Don't count out this startup; Survey Analytics seems like a plum acquisition target
With ad spending down and recession in the air, I was wondering if the great Web startup stories were over for a while. Then I met Vivek...
Seattle Times staff columnist
With ad spending down and recession in the air, I was wondering if the great Web startup stories were over for a while.
Then I met Vivek Bhaskaran, a 31-year-old entrepreneur flying under the radar here in Seattle.
Six years after he and a buddy, Kevin Battey, started a little Web venture in their spare time, they have 10 employees and look forward to $5 million in sales this year.
Called Survey Analytics, their company produces a set of tools companies use to build and run online surveys.
It's similar to Survey Monkey in Portland and dozens of others — Bhaskaran counts 40 competitors.
Bhaskaran, the chief executive, said his company has thrived by keeping the operation lean and prices low. It now has 6,000 customers, including Microsoft, Safeway and Qwest.
"Primarily because of our pricing, we were able to get inroads, and there's no other huge player," he said over coffee at Peet's in Fremont.
Last week, Survey Analytics made Inc. magazine's list of the fastest-growing private companies, ranking 172nd overall and 25th among business-service providers.
Bhaskaran expects more growth from a new "crowdsourcing" tool, called IdeaScale, that the company is testing. Similar to Salesforce.com's Ideas application, it's for companies building online customer forums.
Survey Analytics seems like a plum acquisition target, especially if the survey market consolidates.
In the meantime, it's one of those home runs that's inspiring others in the startup game.
"I think he's quite possibly one of the most profitable operations with two to three guys that I've seen around the area that's not publicized," said BuddyTV co-founder Andy Liu, a friend of Bhaskaran's.
Bhaskaran and Battey were consultants at eSage when they started working on their own software.
Bhaskaran was too cheap to buy or rent servers. He built three from scratch, ran a T1 line to his garage and opened up shop.
Survey Analytics still doesn't have an office here, but Bhaskaran recently bought a condo on Lake Union — partly as a real-estate investment and partly so the team could meet somewhere other than Starbucks.
They also focused on search optimization from the start, using Google to promote their business free. Search for "survey software" and their QuestionPro product is a top result.
Thrift paid off. It let them cut prices early on. Now, they can go lower if market conditions demand.
Being tight also helped them grow without venture funding. Bhaskaran said bootstrapping let him stay flexible and spend time on projects that may have been hard to justify to investors.
They made $50,000 the first year. The next year they made $220,000 and started thinking about leaving eSage.
Now they employ salespeople in Seattle and New York, plus six others in Bhaskaran's native India.
Bhaskaran studied in Russia and then Utah, at Brigham Young University. He came to Seattle after losing a Bay Area consulting job in the dot-com crash.
Although he's CEO, Bhaskaran still works on the software. "I don't need to spend all day pontificating about stuff — what is that?" he said.
"Honestly, I never expected things to go as big," he said. "Fifty percent of it is pure luck."
Brier Dudley's column appears Mondays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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