PROVO — Utah customer experience giant Qualtrics is aiming to quadruple its global staff in the next few years and, in preparation, just closed a naming-rights deal on a spanking new Seattle high-rise.
The company will take over 13 floors, some 275,000 square feet, of the 38-story 2+U project set to be completed in summer 2020. The new Qualtrics Tower — a co-headquarters along with its flagship facility in Provo — will allow the current 500 Seattle-area staffers to grow to 2,000 on a path that will see worldwide employee counts jump from 2,000 to 8,000 in the next four years.
Qualtrics co-founder and CEO Ryan Smith said expansion plans were already in the works before the company was acquired by European enterprise software behemoth SAP last November for $8 billion. While some companies might slip into cruise control following a big acquisition and let its new parent do the driving, Smith said Qualtrics is still operating like a hungry startup.
“It’s super exciting,” Smith said. “We worked a long time on some really hard tech problems and we’re starting to see the momentum of what this could be. We’ve been working to create a $30 billion to $50 billion company either by ourselves or with partners.
“We’re going to continue to play offense and have the attitude of, ‘Where do we want to be? Let’s go build it out.’”
That attitude has been driving a stellar growth arc since the company was founded in 2002 by Ryan and Jared Smith based on technology first developed by Ryan Smith and his father, BYU researcher and professor Scott Smith, amid the elder Smith’s fight (it was successful) against throat cancer. Initially conceived of as a tool for academics, the company and its platform has since evolved into a tech juggernaut that leverages survey input and a business analytics engine to let its clients — now numbering over 10,000 — know exactly how well, or not, their companies are performing as viewed by customers and/or employees.
The SAP buyout was announced just weeks ahead of a Qualtrics planned public stock offering that was aiming to raise $500 million in new capital. The company was expected to emerge from the event with a valuation in the range of $4.5 billion to $5 billion. Industry watchers characterized the SAP deal as one of the biggest ever acquisition price tags for a venture-backed enterprise software company.
The $400 million Qualtrics Tower boasts a prime location at 2nd and University in the heart of downtown Seattle, across the street from the Seattle Art Museum and kitty-corner to Benaroya Hall, home of the Seattle Symphony. The 725,000-square-foot building is comprised of a 19-story podium and 38-story tower, built atop 85-foot stilts that create a public space beneath the building for an urban plaza that will include restaurants, retail and concert space. Developed by Stockholm-based Skanska, the building will also play host to Belgian coworking company IWG and a satellite office for San Francisco cloud storage giant Dropbox.
Murphy McCullough, executive vice president and regional manager for Skanska USA Commercial Development, celebrated Qualtrics taking over a third of the building and acquiring naming rights.
“All of us at Skanska are thrilled to welcome Qualtrics to 2+U,” McCullough said in a statement. “They’ve been experiencing significant growth and it’s a real testament to their commitment to the region to have Qualtrics come in with a 13-floor lease to get the office tower to be 100% leased, and take over the naming of the office tower, too.”
Once the 19th century jumping-off point for Alaska-bound prospectors and later, a bastion of blue collar success thanks to the Boeing Co., Seattle in recent decades has become a city driven by the technology sector, which currently employs more than 1 in 10 residents. While Microsoft has long occupied a campus east of the city in Redmond, Seattle is ruefully referenced by longtime residents as Amazonia, as e-commerce king Amazon has grown to 45,000 employees in the area operating out of 40 office buildings. SAP, Qualtrics and its SAP subsidiary sibling, expense management platform Concur, will combine to become one of the bigger technology employers in Seattle, though at a level far below the company Jeff Bezos built.
With combined staffing of around 5,000 following growth plans, SAP and its two holdings will rise above many next-tier Jet City-based tech efforts like Cray Inc., F5 Networks, Tableau Software and e-commerce company Zulily.
Qualtrics now has almost two dozen offices around the world, with its main international hubs in Dublin, Ireland and Sydney, Australia.
Smith said the Provo/Seattle co-headquarters are proximate enough to make for easy commutes between outposts, but distant enough to give the company wider talent access across the Mountain West and Pacific Northwest. He also underscored the company’s ongoing commitment to Utah as an epicenter of operations.
Smith will also bring his philanthropic efforts to support cancer research to the Emerald City, promising to funnel local donations to the Seattle-based and world renowned Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Beginning with the 2017-18 season, the NBA announced a major shift to its policy regarding players’ jerseys, allowing each team to have a sponsored patch on its jerseys. Teams began debuting their patches in early 2017. Qualtrics sponsored the jersey patch for the Utah Jazz, but instead of putting its logo on the jersey, the company donated the patch to 5 For The Fight to help accelerate the pace of crowdfunding for cancer research and encouraging individual donors to contribute $5 each.
Qualtrics’ 5 For The Fight campaign is chasing the goal of raising $50 million for the fight against cancer. To date, 5 For The Fight has supported numerous cancer researchers around the country, including Dr. Cristina Rodriguez, associate professor, University of Washington School of Medicine and associate member, Clinical Research Division, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Rodriguez works to advance promising new drugs and targeted therapies related to head and neck, salivary gland and thyroid cancers.