Clearhouse
Cardlytics Shares 7 Lessons to Help Your Company Transition from Start-Up to Successful IPO
Publication Date: May 02, 2019 

In February of 2008, two colleagues from Capital One launched a new fintech company with the goal of unlocking the hidden value of purchase data aggregated from the nation’s banks and financial institutions.  When Lynne Laube and Scott Grimes co-founded Cardlytics (Nasdaq: CDLX), they launched a whole new industry.  Their platform, built within banks’ digital channels, analyzes purchase data to help banks increase customer loyalty and engagement, help advertisers drive revenue and brand awareness, and help consumers save money on everyday purchases 

Nearly 10 years to the day they founded Cardlytics, Lynne and Scott were ringing the opening bell at Nasdaq to celebrate taking the company public. We recently spoke with Lynne, COO of Cardlytics, and asked her to share the lessons she and Scott learned during their 10-year journey from start-up to IPO. 

1. Find early champions to help you launch.

Scott Grimes and I knew we had a great idea, but it was untested and required access to customer data at a time when companies were beginning to grasp the inherent dangers of cyber-security threats and vulnerabilities. We would not be here today if we hadn’t had help along the way.  In Cardlytics’ early days, one of our board members gave us great advice on how to build a company. Even more importantly though, he introduced us to a variety of financial institutions, which led to our very first deal with a big bank. That partnership would never have come to fruition without his initial introduction.

Help can also present itself through a particularly strong customer advocate. In the case of our first launch with a large, national bank, we worked with a man named Jason. Banks are very risk-adverse in nature, and our experience proved that there are far more bank employees who will say “no” to an innovative, new idea than who are willing to say “yes.” Jason said “yes,” putting his own reputation on the line. He believed in our product almost as much as we did. We're so thankful for his support. We wouldn’t be where we are today without Jason and the many other proponents who saw Cardlytics’ potential and fought for us! 

2. Keep your ear to the ground.

Absorb all of the stories you hear and learn from them. Listen to feedback from customers and partners and ensure that you’re doing all that you can to meet their needs. Learn from the celebratory endings and also from how people and companies have recovered from the hard times, both as private and public organizations.

3. Never give up but know when to pivot—and when you do, pivot very, very quickly.

Like many start-up entrepreneurs, Scott and I experienced a number of corporate “near-death experiences” that forced us to embrace the importance of perseverance. Early on in Cardlytics’ history, our car broke down—and then caught on fire—on the way to an important meeting.  We were agile and determined enough to get there anyway, against all odds.  

Play to that “never say die” strength, but also have the judgement to change course when necessary without letting go of your overarching vision. To this day, we’re constantly putting out unpreventable fires, absorbing feedback from our brand clients and banking partners, and adjusting our solution accordingly. That’s why Cardlytics now works with the three largest banks in the U.S.  During our last earnings call, we reported a 30% increase in the number of marketing clients that are spending more than $1 million with us.

4.  Leverage your entrepreneurial skillsets when transitioning to a public company. 

No one else is going to believe in your idea the way you do. Throughout our time running Cardlytics, Scott and I have derived strength and determination from the knowledge that we’re not just building a company, we’re building an industry that meets a pressing business need for banks and brands alike.

Being an entrepreneur and starting your own business, no matter who you are, requires a good amount of grit. The same is true of taking a company public. Many of the skills that make Scott and me good entrepreneurs also translate to our lives as public company executives.

For example, we founded Cardlytics in the spring of 2008 – having no idea that the U.S. would suffer from a global, economic meltdown just a couple months later. Needless to say, it was an incredibly bad time to be raising money from investors. The stress was insurmountable, and even though we knew we had a great idea, we weren't sure we were going to get any funding. We were kicked out of every bank we met with, but we didn’t give up.

Convincing investors why Cardlytics was worth their time and money during our pre-IPO roadshow was a similar experience, despite having ten years of proof points demonstrating our success. Thanks in part to a market correction that occurred right before we went public, it certainly wasn’t easy. Half of the companies who had IPOs scheduled for that week backed out, but we made it through with flying colors thanks to our perseverance and amazing support from the Nasdaq team.

Despite our many set-backs over the years, we kept pushing, believing and trying. Maybe the stars aligned, or maybe grit carried us through. Either way, we celebrated every single success, big or small, and never gave up. We’re continuing to use this strategy in the public sphere.

5. Deliberately build networks that support you through each stage of growth.

Starting a company (and then taking it public) will take more time, energy, dedication and money than you expect. Being a leader can be a lonely process, which is why I always tell entrepreneurs who are entering a new stage of corporate growth to surround themselves with people who compliment their skill sets and build a peer network.

At Cardlytics, we’re lucky enough to have a lot of strong, visionary leaders – many of whom have been with us from the very beginning. But for me, having a co-founder, someone who is the “ying” to my “yang,” has been critical. Owning a company is nonstop, and it never goes away. I was an extremely dedicated employee to the various companies I worked for previously, but at the end of the day, I went home and could turn it off for the evening. Being an entrepreneur is never just a job –Cardlytics is my third child – and I’m so thankful to have a co-founder to share the wins and losses with.

I also think that entrepreneurs should form a network of peers to bond and connect with. All entrepreneurs are different, but we have common themes: we all have a little bit of crazy, we all have “near-death experiences,” we get a little bit lucky sometimes, we have tenacity and we try. Starting a company can be very lonely, as can the process of taking one public, so having other entrepreneurs to relate to and share stories with can make all the difference.

6. Stay true to your core values—even after you go public.

Transparency and authenticity have always been two of my core values. It’s been a bit of a change for me to have lots of projects I’m currently working on that are super cool, but I can’t say a word about because of various legal or contractual restrictions. As someone who wants to be completely transparent with employees, being limited in terms of what I can share is a difficult transition to make. Learning how to be authentic and transparent in a public company environment is something I've been working hard to excel at.

One of the ways I’m attempting to do this is a carry-over from our private company days. To help my team thrive, I personally provide ongoing, two-way dialogue to listen and be open to feedback from all levels of the organization.  Scott and I co-host regular, judgement-free open forum discussions. The wonderful thing about connecting with our employees in an open, trusted setting is that we always leave with a new piece of information, or a new idea, that we didn’t have before. And we act on it!

In addition, I personally meet with every new employee who joins Cardlytics to enforce our culture of authenticity. I also host an intimate new hire meeting where I share my vision and goals for the company, explain why we created Cardlytics in the first place, discuss our culture, and answer any questions. I do this because I have an expectation that if someone sees something that looks wrong or broken, I want them to be able to come to me with their concern and/or advice for a resolution. I can’t expect our people to share ideas with me if we’ve never had a conversation, and I want them to know that I’ll show them the same respect.

7. Build a best-in-class corporate culture from day one.

Not only am I proud of our successful IPO on Nasdaq, I'm also proud of the industry and culture we’ve built, which has earned us recognition from highly respected organizations.

Since we launched Cardlytics 11 years ago, we've been able to create more than 400 jobs in multiple cities and countries, and I’m extremely pleased to say that most people who work here actually do love their job. We humans spend more of our waking lives at work than anywhere else, so it’s important that work is a place we want to be. At Cardlytics we rally around each other, we support each other, and we lift each other up. We want our people to be fulfilled on both a professional and personal level. Our offices are a clear example of this philosophy, too, because we don’t have offices! We built an open environment so that people can talk to each other, learn from each other, collaborate, and engage.

We very much strive to create an environment where employees can be their best selves and share their passions, and we empower them to drive those passions with innovation and excitement. To name just a few examples, we offer regular Days of Service where employees are given the opportunity to volunteer at various nonprofits, host group activities like ping-pong tournaments and “Cardfit” exercise classes and sponsor ongoing education sessions promoting workplace diversity and inclusion, among other critical topics.

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Cardlytics, Inc. (Nasdaq: CDLX) partners with financial institutions to operate a purchase intelligence platform that helps make marketing more relevant and measurable while promoting customer loyalty and deepening banking relationships.  Headquartered in Atlanta, Cardlytics has offices in London, New York, San Francisco, and Visakhapatnam.