful to them during the fundraising process, and that entrepreneurs need to have a firm grasp on the market in their respective fields. “You really need to know your space in and out. It may not be easy, but we did a lot of research and learned to be the best at what we do. You need more than a good idea. You’ll have to demonstrate that you have a powerful team and are capable of executing it.”

All 3 of us had a really strong business and tech foundation, so that part was covered – but perhaps most importantly what you need in a good co-founder, is to know how to work well together. Understand how to handle challenges with each other, because you’ll go through a roller coaster during the process,” he said.

With growth does come unique obstacles for entrepreneurs, especially when a company scales as rapidly as Apprenda. Sultan believes there are some challenges to being based in Upstate, but that they can be overcome through resourcefulness. For example, he feels that the local hiring pool is somewhat limited for specific skills, as there’s a tendency for talent to leave the area for larger cities. To address this issue, he suggests looking elsewhere for recruitment, but cautions against hiring simply for the sake of meeting immediate customer needs.

“You’ll feel pressured to grow your team,” he said. “But your employees are the lifeline of your company, so it’s wise to spend a lot of time recruiting. We have a strong recruiting process and were able to find people who jive with our company culture, and share our values.” 

Sultan was very positive about the major advantages he’s found to being in Upstate, which include being able to weather different market conditions and offer fantastic benefits:

“With our industry, there’s a much longer customer sales cycle, and it could take years to acquire just one. Since there’s a much slower burn rate in Upstate with reduced costs of living, we have an easier time gaining traction. It also allows us to have that Silicon Valley company style, with a beautiful office and phenomenal employee benefits, while still remaining sustainable.”

Now that Sultan is a member of UVANY, he said that he’s looking forward to participating in forums where he can help fellow entrepreneurs find “different and better ways to solve problems while looking forward to learning from other entrepreneurs facing similar challenges.”

Welcome, Apprenda!