Two years after buying a startup in Ottawa, Silicon Valley stalwart SurveyMonkey is preparing to dramatically ramp up its presence in the capital.
"We've built a critical talent hub of 81 people here. We'll probably grow our head count by 50 per cent next year," in Ottawa, SurveyMonkey chief executive officer Zander Lurie said in an interview. In addition he said the company, which sells online questionnaire tools used by entrepreneurs and giant corporations alike, is looking to build a data centre in Canada next year. "We're very much doubling down our investment … we've got a real gold mine here."
SurveyMonkey's expanded commitment to Canada follows the departure of Aydin Mirzaee, the co-founder of Ottawa-based FluidReview, which SurveyMonkey purchased in 2014 for an undisclosed amount believed to be in the $50-million (U.S.) to $70-million range. Mr. Mirzaee, 31, who co-founded FluidReview in 2008 with veteran Ottawa tech executive Eli Fathi, had remained general manager of FluidReview until the expiry of his acquisition-earnout. He left in September to launch another startup.
The expansion is another endorsement for Ottawa's established tech scene, which has seen a marked shift from hardware to software in recent years. In addition to the ascendancy of homegrown stars Shopify and Kinaxis – each of which went public in 2015 and 2014, respectively, Apple this year hired QNX Software Systems founder Dan Dodge to reportedly develop the operating system for its driverless car project. Amazon is also building a team in Ottawa around veteran developer Francois Boisvert to work on Alexa, the software technology underlying its wireless voice-activated Echo smart speaker system. And Facebook recently hired Luc Levesque, an Ottawa-based senior executive with TripAdvisor, to take a leadership role with the social media giant in Silicon Valley.
"SurveyMonkey's commitment to Ottawa is a testament to the quality of talent here – it's the best place to build a company," said Mr. Mirzaee.
FluidReivew had developed a strong foothold selling online survey tools to large customers after securing several federal departments as customers – a rare example of a Canadian startup winning government business in its home market. Its acquisition was seen as an ideal fit for SurveyMonkey, whose online survey offering was more geared to small and medium-sized organizations. The parent company has since incorporated many of FluidReview's features and functions into its own products.
SurveyMonkey, which is on track to post $200-million in revenue and $70-million in profit this year, is emerging from a fraught period following the May, 2015, death of the previous CEO, 47-year-old David Goldberg, the husband of Facebook Inc. chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg. Mr. Lurie, 43, a company director and former investment banker who has held executive roles at GoPro and CNET, became CEO in January after briefly serving as interim executive chairman following the death of his close friend.
Mr. Lurie said the 17-year-old company, with more than 12 million active users, plans to go public in the next two to three years, following a transition period that has seen the company shut some businesses and lay off staff as revenue growth has wilted below long-term trends of 20- to 25-per-cent annual increases.