It’s not surprising that the most successful businesses are the ones that are built on strong family ties. Ryan Smith co-founded the online survey platform Qualtrics in 2002 with his father, Scott, and brother, Jared.
The strong relationship between the three helped launch Qualtrics into a billion-dollar company and also made Ryan one of the top CEOs in the United States today.
Ryan Smith was born in Eugene, in the state of Oregon, in the 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 went to the Marriott School of Business at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, but had to drop out when his father got 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 an interview in 2016, Ryan said that his father was a “super early adopter” who had already started making tools for online surveys. Even on days when Scott had chemotherapy treatments, the two of them kept working on the product.
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 students from universities.
This let students in marketing learn about the platform, which they could then show to their future employers when they got hired. The formula worked, and Qualtrics was now targeting customers outside of universities and educational institutions. Through a number of series fundings overseen by Sequoia Capital, Accel, and Insight Venture Partners, Qualtrics was able to raise $400 million in total between 2012 and 2017.
Before SAP, a leading provider of enterprise planning software, acquired it in 2018 for $8 billion, the company’s valuation had risen to $2.5 billion. The acquisition was considered a strategic move for SAP, as Qualtrics’ core services of survey creation, distribution, and respondent analysis fit perfectly with SAP’s multitude of customer management tools.
The partnership between SAP and Qualtrics kept Qualtrics at the top of the market for online surveys and research, but Qualtrics has already said it will break away from SAP and drop its plan to 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.
Qualtrics is expected to do well when it goes public because demand for cloud products and services keeps going up. The company saw a 30% increase in revenues for the first 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 billionaire with a net worth of $1.3 billion. He is also the new owner of the 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. Gail Miller (Larry H. Miller Group of Companies, or LHM Group) previously owned the Jazz.
Having strong relationships with his family also helped the CEO of Qualtrics create a work environment that focuses on employee engagement, especially when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion. He is sure that a company’s success comes from having a diverse staff, treating people fairly in terms of pay, and developing their skills.
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 attached until the 2022-2023 season. Forbes named Ryan among the 2016 “40 Under 40,” while the career website Comparably listed him as one of the Best CEOs of 2020.
Ryan currently resides in Provo, Utah, with his wife Ashley and their five children. He is a practicing Mormon and 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 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.