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Tuesday February 25 2020

Qualtrics Founder Ryan Smith on His Journey From Zero to Hero


Written by Alex Holderness

May 29, 2016

When Qualtrics began its launch into Australia, perhaps unsurprisingly the focus was on the growth journey.

It’s easy to forget the foundation story.

Brands like Qualtrics come from somewhere, small ideas often founded in someone’s bedroom. There’s something really special about the foundation of Qualtrics, the relationship between CEO Ryan Smith and his dad…

ryan smithQualtrics are well known for their family culture. Reading through an article from Derek Anderson for TechCrunch it was clear to see why:

“In the summer of 2001 while doing an internship at Hewlett-Packard, Ryan’s dad Scott called him and said he had throat cancer and would begin treatment immediately so Ryan returned home and took a semester off school. While at home he found that his dad, who Ryan describes as a “super early adaptor,” had built the technology that was the beginning of Qualtrics. Each day after Scott returned from chemotherapy they would work on the product.

By the time Scott had returned to full strength, Ryan had signed up 20 customers and they had hired a small team to build out the product. The first customers were in academia. Ryan realised that he could easily find key decision makers’ contact information online, and since it worked for one it seemed only natural that it would work for others. The first customer was a professor at the Kellogg School of Management. Ten years later the first 10 Qualtrics customers are still customers.

The product and company stayed focused on the original vision and customers. Ryan would call his brother Jared at Google to talk about ideas and possible directions and Jared would hammer home focus. “Don’t talk to me about anything other than 250 schools.” They stayed focused and eventually did get to 250 mark, using the product usage volume and virality to double as the marketing plan.

Qualtrics made a pretty smart move in the early days, first targeting universities. As a result, thousands of marketing students learned to use the programme and then brought Qualtircs into their companies when they got hired.

“With the team and business growing, Ryan had maxed out in his technical capacity to manage and build the engineering team. “I thought to myself, ‘Who is the best engineer that I know?'” There are few in the world better than his brother Jared who built a 180 person engineering & product management team at Google and had worked there since 2004. Jared Smith is one of these elite Valley tested engineers that every founder dreams about joining their startup but deep down knows there’s only a 1% chance he/she ever actually will. In Ryan’s case, it actually did and the effect was dramatic. Ryan estimates Jared’s engineering impact on the same team was a 7X increase in productivity. Meanwhile, customers and revenue continued to march ahead.”

The business in-fact marched ahead so quickly that in September 2014, the company landed a $US1 Billion valuation.

Fast forward to 2014 – The billion-dollar club

At the time of valuation, Led by Insight Venture Partners, the company received $150 million in venture capital, with renewed participation from the company’s original investors, Accel Partners and Sequoia Capital. Based in Silicon Valley, the two original investors backed the company with $70 million in 2012.

With the recent funding, the Provo-based company planned to focus on two key areas – continue international expansion (In addition to the HQ in Utah, last year saw expansion to Dublin, the office grew from 3 to 50 employees in a year – next year the aim is to be around the 100 mark). Secondly, continue building new products.

Ryan Smith explained: “We are big believers in the ‘nail it and scale it’ philosophy”. Since its initial use as a research tool in academia, Qualtrics has expanded its online customer survey tools and analytics software to enterprise customers.

Like competitors including Looker Inc. and SurveyMonkey Inc., Qualtrics gathers customer feedback in real time and turns it into actionable data.

Mastering the customer market

Today’s most successful organisations know customers expect to have their voices heard and responded to quickly. The challenge is in how to collect easily, analyse, and act quickly on this valuable customer insight. For many organisations, this dilemma required expensive technology that took months to implement and weeks to make even the simplest changes.

In October 2014, Qualtrics announced they were set to take on the challenge with a new Voice of the Customer Solution (VOC) that launched them beyond surveys.

The solution, Vocalize – enables brands to collect, analyze and leverage customer insights. The solution offers multi-channel data collection capabilities (with sources ranging from social media to email and phone), configurable dashboards for analysis, and some unique management features including the ability to assign actions throughout the enterprise based on feedback provided by customers.

“We live in an era of immediacy and organisations feel the pressure to address customer concerns, needs, and wants quickly. Unfortunately, in the current VoC landscape, organisations must call the vendor to make even minor program changes. This is no longer acceptable in today’s fast-paced markets,” said Steve Brain, head of engineering, Qualtrics.

“That is why we’ve developed Qualtrics Vocalize to put the power back in the hands of the business. Vocalize is a simple to use, yet powerful, automated customer experience solution that allows business leaders to quickly capture the voice if its customers, immediately analyse the data, and act to close the loop—all without expensive vendor support costs.

NEXT: Check out the awesome new Qualtrics Sydney HQ

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Written by Alex Holderness

May 29, 2016

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