Qualtrics goes from basement business to billion-dollar company

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Employees come and go from the Qualtrics headquarters at Provo's Riverwoods Business Park. The company went from a small business in a basement to a billion-dollar corporation in just a few years. (Qualtrics)
Employees come and go from the Qualtrics headquarters at Provo’s Riverwoods Business Park. The company went from a small business in a basement to a billion-dollar corporation in just a few years. (Qualtrics)

A former BYU marketing professor created Qualtrics as a product that would make marketing research and data collection easier to make sure “the voice of the customer was heard.”

Scott Smith developed a product and went into business with his sons Ryan and Jared and one of Ryan’s mission companions, Stuart Orgill. Their survey company started in Smith’s basement, but Qualtrics has now grown to be a billion-dollar company. “His strength is not scaling an organization, but there is no one as innovative at starting new things,” Orgill said of Smith. “He is a serial entrepreneur.”

Qualtrics software enables users to collect online data, from market research and customer satisfaction, to employee evaluations and website feedback.

Orgill attributed Qualtrics’ success to Smith’s sacrifice. The company managed to bankroll its employees partly because Smith didn’t take paychecks in the beginning. “He’s the type of guy that allows the people in his life to grow and make mistakes, but he teaches them the important things.”

A buyer offered $500 million for Qualtrics a few years ago. The four owners of the company came together to decide on what they should do. “Scott said, ‘I’ll do whatever you guys want to do on this,’” Orgill said. “You think about someone who is almost 65 who could’ve put money in the bank … but Scott deferred to everyone else.”

The owners decided to take on some investors but not to sell the company. They have since grown to 650 employees, and added offices in Dublin, Sydney and Seattle. “The company has changed, but Scott has not changed,” said Qualtrics executive assistant at Katherine Birdsall. “He cares about every single employee as if they were his own kids. He wants everyone to succeed here.”

Qualtrics employees work in their glass offices. The company grew from the founder’s basement to an office at Provo’s Riverwoods Business Park. (Qualtrics)

One day Smith asked Birdsall to find out who owned a certain car out in the parking lot. She found whose car it was and asked why she was getting him that information. Smith replied he noticed the car had bald tires and told her, “We have to help.” He then paid for brand new tires.

Employee Ed Helm started working for Qualtrics “right after they got out of the basement.” He recalled, “All the furniture was bought on either KSL or Craigslist, and everyone had to bring in their own chairs.”

Helm has never worked directly with Smith but still feels like he is family. “My mom passed away this last summer, and Scott came to the funeral,” Helm said. “That meant a lot. He takes time to look out for people.”

Smith takes pride in the people with whom he works.

“We are always looking for the best and the brightest,” Smith said about Qualtrics employees. “We want people who are on a good trajectory, whether that be in sports, school or work. We want people who can demonstrate excellence.”

Smith, who has always been careful with his finances, has watched over the financial department of Qualtrics from the beginning.

Accounts receivable manager Rachel Husberg started at the company when it still used QuickBooks. “He would come in and want to talk to us and get to know us,” Husberg remembered. “He still comes in now.”

Even after all the success that Qualtrics has had, Smith is still careful with his money. “He is a guy who still pours his own cement,” Orgill said. “He doesn’t feel comfortable spending a lot of money … he is  a very down-to-earth kind of guy.”

Smith has described his time at Qualtrics as a “magic pony ride” and is excited about how far the business has come.

He and his wife left the company in October to serve a mission in Hong Kong. He expects big things to happen while he is away and is excited to see where Qualtrics will be when he returns.

He predicts the company will be moved into its brand-new 200-thousand-square-foot building and will have 1,500 employees when he returns. Smith has confidence others will get things done while he is away. “Scott is super trusting of his sons running the business,” Birdsall said. “He knows that the success of Qualtrics has been from their hard work.”

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