Amplitude: Raising the Bar
By Pat Grady, Sonya Huang and Ravi Gupta on behalf of Team Sequoia
“Don’t lower the bar on us,” Spenser growled, with a friendly smile on his face that did just enough to blunt the intensity in his voice.
We already loved Amplitude’s co-founder and CEO, but this was the moment we knew we wanted to be in business with him for as long as he’d have us.
We’d recently partnered with Amplitude, and the first couple quarters out of the gate had been rough. The company was young, the team was still coming together, and there were some growing pains — no different than any other startup. There were plenty of valid reasons for the bumpy performance, and most CEOs would have happily trotted them out and then moved right along.
But not Spenser Skates. He expected more of himself. He demanded more of himself.
And thus, we found ourselves midway through a board meeting in which Spenser had meticulously dissected the company’s recent performance, taking personal responsibility for shortcomings and systematically ascribing wins — and there were plenty — to anyone but himself. Spenser was far more interested in solving problems than he was in celebrating successes, and thus the tone had been decidedly negative. Eventually, a well-meaning participant had offered a few words of comfort, reassuring Spenser that Amplitude’s performance was still excellent by any external standard. It was this reassurance that elicited Spenser’s rebuke.
That moment taught us a lot about Spenser. People are motivated by different things. Some seek external validation in the form of status, money or power. The work they do is a means to those ends. But not Spenser. He seeks excellence, plain and simple. The work is an end in and of itself. He takes joy in it — because it matters, and because he appreciates the exceptional focus and grit required to deliver exceptional results.
What we saw in Spenser that day mirrored what we’ve seen in many of our most legendary founders over the years: a burning desire to win, to get better and to build something special — not by anyone else’s standards, but by their own. In our experience, those are the founders whose potential has no limits, and whose companies surprise everyone over time. Spenser’s co-founders, Curtis Liu and Jeffrey Wang, are cut from a similar cloth, and all three are living examples of Amplitude’s core values: humility, ownership and growth mindset.
Just as Spenser, Curtis and Jeffrey keep raising the bar on themselves and on Amplitude, so too does the company keep raising the bar on the quality of the products we use in our daily lives. Amplitude is driving the second wave of digital transformation, called “digital optimization,” which is focused on using product data to drive business outcomes. The company is important to its customers, including household names like Anheuser Busch InBev, Burger King, Ford, Walmart, Instacart, Square and many more, because it takes product development from being a largely intuitive process to being more data-driven — or as Spenser likes to say, “from Mad Men to Moneyball.” It’s part of a new world of product-led growth, where mediocre products that persist on strong sales and marketing have nowhere to hide. For consumers, these better products create better experiences. For companies they create better businesses. And when only great products will survive, anyone who embraces Amplitude has an unfair advantage.
Eric Vishria, Amplitude’s first investor and business partner, identified Spenser as special many years ago, when Amplitude was more of an idea than a company. He once described Spenser as a learning machine, and we have come to see that Eric was right — and that because he is a learning machine, Spenser is always getting better. Over the years, he and his co-founders have built a world-class team around themselves, have grown from founders into executives, and have pushed the boundaries of what it means to help companies build better products. Thus as Amplitude begins its life as a public company, we have great hope that this is not the end of our journey together, but the beginning. We know that Spenser will keep raising the bar for himself, for Amplitude and its customers, and for the products we all know and love, and we look forward to seeing just how high those bars can go.