Since its acquisition of Untappd in 2016, Wilmington-headquartered Next Glass Inc. has seen growth, including having more than 100 employees, about 8 million app users and being named the fastest growing technology company in the state in 2018 by Deloitte.
This year marks a notable shift for the firm. In April, Next Glass announced it had received an undisclosed investment from Boston-based equity firm Providence Strategic Growth that officials said will accelerate the company’s growth. Its CEO and co-founder, Kurt Taylor, stepped down, and Trace Smith became the new CEO of Next Glass.
Smith talks about his goals as the new CEO, how the company has been doing during the COVID-19 pandemic, the company’s goals to expand in Europe and more.
GWBJ: What do you hope to accomplish as the new CEO of Next Glass?
SMITH: “I want to build on the success we've had over the past half-decade. Clearly, by bringing on outside capital and a firm like PSG, we want to accelerate growth both with our core business and product offerings, but also through acquisition. With that growth comes more jobs, which is a key goal of mine post-COVID-19. We’re proud to have created so many opportunities in Wilmington and will continue to do so.”
GWBJ: How has Untappd been doing during the COVID-19 pandemic? From your perspective, how is the beverage alcohol industry doing?
SMITH: “We’re weathering the storm as well as could be expected. There’s no denying that COVID-19 has been impactful, but we’ve managed through the chaos and used the interruption to sure up things internally that are hard to break stride in a normal environment to fix or improve.
“The beverage alcohol industry is a tale of two worlds. The on-premise businesses like restaurants, bars and brewers, are just starting to re-open. Consumer demand there has been high, but there are obviously constraints on capacity in most areas that is dampening the recovery for the time being. The off-premise (i.e., grocers) has been very strong. Brands that have significant off-premise distribution are doing well. Over 80% of U.S. brewers received PPP funding, so we’re hopeful that will put the industry in a strong position to bounce back once we return to some semblance of normalcy.”
GWBJ: Why is Untappd looking to expand in Europe and what are the steps it is taking to accomplish this?
SMITH: “Roughly half of our app users and 20% of our Untappd for Business customers are outside the U.S., and most those outside the U.S. are in Western Europe. The European economy is larger than ours in the U.S. and both craft beer penetration and cloud software adoption in Europe are five to seven years behind us, but both are quickly catching up. We see a rising tide in Europe and want to put our boat in the water, so to speak. We’ve hired a VP of European Operations, based in The Netherlands, who will lead our growth on the ground in Europe.”
GWBJ: Untappd recently added three new executive team members, Alison Hawkins as chief financial officer, Chris Herron as chief technology officer, and Tom Maneschijn as vice president of European Operations. What will these new hires bring for Untappd?
SMITH: “Collectively, they bring a lot of relevant experience in their roles. Hawkins was the SVP of Financial Planning & Analysis, a large sponsor-backed business that experienced tremendous growth, both organically and through acquisition, during her tenure. Herron comes to us from TripAdvisor, where he was effectively the chief technology officer of their restaurants segment. He grew a 70-person engineering team and has spent time at both Audible and TripAdvisor, which is helpful context to bring to this role. Maneschijn brings a wealth of industry experience in innovative roles in the beer industry in Europe. The regulatory landscape and consumer preferences are so different in Europe, and Tom’s insight here will be valuable as we look to grow abroad.”
GWBJ: Untappd is one Wilmington business that has grown successfully over the years. As CEO of a tech company in Wilmington, how do you see the technology landscape in the region? How can Wilmington continue to grow when it comes to supporting tech startups?
SMITH: “The San Francisco Bay Area historically had a firm grasp on the title of the sole home of fast-growing tech companies. That changed in the 2010s, with billion-dollar companies founded in markets like New York CIty, Los Angeles, Boston and Chicago. Towards the end of the last decade, we’ve seen even more geographic democratization of tech to markets like Austin, Salt Lake, and North Carolina. This trend will continue this decade.
“As more young people build their careers at startups that have successful exits, they’ll take that experience to start the promising businesses of tomorrow. Experience and access to capital are the keys.
“Wilmington can continue to grow by supporting its local startups. Supporting the tech scene means more than becoming users/ customers. It means continuing to build an attractive and vibrant community that attracts dynamic talent. The downtown area has grown up so much over the past five years – that development helps us recruit and retain talent.”
GWBJ: How does Untappd continue to innovate its platform to continue to engage users?
SMITH: “We listen to our customers. That’s paramount in building consumer facing technology or software as a service that serves tens of thousands of customers. Our sales, support and success teams do a great job of translating what they’re hearing each and every day from our customers into actionable feedback for our product and engineering teams.”
GWBJ: Finally, any favorite local beers you’ve recently tried?
SMITH: “I’m in the distinct minority in our office in that I prefer dark beers, like stouts and porters, to IPAs. I had a beer from New Anthem called Riding with Mary that I really enjoyed. The hot summer weather is not really dark beer time, but that’s a local beer I’ve enjoyed.”