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PROVO — Five years ago, Orem resident Ryan Smith said “no” to a half-billion dollar offer for a startup business that began in his basement. Two weeks ago, he was named “one of the most influential young people in business” by Fortune Magazine.
“Each year, the 40 Under 40 draws a large team of Fortune reporters, writers and editors.… Each person picks an industry or area of focus, then they go hunting … to come up with a long list of suggested candidates,” Fortune Magazine states. “From there, it’s a long, intense process whittling the ideas down to a mere 40 names.”
A brief look at Qualtrics’ history, however, easily explains how the co-founder made the cut. In the 14 years since Qualtrics has been around, Smith has seen unprecedented growth.
Founded in 2002 by Smith, his father, Scott Smith, his brother, Jared Smith and his college roommate, Stuart Orgill, Qualtrics is a private research software company that enables online data collection and analysis, including market research and customer and employee feedback.
Smith has seen Qualtrics grow from the ideas his father scribbled down while recovering from throat cancer to what it is today: an international company with $220 million in funding and a valuation of more than $1 billion.
“Very early on, I felt like we were way behind,” Smith said. “We were a two- person company. Our website didn’t look good. We had no money. I went to my dad and started asking a lot of questions. ‘Why don’t we do this? How come we haven’t done that?’ He just looked at me and said, ‘What’s stopping you from doing it?’ It took me a few days, but I realized then that if things were going to happen, it was up to me to make them happen. Once I realized he was right, it was game on.”
Qualtrics really began to grow when it took its product to the world of academia. University students became familiar with the software and it began to spread as those students left to work for companies around the globe.
Yet Smith attributes the key to Qualtrics’ growth to a different focus.
“Companies fail for one of two reasons: they either get focused internally or they focus externally on the wrong things… our growth has been building a great team, creating an incredible product that’s always getting better and better and, most importantly, keeping a relentless focus on our customers,” Smith said.
It was in 2011 that Smith was offered $500 million for Qualtrics and turned it down as he watched the company continue to develop.
“Some of the best advice I ever got was that you can either write your own story or have someone write it for you,” Smith said. “I love Qualtrics. This is my last job. It’s the only thing I want to do.”
And Smith has certainly written his own story. Three and a half years ago, Qualtrics had 300 employees in one office in Provo. Now, they’ve expanded to over 1,200 employees in nine offices “from Seattle to Sydney.”
However, despite this remarkable success, Smith also stressed to Fortune the importance of family in his life as he strives to manage his time in such a way that allows him to be home with his wife, Ashley Smith, and his kids as much as possible.
Smith told Fortune, “As big or as little as Qualtrics gets, that’s not gonna define me as a person… Hopefully I’m still a good dude. If I can achieve that and my kids like me, I think I’ll probably have hit the upper echelon in the top few percent.”
Liesl is a student at Brigham Young University and currently works as a news writing intern for KSL.com. You can email her at email@example.com.