Written by Doug Pepper, Matt Jacobson, Caroline Xie, and Ritika Pai | November 17, 2021
Braze: Celebrating a Unique Journey and an Incredible Milestone
As Braze enters its new chapter as a public company, ICONIQ Growth is honored to celebrate our unique journey with the company which has had an important impact on our firm and partnership.
Braze represents everything that drives us in this business. First, Braze was an opportunity to be part of a breakthrough product that brought fundamental innovation to a large category. Even more importantly, Braze allowed us the opportunity to deeply partner with an extraordinary team of founders and executives who have become lifelong friends. And finally, for ICONIQ Growth, Braze has been especially meaningful as it helped shape the foundation of our own firm.
Our Journey with Braze
In 2014, “mobile” was all the rage and Doug Pepper, who was on the board of Marketo at the time, sought an investment in the emerging Mobile Marketing Automation category. As with any strong emerging category, there were at least a dozen interesting startups. But when Doug met with founders Bill Magnuson, Jon Hyman and Mark Ghermezian, came to understand their product vision, and spoke with their customers, it was clear that Braze (then an unknown NYC-based startup called Appboy) was the right investment.
Three years later, Caroline Xie at ICONIQ Growth powered through several feet of snow on a blizzard day in New York to meet Bill Magnuson. A few months later, Matt Jacobson, Caroline Xie, and the team at ICONIQ Growth led Braze’s Series D and joined the Braze board. This launched a relationship that ultimately led to Doug joining ICONIQ as a partner in 2019.
New Approach in a Growing Category
We at ICONIQ Growth are obsessed with founders who have unique points of view and capabilities to build breakthrough products in large categories. That’s Braze. At the time of Braze’s launch, the founders had identified two major trends: First was the potential of mobile, and second was how that always-on connectivity would create new opportunities for organizations to build deeper relationships with their customers.
But Braze’s founders had a different vision of what that would look like. They imagined that businesses could go beyond blasting impersonal messages to customers, but rather would utilize first-party interactions/data and multichannel communications to build authentic, long-term relationships with customers.
Even more remarkable is that the original thesis of Braze—to allow organizations to engage directly with customers in a more personalized and human way—is more apt today than when they started in 2011. With nearly every customer experience becoming digital, businesses of all kinds are feeling a burning need to own and carefully orchestrate their relationships with customers. Why? Because they know if they don’t, someone else will.
Earning the Right To Expand
Braze also represents what we believe to be an important lesson about how to evolve and expand an early company’s product and market footprint. At Braze, the team initially focused on a relatively narrow use case: personalized push notifications to increase mobile app engagement. With a leading product and success with initial customers, Braze leveraged its customer relationships to enter into new channels. Braze’s mobile-first companies asked them to apply their engagement technology to other digital channels, including email in the second year of the company. In this way, Braze earned the right to do more for their customers, eventually providing multichannel communications including SMS, in-app messages and much more. Over time, Braze expanded its customer base from mobile-first companies to customers across a broad range of sizes and industries. During this evolution, the competitive landscape for Braze also shifted. In the early years at board meetings, we talked about the landscape of startup players in the space, many of whom no longer exist. But over time, as Braze evolved and increased its footprint, it competed more directly with some of the larger legacy players and expanded its market opportunity.
A People Journey
More than anything, the Braze journey is a reminder that the greatest satisfaction of the startup journey is the deep relationships that emerge from shared experiences. And the Braze journey is also an example of an inescapable reality for nearly every startup—that none of them, even the most successful, are a straight line up and to the right. Startup journeys are almost always characterized by moments of uncertainty and doubt. But those bumps along the road, and those shared experiences, are what create the joy and satisfaction of success, and form the bonds of lifelong partnerships and friendships.
Thank you to founders Bill Magnuson, Jon Hyman and Mark Ghermezian for including us in this pursuit. And thank you to all the incredible Braze executives who shared their gifts to make Braze such a success. One of the first to join was Kevin Wang, Braze’s talented SVP of Product, soon to be followed by Myles Kleeger, President and Chief Customer Officer, who was a truly game-changing addition. Since then, so many other amazing team members have signed on—Isabelle Winkles, Susan Wiseman, Sara Spivey, Jessica Bartlett, Pankaj Malik, and so many others.
We feel so lucky to work again with fellow Marketo board members Phil Fernandez, co-founder and CEO, and Neeraj Agrawal from Battery. It’s been a delight to put the band back together. We are also privileged to work on the board with Bruce Taragin, Tom Peterson, Paul Ghermezian, Logan Bartlett, Tara Levy and David Obstler.
Thanks to the entire Braze team for including us in their journey.