With more than 16 years’ experience in building and leading marketing teams across technology categories (consumer tech, entertainment, enterprise SaaS), Matt Harper took on a new challenge in January 2019 when he joined Nylas. Having previously charted the course of growth marketing since its inception, he quickly discovered that he needed to evolve established methodologies when marketing directly to software developers.

What prompted your career move?

I wasn’t looking to move to a new position, but I had previously spoken with Erevena and was impressed by their thoughtful and curated approach to building candidate rosters for their clients. I knew they wouldn’t waste my time on a position that wasn’t right for me – or for their client. So, when Terry Shaw, one of the Partners at Erevena, suggested a meeting to introduce me to some entrepreneurs in the developer API (application programming interface) space, I was intrigued.

“Erevena is an extremely valuable and thoughtful partner. We’ve worked with them to place two executive roles and look forward to working together again in the future.”

Gleb Polyakov, CEO & Co-Founder, Nylas

Why Nylas?

While I knew there would be a learning curve in building a deep understanding of the software developer persona and gaining fluency with Nylas’ technology, both the role and culture at Nylas matched my career criteria. As an executive, I knew that I wanted to join a company at the right stage of its journey – not too early but also not too late on the growth curve. Over the years, I have learned how to build teams and businesses across many stages and recognize that the sweet spot for me is a company that’s established early product-market fit, has amassed some great early logos, and is getting ready to scale, with good venture backing and strong, visionary founders. I consider myself a broad marketer, not wedded to a particular product category. But I have to clearly see where the product solves a big problem and feel the bottoms-up advocacy from users in order to get really excited. Nylas certainly checks those boxes, as evidenced by world-class retention metrics in terms of churn, net dollar expansion, and NPS.

Most importantly, I fell in love with the Nylas culture – the importance of which is absolutely vital. Culture is such a strategic asset, and it’s sad how many companies lose sight of this as they grow. I could immediately see that Nylas people are pragmatic, not dogmatic, with both a high IQ and high EQ approach to problem-solving. The team are focused on building a human-first company, with a fanatical focus on the customer and no concern for ego exercises. This maps 1:1 with my leadership philosophy so I knew immediately that this was the kind of place I wanted to be.

Finally, the fact that the Executive Team believe wholeheartedly in the Marketing function as a strategic enabler and growth driver and not a cost center was another big draw. A supportive Board, impressive talent on the existing team and the altitude and latitude to make a big impact were deal-sealers. Within only three weeks of the initial meeting I’d jumped on the ‘rocket ship’ and the rest is history-in-the-making.

Did you have a steep learning curve?

The way in which many developers actively avoid engaging with marketing campaigns make a lot of tried-and-true tactics completely irrelevant. The bad news is you can’t hack your way to the number – you have to deliver tangible value in a rational and authentic way or else you will get nowhere with this audience. That’s really hard. We had to build a product-led growth funnel and invest heavily in developer experience and evangelism. Our technical documentation is our strongest content assets, and the majority of our marketing is technical education and enablement. I knew this all intellectually, but it was a physical adjustment that took some trial and error to get right. Ultimately, I find it to be a relief – drop the desire to engage in tricky marketing and sales techniques and show the audience value.

If you make them successful in a product trial, they convert at rates way higher than I’ve seen anywhere else and they also, in turn, advocate on your brand’s behalf to their peers. That’s how you unlock real, sustainable, flywheel growth with this market.

What opportunities have you encountered by joining a founder-led firm?

I have worked with some very impressive founders; the kind of visionary, emblematic personalities that create categories and upon whom the lore of Silicon Valley has been built. The founders of Nylas are just as bright and inspiring in those regards, but nonetheless different. I found both Gleb Polyakov and Christine Spang to be extremely humble and open, and comfortable being challenged, while also being appropriately challenging of me and others. At the end of the day, they care about what the data says and there’s a lot of intellectual curiosity about Marketing in particular. That’s not the case in many companies and I’m thankful that I get to operate as a peer and trusted partner alongside them.

Can you measure the impact you have had on Nylas?

I joined Nylas at the beginning of our financial year and am in the process now of closing that period out. In that time, we’ve built the team, brand, and strategy that has enabled a more than 2X increase in our top-line metrics, including new revenue. We’ve rebuilt our pricing and packaging and increased our average sales price three-fold in the last two quarters. We’ve gone upmarket with the enterprise segment and closed the biggest deals in the company’s history.  Our SEO traffic is growing consistently at 10% month-over-month. We’ve also more than tripled our conversion rates on our website, which has flooded our sales team with leads.  The customers we bring in churn at less than 1/3 of 1% and our net dollar retention is at 250%. These are some of the best unit economics you’ll find in SaaS. Nylas is clearly a healthy growth business and, while this is not just down to Marketing, we have played a big part in it. We’ve now put in place the foundations on which we can scale-up our marketing efforts in a sane, sustainable, and predictive manner.

“Matt has been instrumental in Nylas’ growth over the past 12 months. He brings an analytical, data-driven approach to the function and works across the business to deliver results. His team is extremely high performing, engaged and loyal.”

Gleb Polyakov, CEO & Co-Founder, Nylas

What do you hope to achieve in the future?

My plan for the next 12 months is for us to remain very focused on what we are good at, and to double down on what we have proved out this year. We are part of the developer/API revolution. Our technology provides a Lego block-style model that sits between the applications a company develops and its infrastructure. We want to continue making it super easy for developers to use our APIs to access, understand and effectively use the data contained within the contents of their corporate email, calendar, and contacts to develop new apps.

There’s a lot on our roadmap, including moving into new verticals. We have executive support and the resources to attack these markets and make Nylas the de facto standard for powering applications with communications data. It’s an exciting future ahead of us and I am enormously proud to be a part of it.

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Terry Shaw, Partner

Specialisms: FinTech, Developer Tools, Product, Marketing

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