This past February, Martech company Cardlytics (CDLX) rang the NASDAQ bell to announce the pricing of its public common stock offering, closing the day slightly above their initial price of $13 (at $13.37 per share).
But that morning, as they headed over to Wall Street, the DOW was down 1200 points.
“The night we priced the IPO was the largest point drop ever in history. There was a little bit of, ‘are we committed? Did we really want to do this?'” CEO Scott Grimes told Hypepotamus in one of the company’s Star Wars-themed conference rooms in their Midtown Atlanta office.
“We were doing this for a set of long-term reasons, which says that short term, price shouldn’t matter. We all stayed committed.”
The leap of faith proved itself. “You look at the stocks, it’s almost double what we came out. We made the right decision. But it was a little scary at the time, I’ll admit it.”
Cardlytics uses financial intelligence, based on consumers purchases, to help financial institutions and bank processors make their marketing campaigns more data-driven and measurable. In the end, it helps banks deepen their relationships with customers and increase loyalty, while saving them money. More than 2,000 financial institutions use the company’s services.
As you walk around Cardlytics’ 74,000 square-foot office on the 6th floor of Ponce City Market, much of it looks like jyour typical successful tech startup. Nerf gun foam bullets are scattered on the floor, an open office layout is divided by department, break rooms are filled with coffee and snacks, and a large community space hosts company fitness classes and even, an employee-led in-house band.
However, what stands out is the fact that neither Grimes nor co-founder/COO Lynne Laube have an office. Their desks are set up next to the rest of the 350+ team.
“When we started the company, ten years ago now, there were two things we said on day one when we were sitting in her [Laube’s] kitchen. [One of them] is we are never going to have offices, because it just creates weird behaviors and hierarchies that I don’t think help companies,” says Grimes.
That feeling of openness that Cardlytics strives for is part of why Grimes thinks the transition to public company was nearly seamless for the team, as well as the fact that the company was being audited from day one by the biggest banking entities in the country.
“It’s funny, it hasn’t been as big of a change for us as other private companies. I was in a private company before that went public and it was a dramatic change,” says Grimes. “We had to put in some more processes, but it wasn’t that dramatically different; I think, because we serve some of the largest banks in the world, and they expect us to operate in some ways with the discipline that a public company has to have anyway.”
Grimes shares more about the future of Cardlytics in their post-IPO world and how they’re piloting their products in the U.K. to continue global expansion.
How did you know it was the right time to take the company public?
Cardlytics’ mission is to consolidate the full U.S. banking market. The reason we think that’s important — obviously it grows us — but the reason we actually think it’s more important is, at the end of the day, what we are is an advertising channel. A digital advertising channel that just happens to go through banks. Advertisers have come to expect, when they do digital marketing, that they’re buying Google, Facebook type of scale. That’s what we have to be.
Today we see about 59 million monthly active users. Where we’re growing, over the banks we’ve announced, including Wells and Chase, that’ll get us up to the 130-150 million monthly users. To put that into perspective, Facebook has about 155 million.
We knew to do that we required a lot of capital. We have raised about $220 million dollars to date. Before the IPO, we asked, as we needed to go get a next big chunk of capital: what’s the right way to do that? Is it through private investors, or through public? And for a series of reasons, we felt the public path was the right way to go.
Our banks love us being a public company, right? They want to work with big, regulated, public companies. We think we have a pretty unique story for public investors; and we’re also very interested in M&A, and wanted the public currency to do that. So when we added all those things up, we said, you know what, now is the time to start the IPO process.
Now post-IPO, are you targeting a new client demographic?
We’ve always served the largest advertisers, and the largest banks, and that’s what we’ll continue to do. Now, we are entering new verticals. We’re now expanding into grocery, travel and entertainment, premium brands like Saks Fifth Avenue. We’re putting more of a focus on e-commerce brands. We’ll still focus on the largest players in each of those categories, but we’ll expand the breadth, the footprint in which we operate in.
With your parallel operation in the United Kingdom humming along, do you have plans to expand further around the globe?
One of the reasons we went into the U.K. was to understand, could our model jump overseas? We love our U.K. operation, so we are looking at other countries.
When we think of new countries, we’re basically trying to understand two things: what does the banking structure look like? Most other markets have only a relatively small number of banks. In the U.S., there are 13,000 banks. In the U.K., there’s probably six substantial banks. We want to work with the number one bank first, and then start to get the others. The next thing we’ll try to understand is the advertising structure. Is it a mature advertising market? Are there enough concentrated players that we could go in and serve in our model? We’re constantly studying that.
Cardlytics has remained focused on its original idea. Do you feel like this helped you scale faster?
If you look at our original business plan from 2008, it’s what we’re doing today. Is that good or bad? Does it mean we’re incredibly not creative? But I think it’s worked out well. We invented this industry. At one point we had seven competitors — they’re all gone now. I think it is because we found a recipe that worked, we stuck with it, and then we focused, and that allowed us to build the leadership that we have today.
I do think we’ll always place a lot of value on focus, but that being said, we’re all smarter people now. We have more and more capabilities that allow us to begin to broaden through mergers and acquisitions, and new types of advertisers and verticals.
What will Cardlytics look 2-5 years down the road?
Two years from now, I think we’re going to look a lot like we do today, just bigger. And that’s because we’ll have gone through that journey of scaling for Wells Fargo, Chase and other banks that we’re not even talking about publicly yet. A lot of it’s just really scaling the core business.
If you say five years from now, I think we look a lot different in two ways. We’ll be in other countries. We’re good at working with incredibly sensitive data and unlocking the value of that data, but in a way that protects the privacy and security of customers and their banks. There’s other really valuable data sets out there. There’s product level SKU data. There’s location data. One things we believe is when you take our really unique data set — and once Wells and Chase are live, we’ll see over half of all the purchases in the U.S — and you connect that to other types of data sets, those intersections are valuable. What are the different ways we can unlock the value of that? And I think we’ll do that through the services of partnerships and probably acquisitions.
Photos courtesy of Cardlytics