Inside A $333 Million Founder’s 20 Year Journey To A Rocketing 146% Post-IPO Stock Jolt
How do you become a 20 year overnight success? Do the most important things well, resist the urge to chase shiny objects, create irresistible value for customers by landing and expanding.
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If you start your company outside of Silicon Valley, you may get more time to achieve an initial public offering. What's more the leadership style that gets you there can keep growth going long after the funding event.
That's the story behind Irvine, Calif.-based Alteryx. Since its March 24, 2017 IPO, shares in this analytics software as a service (SaaS) provider have soared 146 percent to a market capitalization of almost $2.3 billion on March 12.
Alteryx is growing fast while losing money -- but it has turned cash flow positive recently. Since 2014, revenues have risen at a 51.4 percent annual rate to about $132 million in 2017 -- while posting a $19.5 million net loss. During that time, the company has gone from negative free cash flow of $4 million to positive free cash flow of $15.3 million, according to Morningstar.
Alteryx's most recent results -- for the fourth quarter of 2017, were strong with a boost in sales and higher gross margins. According to Motley Fool, revenue soared 55 percent and its customer count rose 46 percent to 3,392 in the quarter.
While the company is unprofitable, its gross profit of $32.3 million represented a gross margin of 84 percent -- up one percentage point since the year before.
For the first quarter of 2018, management expects sales to be in the range of $39 million to $40 million and a net loss of $4 million. For 2018, Alteryx expects revenues to rise between 33 percent and 36 percent to a range from $176 million to $179 million, according to Motley Fool.
CEO Dean Stoecker -- whose 9.1 million Alteryx shares were worth about $333 million on March 13, said in a press release, "Demand for our complete end-to-end analytics platform for the enterprise increased, driven by our land and expand strategy. We added a meaningful number of net new customers and continue to have a very strong dollar-based net revenue retention rate."
Underlying demand for its product is demand for good data analytics coupled with a shortage of data scientists.
Langley Eide, Chief Strategy Officer at Alteryx, said “Most large organizations understand that data and analytics can provide a powerful competitive advantage, but many are struggling to (i) leverage many disparate data sources; (ii) adopt a growing number of machine learning and artificial intelligence services; and (iii) find enough skilled workers to develop an analytic advantage. We are seeing increased demand for a common platform that enables citizen data scientists in the line-of-business to take full advantage of their data assets, whether users prefer a code-free or code friendly experience.”
Alteryx has taken over two decades to get to this point. As Mr. Stoecker explained in a March 5 interview, the company was founded as SRC in 1997 before changing its name to Alteryx in 2010. Alteryx shunned venture money until 2011 -- ultimately raising $163 million in three rounds before taking the company public in March 2017.
Stoecker's family is from Boulder, Colo. where the company maintains its engineering team. As he said, "My father was an entrepreneur who built A-Frame houses. I was the youngest in the family and we would see the life of the entrepreneur at the kitchen table -- collecting money from customers, paying bills, and investing for the next stages of growth."
After graduating from college, Stoecker went to work for a unit of Dun & Bradstreet Nielsen where he learned the challenges of monetizing publicly-available data. As he said, "Companies tried to be good at three core competences -- data, software, and analytics. I realized that to be successful you needed to own one of those."
At 40, Stoecker decided to venture out on his own. As he said, “I told my wife I am either going to buy a business or get a pink slip. At 3:30 in the afternoon I called my wife and said I had gotten the pink slip. With three partners in 1997 we decided to focus on the analytics. We took money in 1998 from a customer who wanted us to stay alive. We realized that the dot-com boom would bust so we didn't touch the money. For 14 straight years we were growing at a 20 percent to 25 percent annual rate, never lost money, and always paid our bills. We offered an insanely great analytics product and delighted our customers with our SaaS model.”
Alteryx's growth strategy evolved as the company grew. As he said, "Getting to the first million is about will and skill and having the right organizational culture. You need discipline -- keep heads down on the product -- and ignore shiny objects."
When the company reached $25 million, Mr. Stoecker realized that he would have to let go. "I began hiring middle management and trusting others to tell our story. When we reached $40 million in revenue I wanted to see if we could go public or be a $100 million private company. A lot of the team was not into it so between 2015 and 2017, I replaced senior leaders."
When Stoecker went out on the IPO road show, "three older gentlemen working for a hedge fund took a look at me and said, 'You're not the young, spry Silicon Valley entrepreneur we're used to seeing.' I said, "We didn't do it the same way but we're one of those companies blasting off for the moon.'"
Though he's turning 61, Stoecker is not slowing down. He expects the company to get to $500 million to $1 billion in revenue by "building out the platform with machine learning and making acquisitions that extend the product for the citizen data scientist."