Five years in, CEO Ray Hein reflects on founding Propel, propelling innovation, and propelling businesses in the first of a 3-part series.
Cloud adoption by manufacturers is a significant part of the Propel story, but that was not our intention when I founded the company. It was about building a set of solutions to solve modern-day challenges that product manufacturers face. New upstarts, being more nimble and aggressive, presented severe competition and compression in innovation cycles to established companies. These companies were not laggards by choice. They were stuck in dated legacy systems because they didn't have alternatives to the existing 10- to 15-year-old systems. I saw the need to build a new and modern system that could help them ride the digital transformation wave.
This was more than identifying a business opportunity. It was the culmination of my 35-year career working on new product development, new product launch, and product lifecycle management (PLM). After experiencing the benefits of technology advancements early in my career, I saw no major innovation in this specific software category. In the meantime, most other software categories made substantial improvements with market leaders that embraced next-generation SaaS models and all the benefits they bring.
I started doing some proper research to thoroughly understand if the category was ready to adopt a new platform. My key findings were that industry analysts predicted PLM as a category would embrace SaaS in a few years, with early adopters starting in 2018 followed by mainstream adoption 2020-2025. I don't always agree with analyst predictions. However, after reading several reports, talking to my industry contacts, and interacting with customers using legacy PLM systems, I was confident these predictions were directionally correct.
With a new generation of workers and consumer expectations changing, I knew we had an opportunity to deliver a better enterprise business application and experience. At the time, I was working at a company that leveraged Salesforce platform technology to solve an enterprise business problem in the cloud. Building on Salesforce.com allowed this solution to be developed faster and offer a modern user experience that drove significant market adoption in a legacy environment.
The Salesforce Lightning Platform launches hundreds of capability improvements each year that we could leverage while ensuring every customer always has access to the latest code base and features. What that means is that Propel will always out-innovate legacy providers as well as any new competitors in our space.
Propel on Salesforce’s next-gen multitenant cloud platform was a game-changer the industry wanted.
I reached out to people I knew and trusted to create a founding team with the perfect background. Brian Sohmers, our Chief Product Officer, had a vast knowledge of working with SaaS platforms, and Ron Hess, our Chief Technology Officer, had been an early architect at Salesforce. Based on our combined experience, we decided that building Propel on Salesforce’s next-gen multitenant cloud platform was a game-changer the industry wanted. We set out to build best-in-class product solutions on the world’s top-rated SaaS platform.
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Our final test was external validation. Matt Holleran, a General Partner at Cloud Apps Capital and an investor in Veeva and ServiceMax, was someone I knew and trusted. As the former VP of Salesforce’s AppExchange and Force.com Platform Partners, I strongly believed he could test and validate my thesis. And if he agreed with my vision, I would rely on his network to find investors and drive this transformation forward.
After a couple of coffee meetings, a prototype review, and some recommendations on additional research, Matt was in. He agreed that we had the right team with the right background and were well positioned to solve this big hairy business problem in the 4th largest enterprise software category. With that endorsement, we had all the data points needed to move forward. We started Propel in the Spring of 2015 with Cloud Apps Capital Partners as our first investor.
From the beginning, building a holistic set of solutions that focus on the entire product lifecycle from concept to commercial market success, including new product development, new product introduction, and post-launch support was our goal. This requires capabilities associated with product lifecycle management, quality management, and commercialization. In the past, product manufacturers required multiple solutions to combine the existing silos of teams, data, and processes. Propel combines all three under one solution, creating a true product success platform.
In the past, product manufacturers required multiple solutions to combine the existing silos of teams, data, and processes. Propel combines all three under one solution, creating a true product success platform.
Propel's product success platform allows you to start anywhere and go anywhere. Some customers use Propel to solve a specific problem, while others use Propel to drive the complete digital transformation of their company. But the majority of our customers evolve how they use Propel over time. What gets me most excited is seeing adoption spread throughout entire organizations as different groups - from engineering to sales to service - realize the value of using a single platform to drive product success. It facilitates visibility, transparency, and contextual collaboration across all teams.
Propel enables internal teams, contract manufacturers, and supply chain counterparts to collaborate using a single source of product truth. They can quickly iterate and thoroughly understand the impact of product changes. They can effectively manage costs and quality. Additional people or entire teams can be included as needed. Sales and marketing teams can be provided with complete visibility to prepare for successful product launches. Service teams can directly update product records with real-world feedback. And all of this information is available to product and engineering teams on-demand, helping them build better products and get to market faster.
Any company that manufactures a physical product can benefit from Propel. Our customers comprise a diverse range of industries that include life sciences, manufacturing, high tech, and consumer goods. We help these customers achieve their individual definition of product success by enabling them to maximize customer satisfaction and compete globally in all markets and regulatory conditions - all while reducing costs.
The diversity of our customer base and our exponential growth is proof the original concept was correct. We will continue to focus on helping companies propel their innovation and propel their businesses. We're only in the first part of our journey toward becoming the global product platform leader.
Ray Hein is the Founder & CEO of Propel. He is a SaaS veteran with over 20 years of PLM, development, and product launch experience in both hardware and enterprise software organizations. Ray has held multiple executive positions at companies such as Agile Software, Apttus, Vendavo, and Centric Software. Follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter.