Kōrerorero #13

/ Kōrerorero blog / 21 Dec 2021 / Shelley Johnston

Korerorero Title

Kōrerorero  Q&A Series: Annabel Youens. Co-founder (Appreciation Engine) which is targeting global audiences

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Conversation with Annabel Youens

Today we chat to Annabel about her startup experiences. The journey all started from her flat in Newtown, Wellington then to LA, California and now running a global team from Victoria, Canada.

       

Annabel is a Kiwi /Canadian and is the co-founder and CMO of Appreciation Engine -  a company which powers first-party data capture and uncovers the hidden opportunities in customer data to improve user acquisition ROI (while ensuring compliance with global privacy).

For several years Appreciation Engine has been driving conversions for the world’s largest record labels and now they are taking their technology to mobile gaming and other verticals experiencing digital acceleration.

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Tell us how the idea of your company - Appreciation Engine was born...

When social media and streaming services started picking up major growth in 2009 we knew there had to be a way to recognise music fans for all the word of mouth marketing they did online. We partnered with the Mint Chicks with their new EP. We combined fan and artist engagement and used our engine to track the campaign success. It was a brilliant launch and set the scene for us to raise funding to go to the US.

After a major pivot we are now branded Appreciation Engine and support 62% of the world's record labels with customer acquisition and insights. We're now moving into mobile gaming to help those businesses implement first-party data acquisition so they can increase retention and decrease their cost of advertising. From music to mobile gaming it's such a fun time to see our company grow.

What was your inspiration to embark on founding a company?

I'd just left a startup and I'd sworn I'd never do it again. Classic never say never. But Dave Moskovitz and Stefan Korn reached out to us with an idea in the music space. They were incredibly persuasive and the idea of working in music seemed cool and interesting so my husband, Jeff and I, strapped on our startup boots again.

 What are your top tips for keeping your Kiwi roots whilst achieving international growth?

Being persistent is a trait I associate with Kiwis. It's something I lean on every day to help me achieve small tasks and big hairy goals. People love the fact that we started in New Zealand. It's a great story to share and everyone wants to go there, or if they've visited they want to talk about their wonderful experience. It makes my heart happy to talk about pineapple lumps and road trips.

Share some of your challenges of scaling internationally and how you overcame these

After our seed raise in NZ we hired a US based CEO remotely. He was based in NY while Jeff and I set up shop in LA. It's incredibly hard to hire remotely for a key position in your business. The market was so different in the US and there was so much competition for music industry services - we really didn't have a clue. Lesson: If we had to do this again we would've set up in LA first and then appointed our CEO.

Landing our first trial in the US with a major record label was a huge deal. They liked our technology and asked us if we could create a white label product. We worked like maniacs for 8 weeks and then turned around with the Appreciation Engine. Lesson: The international market is likely going to have different needs so be prepared to pivot fast.

After three years in LA we realised that most of our customers and potential customers were happy to do phone conference meetings. So in 2015 we decided that since we could work anywhere and still support our customers we moved back to  Canada. My husband and I are Canadians and Kiwis so it made it easy to be closer to our family. We missed having a support system in LA that we'd had in NZ. Lesson: Having a support system is vital to grow your business. Don’t underestimate this

What can you tell us about running your company from different parts of the world?
 

Tools like Slack and Zoom make things so much easier to run remotely. The biggest challenge I still find is making sure our team feels connected even though we’re so far apart. A couple of things we do to counteract this are:

Thursday drinks and games - we have a standing remote gaming session on Thursday afternoons. We play a lot of Jackbox games and thrashed City Guesser until we played every city. It’s a nice way to just chill out and chat.

Every month we pick a new Vole. Voles are one of the few animals that demonstrate empathy and since empathy is one of our key values we appoint a new vole each month. One of the best parts of this process is that the new Vole picks out a custom emoji for our slack channel. I love learning more about our team members from the emoji they pick and it builds a shared history amongst the team.

What have you learnt about raising capital?

First off, it never ends! I'm in the process of raising our first priced equity round of $5M USD. It’s tough and easy to get caught up in a trap where you think you know what the investor wants to hear. You can read all the books, posts and webinars about pitching but every interaction is different. Every person has a unique perspective on business and unique interests, so ask them questions and they will guide you where they want to go next.

I’ve learnt over the last 3 months that the fastest way to build trust with a complete stranger is to be upfront about your weak spots. Every startup has them. Hoping no one will ask about the glaring hole in your strategy is not only naïve but also can also make you look a little risky.

You never know where your capital will come from. I remember reading a story from a co-founder who back tracked the connections between her investors and how she met them. She met most of her investors through random connections. This really resonated with me and I try to remember that every time you meet someone that opens up a new node in your network.

Lean on other founders. The support network and community I didn’t have in LA is really strong in Victoria, BC. We have a slack channel for local founders that I’ve found incredibly helpful. We share resources, successes, failures and tips. Knowing other people who are going through the same ups and downs makes a big difference.

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Join our Kōrerorero

This is our 13th Kōrerorero of the series.

Are you a founder of a Kiwi start-up, or a start-up investor, who's keen to share your insights as part of this series? We'd love to hear from you! 
Drop us an email at marketing@nzgcp.co.nz and let's chat.

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