Qualtrics in Ireland: ‘Our granny made us come here’

Expansion on the cards for Utah software company run by brothers with Irish roots

Ryan Smith, CEO of Qualtrics, at last year’s Web Summit in Dublin. “I remember every interview I did, they would ask, ‘why are you here – is it because of taxes?’ There’s this undercurrent that’s really not right.” Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Getty Images

Ryan Smith, CEO of Qualtrics, at last year’s Web Summit in Dublin. “I remember every interview I did, they would ask, ‘why are you here – is it because of taxes?’ There’s this undercurrent that’s really not right.” Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne/Getty Images

 

If you ask Qualtrics’ Ryan and Jared Smith why they invested in Ireland, the answer is probably not what you would expect.

“My grandmother made me. It’s the only place she would let us go,” jokes Ryan, chief executive of the company. Although they’re from Utah, the brothers have Irish roots.

The software company opened its first European office in Ireland in 2013, with the goal of creating 150 jobs. By mid-2015, the company had revised that to 250. Since then, it has been hiring on a regular basis.

“We never really announce the jobs,” says Jared, Qualtrics’ chief operating officer. “It’s just a machine that runs. The way I think about it is you want to work for a company that’s growing and this is just a background hum that adds up. We’ve never not had a job open.”

That means the company may soon outgrow its offices just off St Stephen’s Green, and it is currently in negotiations about extra space.

Although the growth may seem rapid, Qualtrics isn’t another startup getting its time in the sun. The company has been going 14 years, set up by Ryan, Jared, their father Scott and Stuart Orgill.

Data and feedback

What is clear is that Europe is an important market for the company, and will be more so in the coming years. Jared estimates that its European business – which has now expanded into London and Germany, among other locations – will be on a par with its US business in the next few years. The firm currently employs 1,200 people worldwide with the bulk in the US.

“It’s a lot of company-building over the next few years as we get everything in place to support it,” he says.

Dublin is set to play a big role in this expansion. When the issue of tax deals for multinationals investing in Ireland is broached, the brothers insist that this wasn’t a factor in their decision to open in Europe.

“We don’t have a tax problem, but we’re going to create one. We’re not going to go anywhere,” Ryan says.

The pair are adamant that it’s because of people rather than tax that Qualtrics set up its base here. Getting the right people for tech jobs is something that is a constant battle for companies, regardless of their location, but Qualtrics has grown its office here to more than 200 people, and it’s still hiring. In short, the founders say, thy’re here because they want to be successful.

“I think a lot of people misunderstand, when foreign companies come in, what they’re getting at,” says Ryan. “I remember every interview I did, they would ask, ‘why are you here – is it because of taxes?’ There’s this undercurrent that’s really not right.

‘Nice people’

Also on the list of positives for the country is the role IDA Ireland plays in supporting businesses looking to set up here, especially when compared to the support in other countries.

As to the future goals, Ryan says: “I think we want every company in the world using Qualtrics, kind of a like a mantra – if the data exists, you google it; if it doesn’t exist you Qualtrics it. That’s how we think about the world. We’ve got a long way to go but I think we’re positioned very well.

“The technology we’re providing is helping companies run and own their experiences. Every company in the world wants to understand what they’re providing for their customers in a way that five years ago people weren’t talking about. Historically that’s been something that people depended on third parties for, or outsourced,” says Ryan. “Now they’re saying: we need to be very very quick and good and responsive to our customers, in a matter of minutes rather than days or months, as well as our employees. That’s what Qualtrics provides.”

It’s an equally important issue for companies hoping to keep their employees. Jared uses the example of Ireland’s competitive tech jobs market to illustrate just what companies are up against. “When an employee can literally go to lunch and come back with another job, if you’re not a great employer, they leave you at lunch,” he says.

Luxury car

Qualtrics’ own employees regularly provide feedback to enable it to stay ahead of potential issues. “We’re providing those touch points throughout an organisation. We call them the vital signs, like when you go to the ER. We’re doing that with employees and we’re doing that with customers,” says Ryan.

The rapid pace of technology is something that the company has to keep abreast of, although it seems to take it in its stride.

“The only thing consistent is that we change. We release code every week or more frequently. While everyone is sleeping we’re punching out new code,” says Ryan. “To be in the game this long . . . and transition from just being an academic company to the enterprise, to go to Europe, to be just research to customer feedback and now employee, you’ve got to be able to create and innovate. This is what tech is about, to be constantly pivoting and moving.”

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