Venture capitalist Mans Hultman joined Sweden-based QlikTech seven years ago when it was a small, relatively unknown business intelligence (BI) vendor with a rather unusual in-memory architecture that ran very much against the traditional BI grain of disk-based systems. Five years on, and after pouring lots of money into the company, Hultman has made QlikTech one of the fastest growing vendors in BI, boasting an astronomical growth rate that rivals can only dream of.
Hultman had overseen revenue growth of over 650% before he handed over the CEO reigns to Lars Bjork in September; though he stays on as chairman. Hultman recently spoke to Computer Business Review about QlikTech’s meteoric rise, the importance of keeping things simple, and thinking global.
Q. QlikTech claims to be the fastest growing BI firm in the market today. Can you back that up with some metrics?
A: QlikTech has a consistent history of growth over the past several years; 77% in 2005, 80% in 2006, and year to date 85%. Is that enough? Also our headcount has grown from 90 people at the end of 2004 to over 340 now. By comparison the overall BI market grew 12% in 2006 according to IDC. No one even comes close to us.
Q. You claim to be signing up 12.3 new customers a day. Presumably most of these daily wins are departmental or SMB deals?
A: The 12.3 number represents a mix of all different kinds of customers, and falls in line with our overall strategy which is to show value to our customers quickly. Our sales model is built on a Seeing Is Believing model that allows customers to see their data inside QlikView [the company’s main BI product]. This initial model shows them the value of QlikView in the context of their business. When they see it over 85% of customers then go on to purchase licenses. We also don’t require the customer to purchase big deals up front, like our competitors do. Rather we sell the customer what they need to solve the business problem, and we have it in production in a week or two. By showing value quickly, we earn the right to solve additional challenges the customer has, and subsequently to sell more software. Over time, customers move from a few uses for QlikView to more enterprise-type deployments.
Q. Other small BI start-ups haven’t been able to achieve that growth. What’s your secret then?
A: The secret is our mission statement – simplifying analysis for everyone. In other words we keep the product simple, and by doing so deployment is both easy and fast. What’s allowing QlikTech to make volume sales is a technology called in-memory BI, which makes use of today’s 64-bit servers and allows BI to be conducted with little help from the IT department. We also make the product simple to learn and use (oh, and fun). Overall we make it easy for customers to do business with us. I would also add that our European roots make the growth easier as well, because we take a global view on business. Typical Silicon Valley startups hardly imagine a world outside of the valley. We, buy the fact that we started in Europe, and moved to the East coast of the US, imagine that the world is much bigger than highway 101!
Q. Does your unique approach to BI have anything to do with that rapid adoption?
A: Yes, by virtue of keeping it simple. Traditional BI is complex, difficult to implement, and expensive. Our competitors build complexity into their product because they believe that makes the product, and its deployment, important. In other words, if you spend a lot, and it’s difficult, it must be important. We believe the opposite. Make it simple, and they will come.
Q. You’ve had some strong words about Microsoft and its BI strategy in the past. Why?
A: We have no particular objection to Microsoft’s BI solution. It’s just that it’s based on typical disk-based OLAP, and thus suffers from many of the fatal flaws of the other traditional OLAP-based BI solutions. But, we don’t see anything uniquely good or bad about Microsoft.
Q. You were founded as a European company. Did you find it difficult to break into North America?
A: In 2005 we moved our headquarters to the US, and reorganized the company to be a US corporation. Since then the US is our largest and one of our fastest growing regions. We’ve more than quadrupled the sales team, and tripled headcount overall. The US is a huge market, and we have a lot of growth ahead of us, but the basis of that growth is in place, and we are seeing the results.
Q. Rumor has it that you’re planning an IPO next year?
A: No comment!
Q. What motivated you to join a small, unknown company like QlikTech?
A: I was motivated to join QlikTech because I fell in love with the product. A friend of mine, who worked at the company, showed me the product after a day of sailing. I had struggled with the challenges of implementing and using traditional BI tools, and immediately saw how I could use this product in my daily business life. I figured if I could use it, so could many other people.