Aptos Asks: How Am I Doin’?
A question hung in the air during the recent Aptos user's conference that goes something like this: "How am I doin'?" It's been two years since the mid-size enterprise software company spun off from parent Epicor taking with it a small executive team and big dreams. The recent user’s conference provided an opportunity to see where Aptos is today and look back at how far it has come.
Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch was famous for using the phrase “How am I doin’?” Koch liked to demonstrate that he didn’t forget voters after election day was over. He would regularly stand at neighborhood subway and bus stops and ask his constituents, “How am I doin’?”
Koch’s point was twofold: it is more important to carry out promises than to make them and listening to constituent feedback is essential to success.
These are relevant points for Aptos, which goes by the tagline “Engaging Customers Differently.” Note the tagline does not focus on technology or growth or bragging rights. The focus is on shifting the dynamic away from a traditional tech-company approach, which is usually product-oriented and braggadocio, and converting it into one that focuses on customer-centricity and listening.
At least that’s the promise.
Aptos Business Update
Like most user's conferences, Aptos used the occasion to paint a confident picture of growth: revenue up 29%, 80+ go lives, 120 new colleagues, 10 new countries, 14 new partners and 75% business in the cloud versus license business.
It has 270 retail customers that operate 507 retail brands that generates $523 billion in annual revenue.
A short list of Aptos clients includes: Gymboree, Tilley’s, Fossil, Tailored Brands (Men’s Warehouse, Jos. A. Bank, Joseph Abboud, etc.), The Paper Store, Marshall Retail Group, The Art of Shaving, True Religion, Forman Mills, Paper Source, and Z Gallerie.
As a retail enterprise software provider, Aptos must compete with three large horizontal enterprise tech companies that dominate the super-tier-one category (above $5 billion). No doubt Aptos bumps into these giants as it competes in the marketplace, but its sweet spot is in the mid-size and low-tier-one space, where mega-enterprise scale is not as important as reliable, innovative software delivered quickly at the right price, on time and with strong customer service and support.
So the answer to the question, “How am I doin’?”, hinges on how Aptos is delivering on its promise to hit its sweet spot in the marketplace.
Aptos Technology Update
The big news at the conference was the launch of Aptos Labs, a dedicated innovation development team that will enable Aptos to create a cloud-native, mobile-first, unified commerce platform.
“Consumer behavior has fundamentally changed; it is now time for retailers to consume and apply technology in a way that takes into account the new, rapid retailing model,” said Noel Goggin, CEO and culture leader at Aptos. “Bulky, expensive and hard to integrate on-premise software is a thing of the past. Retailers are looking for ‘what’s next,’ and that’s where Aptos Labs comes in.”
In an off-stage interview, Goggin told me retailers can’t think of enterprise software as being a package of solutions, “It’s more like a platform with an app store of micro-services where retailers can build their own software layer.”
Goggin also said Aptos Labs is not tasked with responsibilities for “flying the plane.” Instead, its sole focus is on-going innovation, developing methods to accelerate onboarding new capabilities, and increasing speed to value while simultaneously helping retailers create differentiated and personalized customer experiences.
Aptos Promise Update
Beyond technology, Aptos has also staked out an ambitious plan to execute a mission called the “Aptos Way,” if you recall reading my past blogs about Aptos user conferences. The Aptos Way begins at the top with the term “Culture Leader” added to Goggin’s title as CEO, and extends all the way through the enterprise. Goggin has described the Aptos Way as embodying “the pioneering spirit, problem solving and a sense of urgency, a sense of community, collaboration and philanthropy, as well as authenticity, transparency and humility.”
So, beyond innovation labs and replacing waterfall with agile and shifting everything into the cloud, Aptos continues to follow ideas from people like Jim Collins (celebrated author of "Good to Great") who describes his hiring philosophy, as quoted by Goggin who had just spent two days with him, as determining “first who and then what.”
So, at the Aptos awards dinner recognition was not only given to outstanding retail clients, which is the usual approach, but also to outstanding employees who are nominated by the retail clients they serve. This is unique in the retail tech industry and demonstrates the depth of Aptos' customer-centric culture.
Finally, Aptos has maintained and strengthened its commitment to RetailROI, retail’s charitable organization that intelligently distributes funds to organizations around the world to change the lives of vulnerable children.
Aptos has made a long-term commitment to an ambitious project in Haiti that will teach children to become self-sufficient, a difficult achievement in Haiti measured by any yardstick, and leaders in generational change. At the conference, Haiti project leaders Amy and Mike Rivas showed attendees the remarkable progress that has been made in building the campus in Bercy, Haiti, from the ground up. This is happening, in part, thanks to the long-term commitment made by Aptos.
A big takeaway that was clear by the end of the user’s conference is that Aptos is making every effort to carry out its three primary missions – business, technology and culture – and to link them into an integrated whole.
Of the three, the culture mission is perhaps something of a wild card, because it is not an established part of the standard playbook promoted by Wall Street investors and high-powered financiers. In this world, asking, “How am I doin’?” to anyone other than stakeholders is probably considered a distraction from the narrow view that the business of business is business.
However, it is worth noting that when Ed Koch ran for his second term as mayor of New York he was able to run as the candidate for both the Democrat and Republican parties, a rare feat in itself, and won with 75% of the vote.
So, for Aptos to keep asking “How am I doin’?” and keep listening to the answers is a sign it is being true to its mission and continuing a journey begun two years ago to become a company that achieves growth through a laser focus on customer-centricity, a rarity in the world of retail tech.