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US-Bulgarian Leanplum: The Two Engineers Who Built a Global Mobile Marketing Business

The mobile marketing engagement startup Leanplum, one of the fastest growing companies in Silicon Valley, is celebrating the doubling of its Sofia location. About the half of the engineering resources of the co-founded by Bulgarian entrepreneur Momchil Kyurkchiev company are in the local office. With its local team of around 50 the location is also the second biggest one after the HQ in San Francisco and it will continue to grow planing to up to 100 in the next 18 months.

With offices also in New York, Amsterdam, Singapore and Tokyo, investments of just under $100M and clients like NBC, Zynga, Tinder and TED, Leanplum is right now in its rapidly scaling phase. Having in mind the prominent names Kyurkchiev just brought on board, his company seems to be eyeing on something big.  Kate FitzGerald who joined in January to lead the business development of the company is former president of Americas Sales for Marketo and Vice President Worldwide Sales for Salesforce Service Cloud. Michael Ramsey, the new product strategist of the company, is a CRM expert with a multi-billion-dollar product line at Salesforce on his resume.  

With its specialty – a platform that allows brands to create personalized and engaging mobile marketing campaigns based on real time data analytics about their customers, Leanplum is planning to conquer the US, European and Asian market in the next years. And eventually go public, Kyurkchiev told us.

The beginning looked different

When Leanplum was started in 2012, however, nothing looked so clear and the product that two ex-Google engineers Momchil Kyurkchiev and Andrew First wanted to develop was not quite going in that same direction. They both needed to go through some eye opening moments and acquire new skills very quickly.  We decided to take Kyurkchiev to the early days of Leanplum and ask him how two engineers have managed to build a viable business, what were the crucial lessons they learned along the way and what kept them going when nothing looked right.

“We had just quit Google and wanted to do something similar but in a completely different space – the mobile, actually a/b testing for mobile apps. We went to a conference, there were 200 people, and we knew we needed to talk to all those people. All the engineers we talked to were not interested”, he explained their first pivot that made Leanplum what it is today (learn more in the video).

The Bulgarian connections

Leanplum was started in the US and it’s arguable to a what extent it’s really a Bulgarian company. “From the very beginning we incepted the company with Bulgarian capital as much as US capital”, Kyurkchiev explained. After going through the acceleration program of Techstars in Seattle, Kyurkchiev and First were struggling to find capital to continue their product and business development in late 2012 (story in the video). As soon as 2013 arrived, however, the situation improved and in February Leanplum managed to close its first round of $825K in which the several Bulgarian VCs like Lyuben Belov, Bogomil Balkansky and the fund Voivoda Capital participated. In 2014, after raising another rounds of investments, Leanplum opened its product development site in Sofia and last year  it acquired the Bulgarian AI-based conversational interface startup Connectio.ai to further enhance its product.  

In the past six years the company has attracted funds like Norwest Venture Partners, Canaan Partners, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Shasta Ventures and Waterwood Group and the investments in the company total $98.3M. The company has tripled in the past three years and started its Asia expansion and last year.

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