Early employees discuss how these 3 Seattle startups began — and where they're headed next

by Quinten Dol
July 25, 2019

Many startups don’t pop up on the industry radar until they’ve raised some funding or created a bit of buzz in the industry. By that point, the company may have gone through several evolutions already — and its business model could have completely changed. To learn about how some of Seattle tech’s household names got started, we spoke to founders and early employees at three local startups to learn about their early days and how they have evolved over time. 

 

qualtrics seattle tech
photo via qualtrics

Qualtrics’ “experience management” software measures the quality of customer, employee, product and brand experiences. The data gleaned helps organizations configure their experiences to maximize engagement and predict which changes will resonate best.

Employee Experience Global Growth and Strategy Leader Bryce Winkelman said Qualtrics started life as a tool for academic research. 

 

Tell us briefly about your founding story. What’s one thing people outside (or even inside) your team might not know about how your company was founded?

Qualtrics was founded in 2002, and I started in 2007 as one of the first 10 employees. We were still in the company’s scrappy basement days. We built Qualtrics primarily for academic research in the early days. We knew the Qualtrics platform could be successful with universities, and as students graduated and moved into the workforce, they would already be familiar with us and advocate for Qualtrics within their companies. During those years we did everything in parallel — from pricing to marketing to design, all of it. We had to nail it in every aspect; even then we knew the power of our customers’ experiences was critical to our future.

What people may not know is that those same principles we operated on in the early days are still the same ones we live and breathe today. That scrappy nature still exists; that culture is still inside of us.

 

When I pulled up for my interview, I was in front of a house and I thought I had the wrong address.”

How has the company evolved since those early days — and where do you see the company going next?

Our co-founder Jared Smith once told us at a company all-hands (which we still have every week to this day): “You should never be at a company where the best years are behind it.” When I pulled up for my interview, I was in front of a house and I thought I had the wrong address. I called to confirm and was told I was in the right place: they were around the back in the basement. I had an interesting decision to make. Do I do it? How do I tell my wife I just interviewed for a job in a basement?

When I sat down with Ryan and Stuart Smith, the other co-founders, they were so passionate about their vision for Qualtrics. I started by making $10 an hour reading comments that came into our platform and classifying them. Fast forward 11 years and everything Ryan told me in the basement has happened. We have a founding team of visionaries who can execute and deliver great results. We’ve moved from serving universities to organizations across all industries and sizes. We had an unforgettable 2018 where we were acquired by SAP. We’ve accomplished so many milestones, but there’s still so much in front of us. We’re just scratching the surface when it comes to the potential of Experience Management, or what we call XM. Qualtrics is the best decision I’ve ever made. I truly believe the best years are still to come.

 

pro.com seattle tech startup growth journey
photo via pro.com

Belltown-based Pro.com guides homeowners through the entire process involved with home improvement. The technology covers everything from finding contractors and delivering digital quotes to providing virtual walkthroughs of projects, and the company recently raised $33 million in funding.

To get started, Co-founder and CEO Matt Williams brought together a group of experts and techies that he’d always wanted to work with. 

 

Tell us briefly about your founding story. What’s one thing people outside (or even inside) your team might not know about how your company was founded?

I come from a family of entrepreneurs, and I have first-hand experience with the construction world through my stepfather. He was an architect and went on to found his own construction company. Through him, I witnessed how frustrating it can be to plan and manage complex projects.

On the whole, residential construction in the U.S. hasn’t fundamentally changed over 100 years. This is an industry that’s been extremely slow to innovate, and I knew there was huge potential to improve the experience. So I assembled a group of folks who I always wanted to work with — a mix of construction industry experts and former tech executives — to make home improvement easier.

 

We’re committed to becoming the most convenient, personal and reliable general contractor in the country.”

How has the company evolved since those early days — and where do you see the company going next?

Pro.com began as a marketplace that matched homeowners to home improvement professionals. Quickly, we learned that we performed best when we could own those services ourselves, not just connect people to them. Today, we’re a fully licensed construction contractor in six major cities, and we’re one of the fastest-growing residential contractors in the U.S.

We’re also constantly improving. We measure nearly every aspect of our process to ensure we’re exceeding our customers’ expectations at every step. We’re committed to becoming the most convenient, personal and reliable general contractor in the country. Moving forward, we’ll continue to expand into new cities, bringing on top talent and improving our process and our tech.

 

igneous seattle tech startup growth journey
photo via igneous

Belltown-based Igneous provides unstructured data management software to data-centered enterprise organizations. The company — pictured above at its first birthday — was incubated at Madrona Venture Labs and recently raised $25 million in funding.

Co-founder and CTO Jeff Hughes offered insights on Igneous’ original vision — and how that influenced the company’s name.

 

Tell us briefly about your founding story. What’s one thing people outside (or even inside) your team might not know about how your company was founded?

The founding team had worked directly with enterprises with large-scale unstructured data, and there was one common theme across all of them: answering even simple questions about their data was incredibly difficult! We actually started off with a product focusing on “cold data,” which is where the name Igneous — cooled molten rock — came from.

 

Though we’ve never veered from the original idea of answering questions about data, we’ve gone through three iterations of how we package and solve that problem.”

How has the company evolved since those early days — and where do you see the company going next?

Finding the right way to frame your product to best address customers is a big challenge!  Though we’ve never veered from the original idea of answering questions about data, we’ve gone through three iterations of how we package and solve that problem. We started off storing a copy of data to answer questions about it and progressed towards a product that can analyze data where it lives, as well as products that can protect and move data.

 

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