“Measuring the Startup Mindset”
Interview with APlanet Co-CEO and Co-Founder Johanna Gallo.
Sustainability has become more important than ever for businesses of all sizes, in all industries, and in all corners of the world. But how are companies supposed to collect and analyze data related to sustainability in order to meet regulations and make a positive impact on the world? The answer to that question is tech startups like APlanet, which is based in Spain. In just two years, APlanet has made incredible traction and done great work helping CSR departments and sustainability professionals manage data and processes related to sustainability.
APlanet Co-CEO and Co-Founder Johanna Gallo recently spoke with startup coach Roland Siebelink on the Midstage Startup Momentum Podcast. They discussed the need for a startup like APlanet and the amazing progress the company has made in just two years. More importantly, Johanna shared some of the secret sauce of APlanet’s early success.
- The biggest challenges of APlanet entering new markets.
- Why APlanet went against convention by splitting its staff between product and go-to-market from the beginning.
- How APlanet has found a balance between customer feedback and other factors that matter when building a product.
- Why the first employees hired at a startup are so critical in the future of the startup.
- How APlanet measures whether or not potential team members have a startup mentality.
Roland Siebelink: Hello and welcome to the Silicon Valley Startup Momentum Podcast. This is Roland Siebelink. I’m a startup coach for midstage startups. And today I have with me Johanna Gallo, who is this Co-CEO and Co-Founder of APlanet, dialing in from Madrid. Hello, Johanna. How are you today?
Johanna Gallo: Hi. Very good. I’m very pleased to be here with you today.
Roland Siebelink: No, the honor is completely ours. APlanet’s got a lot of traction and a good name for itself. Tell our audience what does APlanet do? And what difference does it make for people in the world?
Johanna Gallo: Here at APlanet, we help sustainability and CSR professionals from different type of organizations, such as the multinational organizations, NGOs, educational institutions, public administration to manage their sustainability and processes and information in ESG. This means environmental, social, and governance context in a simple, comprehensive way. At APlanet, our mission is to take all the organizations from compliance to sustainability and positive ESG impact. This should be at the head of the decision-making for organizations.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. Very good. You have a clear journey outline that you mentioned there, from compliance to sustainability. Tell us a little bit - what are the typical challenges your clients face on that journey and how do you help them with it?
Johanna Gallo: Yeah. Our customers find many challenges. For example, to start with, where is the information I need to manage? Where is the data? This ESG data, the environmental, social, and government data. In many cases, it’s distributed in person, in systems, in emails, in documents. And it’s very difficult to collect this information. They spend a lot of time, resources, people that they get to collect the information, to make sure all the information makes sense. Also, the quality of this data. Then to do something with this data, analyze it, extract value from this data, and also communicate inside and outside the organization.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. And how does APlanet help them with that? How does it make their life easier?
Johanna Gallo: We provide these organizations with a platform - a technology platform - that’s a SaaS that helps them with these processes of collecting the data - that they have in different places, on different sources around the organization - have visibility of these data and be able to analyze it very easily by connecting different sources. Also, putting more valuable information on top, seeing the information in graphics, being able to share with other organization members or with other teams, and also create reports, and in many cases, comply with regulations.
Roland Siebelink: Okay, very good. Tell us a little bit about the history of APlanet. How did you come to decide on this company? Who did you found it with? And how long have you been in business?
Johanna Gallo: APlanet was born in 2019. In these two years, we have done a lot and we have grown a lot as well. I think this is mainly because of the sector that is super interesting, and we have seen a lot of growth in the sector. And also, having a strong team in different areas, such as technology and sustainability, from the beginning. Also, we did get a lot of innovation and having great technology added value to the customers.
Currently, we are in a scaling up phase of our business. We have a technology product already providing value to many customers and organizations. In fact, we have more than 100 customers now using our platform in three markets. Right now, we are expanding into other European markets, such as the UK. And in two years, we have multiplied by three our business growth metrics. We raised last year a seed round of $2 million thanks to some of the investors that we have on board.
We have good support from these investors, advisors, some collaboration networks, and other partners. That’s why we have seen this amazing growth in these two years.
Roland Siebelink: That’s excellent. Okay. Can you talk to me a little bit about who are these customers typically? You mentioned in the beginning, across many different companies, but let’s try and get a bit more of a feel for which are the customers that really latch onto your platform the most.
Johanna Gallo: It’s very interesting because our business and also our platform is very agnostic. The sector, the size of the company, so we have a very wide range of different customers. For example, from big SMBs or international companies. Also, we have deals with public administration and companies from many different sectors. Why the customers come to us is because of the regulations.
But there are many other drivers for our customers. For example, there are stakeholders, investors, customers, employees that demand transparency around sustainability and sustainability data. The pressure from society is increasing for the organization. And also, realizing that being sustainable and being sustainable based on data and being able to show it is a key differentiator for them. This happens across different sectors and types of organizations. And also, our platform has been created thinking of providing value to a wide range of organizations.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. Yeah. You’re very passionate about it. I can tell. That’s very good. I liked that you linked it to the business value. I think people look at sustainability and then say, “Well, it’s just a fashion or a fad.” But I like that you immediately make that link to, “Well, actually it’s a differentiator for many of these organizations.” Can you give us an example of where great ESG management, sustainability really helped that company or organization differentiate in their market?
Johanna Gallo: For many of our customers, it’s a benchmark of what other competitors are doing or what other companies in the same sector do. For example, in the same geography. And they use it to see if they are doing good or not, or how they can improve their metrics. And how they can communicate this to customers to attract more customers. In some cases, to appeal to more investors or financials. Also, be able to communicate for PR for communication campaigns. That’s how they are attracting money and they are attracting business.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. Very good. You already mentioned you’re available in three markets now. Can you remind us which markets they were?
Johanna Gallo: Yes. As of now, we are in Spain, Portugal, and Brazil. And just now we opened in the UK.
Roland Siebelink: Very good. Excellent. I always like to ask, especially European startups are so much faster at moving into different markets than American ones. For our American audiences, in particular, what is involved with the challenges of bringing your product from your first into your second and then your third market?
Johanna Gallo: For us, the main challenge is that the product is scalable. In some cases, you have to adapt to particularities in different countries. For example, the way the customer operates or the kind of data they manage. In our case, specifically sustainability, it’s not such a big challenge because it’s more or less the same, the processes around ESG.
For example, we need to adapt the standards of the use to collect the data or to record information. For example, the way they manage the organization. We have some particularities there. And then, of course, it’s creating a team, a local team, finding talent. Sometimes there is a challenge. Also, for payments. How we get the payments from the customers. It’s very different.
Roland Siebelink: Absolutely. Talk to me about the team. You mentioned that one of the challenges is to build a team in these local markets. How big is your team right now? What does it look like? Where and what functions do you invest the most?
Johanna Gallo: We are more than 30 people now. We have a big team in product technology. This is the core of our company because this is the value that we provide to our customers, our SaaS platform. We invest a lot in innovation. And also, we have a big team in sustainability and ESG experts. It is evolving super fast, so there are changes and innovation almost every day with new standards, new regulations, new ways to process data. We need to be aware of all this at this company. And also, we have a sales team, of course, that is locally based in each of the countries. And then we also have a communication-marketing team and then other teams for supporting the business.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. Many founders at this stage wonder how much should they invest in the team that runs the core platform, that builds the platform versus the sales and the go-to market teams. How have you struck that balance?
Johanna Gallo: In our case - most of the cases that we hear from a startup is that they started with a bigger product and technology team and then they start selling slowly or maybe the founders sell. But we started very differently. It was half and half between sales and technology because we wanted to go very quickly to the market. And because of the sector, we wanted to test that we were providing value very quickly to customers and to test it. Because it’s not something that is very well-defined.
We find that there are many things that define how organizations manage their sustainability. We wanted to go-to market as soon as possible. That’s why we are more or less half-half in sales-marketing-communication and product and technology. But I would say this is weird.
Roland Siebelink: No, it’s actually, I think, a better practice than what I see many other startups do to be on the market right away. And as you say, get so much feedback from people upfront.
Did you get a lot of good customer feedback, really guiding feedback from your customers or from your prospects while you were reaching out to them and the product was maybe not ready yet?
Johanna Gallo: Yes. From the first customers, it was super good to have this feedback from these customers and incorporate it in the product. But always, you have to keep balance with everything, the feedback that you get from them and also what the market is saying, what are the trends in sustainability. Also, what are the possible competitors? It’s not the only source of truth, what the customers are saying.
Roland Siebelink: Exactly. How do you strike that balance, Johanna?
Johanna Gallo: Have a clear roadmap of what we want to do and keep iterating. We developed the products in a very lean fashion. We don’t have our roadmap for years, our roadmap is for months. We keep iterating, we test it a lot with customers. We show the product to everyone and get feedback. We’re very open, very flexible. And also, because the process itself is very flexible. We know that we have to keep it very minimal to be able to adapt it to changes, to how the market evolves. That’s why we are able to iterate fast if we need it or incorporate changes very fast if we need to.
Roland Siebelink: How do you know on your roadmap - you have your planning and when do you know you need to iterate? When do you know you need to make a change? Has that ever been a problem to decide with the team when you need to make a change?
Johanna Gallo: No, for us, it’s easy because we base it on metrics. It’s how the customers are reacting to their problems. How they are using it. If they use it on a daily basis, what kind of problems are they having? If you base your decisions on metrics - for us, it’s an obsession to provide value with the products and make sure that the customers use it.
Roland Siebelink: You’re very close to your customers and understanding what they need and how they use the platform. How did you get close to these customers? Where do you find them? How do you reach out to them? And how are you scaling that in a bigger go-to market?
Johanna Gallo: In business, we have different channels. Of course we have a sales team. They do research and they find companies that have a CSR department, sustainability department. But also, I have to say that this person is very distributed in different teams in the companies and in our customers. Even in communication, marketing, finance. But the goal is to find the companies that have this potential need. Also, of course, inbound channels that are working super good for us, like PR communication. We have different segments for the customers to reach.
Roland Siebelink: Can you talk us a little bit through what you learned about your go-to market? Because many of the founders that are a little bit behind you, they may have a product that’s starting to reach product-market fit, but their main worry is how do we start building a go-to market motion. How did you, as the team, think about that in terms of your marketing, your sales - you mentioned two channels that you run - how did you decide on those channels? I’m always interested in hearing more. How did you get to that successful sales motion?
Johanna Gallo: For us, it’s super important to have this growth engine. To know all the processes that we have, a sales team, a product team, and know how this is working, how the communication flows are working. The sales team brings us a customer, they got feedback, and this is communicated to the product team. The product team incorporates this feedback in the roadmap or to create the roadmap. We work as one team. We are not creating silos. That’s what allows us to go very fast as well.
Roland Siebelink: Where do you find the people that love these kinds of jobs? How do you make sure that they are a good fit with APlanet?
Johanna Gallo: In fact, this is super important for us. When we go out to find these colleagues, we make sure that they share our same values. Provide value to the customer, be very customer friendly, and they have a startup mindset. For us, At least in the first employees, this has been critical. And I say the first employees, because then when they hire themselves, then they set the same goal for colleagues. This has been critical, the values and the vision, they have to know how to lead the company, how to lead the product, how to communicate.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. How do you measure a startup mindset?
Johanna Gallo: Yeah. You can see this in the conversation, in the answers to different questions. For example, if you want to test things or not. If you are based on KPIs or metrics or not. If they mention the customer. If they keep mentioning they are focused on customers or if they mention value, providing value. This is the kind of thing that they say.
Or maybe their business. For example, technology people, they have this business mindset. This is important as well, I think, to care about the business. If every company member is interested in how the business is doing, then they have this mindset.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. And this is something I’m guessing you have really agreed on with the other founding member or members of the team. Is it two or three?
Johanna Gallo: Two. We are two co-founders and we are very aligned on this. I think this is another critical point that the co-founders of a startup are very aligned in what they want to do for the business or what kind of values they want for the company.
Roland Siebelink: You have to have alignment from the start. Okay. How did you find a co-founder you are so aligned with?
Johanna Gallo: In this case, because both of us, we wanted to start a company. And also, because we have been working with startups before and we wanted to start a business, a startup with impact. We were in the same ecosystem of startups in Madrid, in Spain. We started talking and we said, “Okay, now is the time. We both have the same vision. We want to do the same thing. We work very good together.” Also, we have very similar backgrounds in the sense of working in the same kind of companies in the past. But also, they are very complementary because he’s more in business, marketing, communication, I’m more in product and technology.
Roland Siebelink: Okay, so you really have divided up the jobs between yourselves as well?
Johanna Gallo: Yeah, it was the perfect match.
Roland Siebelink: Johanna, how big will APlanet become? How big do you see it come?
Johanna Gallo: I think we are in a super good position to grow because of the market. The market is growing exponentially. And also, because we are covering a need for - as I mentioned before - an agnostic for a wide range of different organizations and companies. And this is what is driving our growth. Also, we are ready to do it because we have a proven product that is adding value to already more than 100 customers. We have tested it in markets. I think we are ready to grow and this will happen in the next months.
Roland Siebelink: Very good. Ten years time, how big will APlanet be?
Johanna Gallo: I want to be designing platforms to help all organizations to provide value, to create positive impact with the client and in the society. This is our vision. And for organizations that use us, APlanet is helping them to go from this compliance or this vision of sustainability as compliance to sustainability, creating impact. This is what we want from us in the next 10 years.
Roland Siebelink: Johanna, what’s the next big challenge in scaling up to the next level? What are you struggling with at the moment?
Johanna Gallo: As of now, we want to reach more organizations, more customers in the markets that we are in. And also, we want to open new markets very soon in Europe and then go to the US as well. Maybe nothing is certain but who knows.
Roland Siebelink: Exactly. Especially post-pandemic, it should be a bit easier to get started there. Very good. It’s all about growing your market at the moment?
Johanna Gallo: Yeah, that’s it. Of course, keep innovating in product and technology and keep growing our product with new features, with new sustainability standards. Because this is at the heart of what we do, technology and innovation in sustainability.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. Very, very good. Johanna, when people are listening to this podcast, how can they help you? What is something that you would like them to do after hearing your amazing interview?
Johanna Gallo: Oh, thank you. Any organization that is starting with the management of sustainability, data, or would simply like to increase the efficiency of the processes with this, it’s easy to use our solution. Visit our website that is www.Aplanet.org and request a demo of our product.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. Everyone that has even the slightest interest in sustainability, go get that demo from Johanna. The website is www.aplanet.org, as you said.
How’s it talking on the investment side? Are you looking to raise another round soon?
Johanna Gallo: Yeah, we will do it soon. We’re planning for it maybe at the end of this year or next year. But we’re just planning. We have not started yet.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. Very interesting. If any investors are particularly interested in this field, then I’m also happy to provide an introduction to Johanna, so that you can maybe even preempt the rounds, so that you guys can keep working.
Okay,last question, Johanna, as always, for those founders that are a little bit earlier in their journey, that are coming after you, what is the one piece of advice you would give founders in general?
Johanna Gallo: Okay. Let me say four things that I always say.
I used to say the team is key for success. Surrounding yourself with professionals, just to feel comfortable working with them and align in vision and objectives and from whom you can learn. Also, choose your investors well; they’re like traveling companions. Also, have an obsession to create value to customers. I think I’ve mentioned that creating value is key for us. Make sure that what you offer, there is a need in the market. And I think everything else will follow if you provide this value. And also, keep balanced. For example, you will face many roller coasters. Sometimes you are up, you’re down, but it’s normal and you have to manage it and also keep personal and professional balance.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. Very good advice. I think you’re going to be a great startup coach yourself one day, Johanna. Thank you so much for joining the Midstage Startup Momentum Podcast, Johanna Gallo, co-CEO, and co-founder of aplanet.org. This was an absolute pleasure.
Johanna Gallo: Thank you. Thank you so much.
Roland Siebelink talks all things tech startup and bring you interviews with tech cofounders across the world.