A prominent U.S. tech company has established its second headquarters in a major Canadian city – but no, it’s not Amazon.com
Online questionnaire company SVMK Inc. – better known as SurveyMonkey – now employs 150 people in Ottawa, or roughly 20 per cent of its total work force. It includes engineers and designers, the product development leaders on two of its applications, Wufoo and SurveyMonkey Apply, as well as sales staff that serve the Canadian market and the United States east of Chicago.
“It’s Headquarters East for SurveyMonkey,” chief executive Zander Lurie said Wednesday in an interview at the company’s new Ottawa office, its second largest after its headquarters in San Mateo, Calif. “This is where we’re investing to serve Canada, the East Coast and we’re putting real talent in this market to do that … For us, Ottawa is well positioned in the Canadian market to take significant market share here and go after the eastern U.S. It’s working here for us.”
While the company is on a hiring spree, Mr. Lurie said the Ottawa headcount is growing faster than the rest of the operation and could represent as much as 30 per cent of overall staff within two years. “You’ll see us continually hire disproportionately in this market and on all fronts,” he said.
Ottawa has proven to be strategically important for 19-year-old SVMK, which booked US$219-million in revenue in 2017 and went public last month. Four years ago the company bought Ottawa-based online survey startup FluidReview that had targeted government and business customers. It gave SVMK – more geared to small and medium-sized organizations and individuals who used their own credit cards to buy the company’s survey products – more of a foothold in the “enterprise” market.
Since then the team in Ottawa has played a key role in gearing SurveyMonkey’s offerings to government and corporate clients – and in particular their security-conscious IT department, Mr. Lurie said. Enterprise sales now account for just 12 per cent of overall revenues, while just 1 per cent of the 300,000 organizations with paying users purchase through its enterprise platform. “This is a huge opportunity for us [to] land and expand” by increasing sales to organizations whose employees already use SurveyMonkey products on an individual basis, Mr. Lurie said.
Asked why SVMK is building its operation in Ottawa – with no direct flights to San Francisco – rather than larger centres such as Toronto, New York or Boston, Mr. Lurie said the company is pleased with the quality and availability of local talent and higher loyalty than in the Bay Area, which is notorious for high rates of attrition. He acknowledged employee costs are lower than in New York and Silicon Valley, but said that wasn’t a main factor in the decision to expand in Ottawa, the home of Canada’s reigning tech darling, Shopify Inc. “If you had 10 Shopifys [here] that would make it very challenging to recruit,” he said.
Mr. Lurie is a former investment banker and company director who took the helm after the death of previous CEO David Goldberg, the husband of Facebook Inc. COO Sheryl Sandberg. He declined to comment on financials or issues related to the company’s IPO, citing a postoffering “quiet period.” SVMK went public in September at US$12 and popped by more than 50 per cent on its first day of trading. But its stock has since sagged to below its offering price, including a sharp selloff earlier this week after rival Qualtrics International Inc. revealed in securities filings for its planned IPO that it is larger and growing at a faster rate than SVMK.