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October 10, 2016updated 13 Jan 2017 11:59am

“Who cares what we are worth”: Appian CEO hits back at Unicorn status while looking for IPO and innovation in Paradise Lost

CEO Matt Calkins gives CBR an insight into the company he founded back in 1997.

By Ellie Burns

“We are not for sale so who cares what we are worth,” said Appian CEO Matt Calkins about his company’s recent Unicorn status.

“I don’t take this too seriously, and I don’t think anyone should.  I worry  about customer value and I’ll let someone else decide whether we are a unicorn. I think more important things about Appian is what good we do for our constituents – which is to say customers, partners, employees, stockholders and anyone who follows our example. We have always been optimising for those instead of for valuation.”

CEO Matt Calkins

Matt Calkins has been CEO & Chairman of the Board since founding Appian in 1999.

At the start of the year, an investor in 17-year old Appian awarded the company unicorn status, valuing it at more than $1 billion. However, while other companies would relish such a valuation, Mr Calkins obviously thinks there are more important considerations when it comes to Appian – like a 2017 IPO.

“Appian is looking for a potential IPO next year and most of the banks we are considering as having as our book runners are in fact Appian customers,” Mr Calkins told CBR.

Although the CEO failed to confirm the IPO definitively, saying that they have ‘not committed’ as of yet, “we are behaving as if we are to do it next year.”

IPOs and valuations aside, the CEO’s real enthusiasm lay in how his company is carving out a leadership role in the enterprise application market. Appian, recognized by Gartner as a leader in Business Process Management, provides an application platform billed as the platform for digital transformation. However, trying to pin down what is meant by digital transformation, the CEO admits, is easier said than done.

“We live in an industry which has very little about it that is tangible. I once studied English and I remember reading Paradise Lost and having the professor explain that one of the hallmarks of Paradise Lost is that they never give you anything tangible, there is never a solid thing – IT is so much like this.

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Pinning down the abstract concept of digital transformation, Mr Calkins believes there are two goals every business should have in mind. The first is a faster responsiveness and agility in regards to matching the market, while the second should involve the capability of having a real-time dialogue with the customer.

“Digital transformation is a reminder that we should innovate. A reminder that we shouldn’t be trapped by legacy software and patterns, and a reminder that business occurs differently now and IT should keep up.”


Continue reading to see what the CEO thinks of competitors and ServiceNow

That innovation is predominately being driven by software, with this creating a shift in business – a shift which Appian is well placed to be at the core of, according to the CEO.

“Software has become part of the profile of a company – that’s pretty exciting because it means that software, which has long been homogenous, will now have to be differentiated. It’s a neat trend, and of course we are going to be in the middle of that because we allow for the easy creation of easy software.”

The Appian CEO wants to position his company at the core of this new wave of unique software, with the company pitching their product as the higher quality, simple and easy platform for all industries.

“PaaS is one of the names which is emerging to describe what we do, and what we do of course is provide a platform for building software applications quickly and easily, even though they are powerful.”

One of the main criticisms when talking about application platforms and PaaS is vendor lock-in, a problem which the CEO says is going to happen to a certain degree with any product. However, Appian is trying to differentiate between its competitors by being as open as possible, promising less of a lock-in experience than others in the market.


Appian’s platform promises low-code which the company claims ‘liberates your business from the tyranny of custom application development.

“For example, our competitor provides you the ability to write an application, on a platform, in the cloud just like we do. The difference is, in our case, you can bring that back behind your firewall and out of the cloud whenever you want. Whereas for them, you are locked in. Same with our competitor ServiceNow, they lock you in to their cloud. We don’t. We say you should own your applications and own your data.”

Although full of praise for competitor ServiceNow, who the CEO calls ‘fantastic’ and ‘formidable in their own right’, Mr Calkins does draw to attention the fact that he believes that his product is one of higher quality, with better security, scalability and feature set than ServiceNow.

“We are coming from the top of the market down to the middle, while ServiceNow is starting at the bottom and making rather slow progress towards the middle.”

Success at the top of the market is highlighted by the company’s success in EMEA, specifically among Financial Services. Although a US company based in Washington, the CEO made it clear that Europe and the UK is vital in taking the company forward, with Appian having ‘caught fire in the FS community’.  Declaring ‘never mind Brexit’, Mr Calkins wants to keep the momentum going in Europe – momentum which has seen the region become the fastest growing part of the company.

“[We are] very focused on Europe and the UK – this is where we see the greatest growth, as a company we are growing 50% year after year in terms of software revenue. The EMEA operation is the part of the business which is seeing the most growth and we are investing in it the fastest. We have put more investment in EMEA offices than any offices in the world in past 12 months.”

For a company with one product and one price, Appian could be the answer to the world’s growing need for more and more software. With a possible future IPO fuelled by a Unicorn status, there are interesting times ahead for the company – as well as interesting times for the UK post-Brexit with companies such as Appian pressing ahead and reporting positive growth.

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