After Andrew First graduated from Duke in 2010, he worked at Google for two years as a software engineer. This experience would later prove to be invaluable as he started his own company, Leanplum, which recently earned him a spot on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list for Enterprise Tech.

First, who majored in electrical and computer engineering and computer science at Duke, met Momchil Kyurkchiev, a coworker at Google who would later become his co-founder. Through their work on the YouTube Monetization team, they had to test every change made to improve Google’s video ad revenue on a small percentage of users. The test measured if the change increased revenue without compromising user experience.

But when they tried to run similar tests on the YouTube mobile app, they ran into a roadblock because the app was only updated every few months.

First was concerned about this because YouTube’s app traffic was much higher than traffic from the mobile website, yet it was essentially unmeasurable.

“We scoured the web and couldn’t find any mobile A/B testing tools available,” First said. “Considering the growth in mobile and the nascency of the market, we saw this as a business opportunity to enable companies to make data-driven decisions on mobile in order to improve user engagement.”

First and Kyurkchiev left Google in 2012 and joined the Techstars startup accelerator in Seattle to pursue their idea.

By the spring of 2013, they’d returned to San Francisco, raised capital, hired their first few employees and secured their first paying customer.

A year later, Leanplum expanded its focus from mobile A/B testing to building a comprehensive mobile marketing platform.

For each of the past two years, Leanplum has seen annual revenue triple, and the company has gained well-known customers like Lyft, Expedia and Tinder along the way. Leanplum now employs more than 100 people in offices in San Francisco, New York, London and Bulgaria.

First plans to continue Leanplum’s work to help companies increase their user engagement on mobile apps.

“We want to maintain our exponential growth and be known as the platform that every marketer needs to do their job on mobile and beyond,” he said. “Mobile has become the hub of every marketing channel – apps, web, email, push notifications, SMS and more. Having a mobile-centric marketing strategy has become critical as we continue into the mobile era.”

First participated in multiple entrepreneurial endeavors while still a student at Duke, trying to launch multiple startups and entering the Duke Startup Challenge. One of his ventures, a cloud music service called blueTunes, grew to more than 10,000 members, but First believes it’s easier to find startup success after graduation.

“All too often, we hear the stories of college dropouts who make it big, but I believe that if you can wait to get experience, you’ll gain skills and domain expertise that will increase your probability of success,” he said. “Also, doing a startup while a student is incredibly hard as you face the demands of school.”

First also advised would-be entrepreneurs to make sure their product is a “must-have” in the market rather than a “nice-to-have.”

“Only the must-haves are worthy of your time,” he said.

To learn more about Leanplum, visit its website.

To read about more Duke entrepreneurs, click here.

By Katie Jansen

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