Is Qualtrics about to go public? A chat with founder Ryan Smith on the IPO question

Qualtrics, an online survey research platform, is listed as tops among likely candidates to go public this year. But is it really going to file and, if so, how close is it to doing that?

I’m betting yes and it could be soon based on some interesting answers in a recent interview with founder Ryan Smith (see video below).

For the last couple of years, reporters have been asking Smith if he’s about to IPO. Usually, Smith gives some sort of answer about how his company already runs like it’s public, brushing off any notion of such an event — I’ve personally had this conversation with Smith several times, including in this onstage interview from 2016.

But the Provo, Utah-based company seems more ready this year than it ever has, hiring key executives like Microsoft’s Zig Serafin as its COO and nearly doubling its employee base in the last two years, to more than 1,300 people. Qualtrics now serves 8,500 enterprise customers, including more than 65 percent of Fortune 500 companies. It has also expanded operations outside of Utah, to 10 different offices globally, including Seattle, Dallas, Washington, D.C. and even Dublin, Ireland and parts of Australia.

Rough stone rolled into a rocket ship

But no one in Silicon Valley was interested in Utah tech when Qualtrics launched in 2002. The company, like so many of the now unicorn-status startups in Utah, started out as a bootstrapped business and simply had to be a profitable operation from the beginning.

But nearly a decade later all that changed when the company hit $50 million a year in revenue, with $30 million of that in pure profit — all on the simple notion that academics might want some data-driven insights. By then the Utah tech scene was booming from Ogden to Provo, dubbing the area the “Silicon Slopes,” and Accel Partners and Sequoia Capital took notice. They convinced Smith to take an initial $70 million in financing.

The company has only raised one other time, taking in a total of $220 million funding from Accel, Sequoia and Insight Venture Partners, and sending Qualtrics on a rocket ship to the billion-dollar tech company it is now.

“We’re going public”

But Smith, famous for brushing off the IPO question, seemed a bit jumpier when asked about it during a recent visit to his gorgeous new headquarters (complete with a basketball court and a 1950s-inspired soda joint). Instead of the usual spiel I’ve become accustomed to, Smith’s language was a bit more positive.

“We know that there’s a huge opportunity here and we’re being very thoughtful about it because it’s not about going public. Going public is super easy to do. Just file the S-1 and we’re out,” Smith told me. “It’s about being public and how that works and getting the house in order to make sure that that’s the case. We’re going to be a great public company. We’re going public.”

So… soon?

So there you have it for future plans. But when is the crucial part here — and that is something Smith was much more coy about. When asked if he was going this year he simply said, “We’re making good progress there,” and promised TechCrunch would be the first to know.

Keep in mind, there have been several tech companies in the enterprise space that have recently gone public and, according to Smith’s own words in that same interview, have revenues matching Qualtrics, making him feel “great.” While we don’t have direct word on Qualtric’s annual revenue, a couple of analysts I asked estimated it was at least in the $150 million range last year. MuleSoft, another enterprise company that went public last month, logged just under $188 million in 2016 revenue, for comparison.

So there you have it. Stay closely tuned right here for more, because it looks very likely Qualtrics is currently prepping for an IPO.

*This article is part of a larger series focusing on the Utah tech scene. We’re going to be sprinkling several of these articles and videos throughout the TechCrunch newsfeed for the next couple of weeks, so strap on your ski boots and stay tuned as we guide you through the “Silicon Slopes”!