CEO of the Year: Colorado's King of Couponing 2.0
Bryan Leach: Former lawyer has built a 500-employee company around his innovative shopping app
Bryan Leach was an attorney on the career fast track – a partner at a leading law firm by his early 30s – when he launched a company that would change the way retail brands connect with consumers. Quite a pivot, but Leach had an inkling of what he was getting into.
"I grew up watching my father grow a business from a storefront in a strip mall in Atlanta," says Leach, founder and CEO of Ibotta, a 500-employee firm that boasts one of the most frequently used shopping apps in the country.
Leach, 41, isn't exactly the kind of guy you picture clipping coupons. After wrapping up an education at Harvard, Oxford and Yale Law School, Leach clerked on the U.S. Supreme Court for Justice David Souter before building a practice in international arbitration at a leading law firm. In the courtroom, law was exciting, but what really got Leach's heart pumping was pitching his brand while he build his practice.
"I realized I liked sales," Leach says. "It's storytelling, and it's public speaking, and it has a strong creative component." Not too far a cry from being a trial lawyer, really. In 2012, the successful attorney took a leap of faith and switched gears, launching a CPG (consumer packaged goods) coupon redemption company, of all things.
From the get-go, Leach says, "I surrounded myself with people who were more experienced." With the goal of "building a single point for every shopping journey," Leach created a free app that allows users to earn cash back by scanning an item's QR code. "We make money each time consumers save money," Leach says.
Sure, Leach says, Ibotta appears successful when you "look back through the lens of seven years. Truthfully, it's been rocky living through it." A business like Ibotta is completely dependent on people. But coming from law, Leach says, "You don't get a lot of practice building a culture, or motivating a team." As far as Leach is concerned, then, a leader's primary job is to hire a bunch of really great people and empower them to use their creativity.
Managing people isn't an exact science, and so there have been plenty of highs and lows.
"When you're making creative bets, sometimes you strike out," Leach says. He's learned that he has to be really clear about his company's mission – and his expectations. In fact, Leach even has a seven-page "user's manual" instructing new employees on how to work with their boss.
But Leach might be the exact kind of boss every dedicated employee deserves.
"A good idea can come from anywhere," he says. "The mistake a lot of CEOs make is to try to be involved in every important decision particularly on the product side. becoming a chokepoint."
A better strategy is to encourage employees to run with their schemes.
"Being a CEO is about inspiring people with your company's overall message ... and then getting out of the way," Leach says.
Getting out of the way frees up time for Leach to partner with a variety of nonprofits he and his team are passionate about, including Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, Shiloh House, Volunteers of America, Special Olympics and Wish for Wheels.
Leach has also established a mentorship program for Ibotta employees to grow professionally within the company. The Women @ Ibotta initiative, which hosts community-wide Lunch and Learns among other events, also sponsors a formal mentorship program that pairs promising female employees with a senior leader for six months of dedicated mentorship.
As the CEO of one of Denver's largest technology companies, Leach joined other local tech and economic leaders in April to launch the Colorado Technology Recruiting Coalition. The coalition's first big initiative, "Pivot to Colorado," is a comprehensive marketing campaign to bolster recruitment efforts and bring top tech talent to Colorado from the Bay Area and beyond.