Ryan Smith SuccessStory
It’s not surprising that the most successful of businesses are the ones that are built from strong family ties. Ryan Smith co-founded online survey platform Qualtrics together with his father Scott and brother Jared in 2002, and the strong relationship between the three helped launch Qualtrics into a billion-dollar company and also making Ryan one of the top CEOs in the United States today.
Ryan Smith was born in Eugene in the state of Oregon, United States in 1977. His father Scott worked as a university professor while his mother Nancy is an entrepreneur and holds a Ph.D. in information systems. Ryan spent most of his childhood in Oregon before moving to Utah to finish his education.
Ryan attended the Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Business in Provo, Utah but initially had to drop out after his father was diagnosed with throat cancer. He later re-enrolled and obtained his degree in 2016.
Qualtrics Co-founder and CEO
After returning home to care for his sick father, Ryan didn’t only develop a stronger bond with Scott on a personal level but also on a professional level. In a 2016 interview, Ryan recalled that his father was a “super early adaptor” and had already begun developing technology for conducting online surveys. The two would continue working on the product even on days when Scott underwent chemotherapy treatments.
In 2002, the Qualtrics survey app was officially launched. Ryan had signed up 20 customers and started to hire more people to help build the product. Ryan’s brother Jared, who was previously working at Google, also joined the team. The company’s early success was mainly attributed to the Qualtrics founders’ focus on luring in universities. This allowed marketing students to learn the platform which then they can introduce to their future employers once they get hired. The formula worked and Qualtrics was now targeting customers outside of universities and educational institutions.
Between 2012 and 2017, Qualtrics managed to raise a total of $400 million from multiple series fundings led by Sequoia Capital, Accel, and Insight Venture Partners. The company’s valuation soared to $2.5 billion at the time and was ready to go public before it was acquired by enterprise planning software giant SAP in 2018 for $8 billion. The acquisition was considered to be a strategic move for SAP as Qualtrics’ core service of survey creation/distribution and respondent analysis fit perfectly with SAP’s multitude of customer management tools.
The SAP Qualtrics partnership helped maintain Qualtrics’ status as a market leader in online survey and research but the latter has already indicated to spin out from SAP and forego its plan to finally go public. A Qualtrics IPO is set to increase the company’s current valuation of $12 billion to $14.4 billion based on an initial pricing range of $20 to $24 per share. A successful stock market debut is forecasted for Qualtrics as demand for cloud products and services continue to grow. The company saw a 30% increase in revenues for the three quarters of 2020 ($550 million compared to $413.4 million in the same period in 2019), a trend that has also been seen with other cloud companies including Snowflake, Zoom, Twilio, and Datadog.
Qualtrics’ strong performance has also made Ryan Smith a billion-dollar man with a net worth of $1.3 billion. He is also the new owner of NBA team Utah Jazz, the state where he graduated and where his company is currently headquartered. The deal took place in October 2020 with Ryan purchasing the majority interest in the basketball franchise for $1.66 billion. The Jazz was previously owned by Gail Miller (Larry H. Miller Group of Companies or LHM Group).
Having developed strong ties with his family also allowed the Qualtrics CEO to create a work environment that centers around employee engagement, particularly in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion He is a firm believer of a highly successful company resulting from a diversified workforce and a fair treatment for compensation and talent development processes. He launched an initiative called “5 For The Fight” which encourages everyone to donate $5 for cancer research. With Qualtrics being the official sponsor of the Utah Jazz, a “5 For The Fight” patch has been attached to the team’s jerseys and will remain to do so until the 2022-2023 season. Forbes named Ryan in the 2016 “40 Under 40” while Career website Comparably listed him as one of the Best CEOs of 2020.
Ryan currently resides in Provo, Utah with his wife Ashley their five children. He is a practicing Mormon and is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
As Qualtrics looks to make a big splash during its eventual IPO, it shouldn’t take away the fact that it started from humble beginnings as a family working together to overcome hardships. This has also allowed Ryan Smith, who has been at the center of Qualtrics since from the very beginning, to not just become a CEO with excellent customer experience management skills but also a person with a strong sense of compassion and empathy.