Making Connections — 2022 AMP Future 50 Profiles: Jessica Johnston-Myers and Tyler Vawser with Apptegy
There are a variety of startup initiatives in Arkansas, some well-known and some still getting their footing on the ever-changing business landscape. One Little Rock-based startup, however, has found its solid ground and is now setting its sights on new areas to cover.
Apptegy assists school districts in improving their communication through technology. With the use of Apptegy’s app “Thrillshare,” schools can send messages to multiple channels at once, update websites and apps and send alerts, even while on the go.
“Apptegy started back in 2015, and in the seven years we’ve been around, we now work with more than 2,500 school districts in all 50 states in the U.S. said Tyler Vawser, vice president of marketing for Apptegy. “It’s really exciting to be part of something that is nationwide but started here in Little Rock and is headquartered here in Little Rock. That’s something we take a lot of pride in.”
The company has around 350 employees, and according to Vawser, that number goes up every week.
“[Apptegy] opened an office in Monterrey, Mexico, around two years ago and that has really helped us expand, especially in engineering,” Vawser shared. “Our engineering team has grown quite a bit in Little Rock, but in order to reach our goal, we need to be able to hire more engineers, specifically with knowledge of the technologies we use.”
Jessica Johnston-Myers witnessed the growth of Apptegy from its earliest beginnings.
“I have a really unique experience with Apptegy in that when it first started, Jeston, who is the founder and CEO, rented a co-working space at the Venture Center. I was running programs and operations for the Venture Center at that time, so I was able to see [Apptegy] grow from just one desk to the point where [the Venture Center] had to politely ask them to find a different space because there were no more desks, to what Apptegy is today. This has been a really fun journey to watch from the beginning,” Johnston-Myers said.
Johnston-Myers, like Vawser, is a leader in her position. She is vice president of sales development. The two employees are tasked with leading their teams to further Apptegy’s growth.
“I am responsible for generating all of the outbound leads for our sales process. What my team does is basically call school leaders via cold call, but it’s not traditional cold calling. We’re really focused on generating intrigue and having a human connection,” Johnston-Myers said. “It’s a little bit different for most people when they think about sales — we’re not a traditional sales department. I have a team of about 20 who are here in the U.S., and then we’re working on expanding our sales team in Monterrey, Mexico.”
“As VP of Marketing and Media, our teams are focused on helping us get our brand out there, but also providing really useful resources to our clients and others in the education space,” Vawser explained. “One of the ways that we do this is with a quarterly magazine called SchoolCEO, and that’s something we’ve created over the last four years.
“[The magazine] goes out to more than 15,000 school leaders every three months, and it’s really focused on: How do we help schools build a strong brand? What are the ideas happening in the private sector that can help schools run their schools better? Who are those educators and leaders in K-12 that are doing something innovative, or those leaders that have a unique perspective that can help other leaders in the K-12 space?”
Both Vawser and Johnston-Myers find the Apptegy environment to be unique to other workplaces. As Vawser points out, startups aim to be fast-growing and continuously expanding, and he believes Apptegy’s success in this location is something for the company to be proud of.
“Most people think that to work for a startup, you still have to go to [Silicon] Valley, you’ve got to be in New York, or even in other parts of the state. There are plenty of people who think that there are only startups in Northwest Arkansas, and that’s just not true. We’re growing one of the fastest-growing startups in the country in Little Rock, Arkansas, and people don’t think that that’s even a possibility, or they think that they have to graduate and leave Arkansas to have opportunities,” Vawser said.
“There are huge opportunities at Apptegy, and one of the greatest things I think that is happening is that we’re retaining this amazing talent here, and we’re able to grow this amazing company. We are getting to a point where we’re bringing in people from other places because they are learning about us — they’re curious and they want to join.”
Next to Apptegy’s growth as a company, the personal growth within the company is what amazes Johnston-Myers the most.
“People find that they grow in a way they weren’t expecting. In pretty much all of the one-on-one meetings I have with people on my team, I hear about personal growth, even outside of their professional life. That is a direct result of the challenges that they have here and the way that we approach things. I just don’t think that there are many companies where this actually happens. Knowing that people can bring their whole selves to work and find a way to grow— and then in a kind of a happy accident, they find that they’re also growing personally — I just think that’s such a treasure,” Johnston-Myers said.
“I wish more people knew about this because I think more people would come here and fall in love with what they can do if they were just open to challenging themselves in that way.”
While working for Apptegy, Vawser has found that there are a few misconceptions about startups. When searching for jobs, he asks that people don’t overlook a startup like Apptegy simply because of how fast it’s growing or because people might not be familiar.
“An important thing to know about a tech startup is that the high growth happens because we’re doing things differently: I think for us, it’s creativity, originality and hiring the right people.
“Don’t judge a startup by its cover,” Vawser joked. “Dig in and find out, why is it growing so fast? What is it like to work there? We always hear about Facebook and Google and these other companies, but how does a company with a really high growth trajectory with a great culture, how does that exist in Little Rock, and what are they doing? Be curious.”
Johnston-Myers explained that because of that rapid growth, Apptegy is usually hiring.
“We’re really looking for people who embody the tenets of our culture that we really hold strong. This is the only place that I’ve ever had the honor of working where the important things aren’t just those couple of bullet points that they paint on a wall and then perpetually ignore,” Johnston-Myers said. “We want to have really amazing humans that we get to work with every day who are really focused on doing really great work, and that’s how we’ve been able to grow as fast as we have and how we are planning to continue.”