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My Lessons from Appian’s IPO

By Lang Ly

I’ve run or been involved in big projects in my career and Appian’s IPO wasn’t the biggest nor most complex, but it was the most interesting experience for me, so I wanted to share some thoughts about it.

Carbon into Diamonds

A company is put under pressure when it’s taken public. The leadership team works to hone the message about the company’s mission, identity, market, and metrics over a year (sometimes more) so investors will buy the company’s stock.

IPOs don’t make mediocre companies great.

Pre-IPO companies turn into diamonds only if they’ve already built a large bank of core strengths that can be converted. Appian was founded 17 years ago with a culture of excellence, a vision for transforming business, and differentiated technology. The leadership team, especially if it’s Founder-led like ours, learns a lot about their company and where it fits into its market when they go through an IPO. I enjoyed witnessing this growth in myself and others during this process.

Share the Milestone

We were completely transparent within Appian about the IPO despite the fact that being so put our IPO schedule at risk. Our CEO talked about it openly at company meetings entrusting the process to all of us. Our employees fulfilled that trust by keeping it quiet (our company’s big secret).

As a result, we were able to share the entire journey with each other globally.

Every employee led us to this point since our founding (see “bank of core strengths”) and those who only recently joined us are building our future. Our IPO is a key milestone so although we couldn’t bring everyone together face-to-face, we marked it by shipping branded items to every employee and coordinating local celebrations around the world with a unified video feed and social media.

But an IPO is Not a Destination

When family, friends, and former colleagues heartily congratulate me on Appian’s IPO, I recall an Alan Watts video about success as a destination. If you’ve seen it then you know:

Success isn’t about the destination, it is about the journey.

An IPO is not an exception to this rule. In fact, an IPO is simply a funding activity to help the company move into the future. Anyone who thinks otherwise will be disappointed; once public, work will continue as it always has except now every move the public company takes is scrutinized by investors, analysts, and the SEC, potentially making it harder to innovate and make investments. During Appian’s IPO process, both our CEO and CFO set clear expectations around our investments. Additionally, our CEO is a majority shareholder and employee shares have 10x the voting rights so we’ve empowered ourselves to control our destiny.

I’m grateful to be a part of Appian at this point in its history and to have influenced our IPO process. It was a great learning experience for me.

Now it is time to get back to the job of building our great company.

My Lessons from Appian’s IPO was originally published in AppianLIFE on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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Published on Jun 20, 2017

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