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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

May 17, 2013 at 3:35 PM

Seattle’s Tableau goes from bedroom startup to Wall Street darling

Tableau Software isn’t a rags to riches story, but it’s close.


The data-visualization company burst onto the public markets Friday with a steller public offering, jumping 64 percent to close at $50.75, up from its initial $31 price.

Nearly 100 employees were in New York to celebrate while parties were held at its offices, including its headquarters in Fremont.

Ten years earlier the future wasn’t so clear, though Chief Executive Christian Chabot always believed he was building what would become a large, public and independent software company.

“We’ve really been marching against that goal, never getting too obsessed with short-term results,” he said.

The company was spun out of Stanford in 2003 and moved to Seattle in its first year, operating from a bedroom in Chabot’s Capitol Hill home before expanding into his basement.

Chabot, a 41-year-old former venture capitalist, said the move to Seattle was key to Tableau’s success.

“That has been one of the best decisions we’ve ever made,” he said. “We did it for personal reasons not financial reasons but it’s turned out fantastically.”

Chabot believes that the area’s “exceptional” talent pool will support the company’s continued growth in the area. The company now employs just under 900 and could be in the “high thousands” five years from now, Chabot said.

“Success builds on success,” he said. “More people start to move to the city, the universities adjust …. People spin out of companies.”

That success won’t be immediately obvious to Chabot’s neighbors. He doesn’t plan to buy a new house and he still drives a mini-van.

After ringing the bell at the New York Stock Exchange (he’s in the light suit above) to begin trading of Tableau – with the ticker “DATA” – and spending the day talking to reporters, he was heading Friday night to a relatively low key cocktail party with employees.

“Nothing too fancy – toasts and wine,” he said.

Yet his jubilance was apparent via cellphone and across the country.

“We feel fantastic about the outcome,” he said.

It’s about more than raising capital.

“Our primary motivation for bringing Tableau public on the New York Stock Exchange today is to increase the awareness and the credibility of the company,” he said, adding that the warm reception and IPO publicity will “really help us take our business to the next level.”

Chabot’s breakout will no doubt inspire other entrepreneurs, particularly those building business software companies. His message to them to “stick with it,” even if they feel overlooked.

“For better or worse people, publications tend to write about the big goliath of technology. I don’t blame them for that. They cover Facebook and Google and Microsoft and Oracle or whatnot,” Chabot said. “The rest of us are working on an opportunity that is equally important but is going to take a longer period of time to be successful.”

How did Chabot and Tableau’s co-founders know they could take their idea all the way? Chabot said that wasn’t the focus – they saw the bigger opportunity for the tools they were building, versus a startup they could take pulic and cash in.

“We weren’t looking for one that fit that profile,” he said. “The three of us, the three founders, we believed in the mission – to help people see and understand data. It was one that we viewed as a big problem.”

Tableau’s helping customers small and large with that problem by offering software that makes it easier to visualize and analyze the information contained in databases.

It’s a hot market, with the business world awash in information and constantly searching for better ways to understand, monitor and explain what’s happening.

Tableau’s ongoing success won’t be easy. Other companies offer similar tools and business software giants such as Microsoft and Google are adding better visualization and analysis tools to their products, which could reduce demand for standalone products like Tableau.

Chabot said customers like Tableau’s autonomy.

“Customers really like the fact that we’re able to connect to the data sources regardless of the vendor – we’re kind of a Swiss army knife for data,” he said, adding that “we bring a lot of value to customers by connecting to all the world’s data.”

Yet there’s still a chance that Tableau will be acquired by one of those Goliaths, especially as competition grows between the business computing platforms of Microsoft, Google, and others.

Tableau’s tools – which make it easy for everyone from the receptionist to the chief executive to analyze data – seem like a natural addition to stack of enterprise software that needs better and more attractive tools on users’ desktops.

Chabot acknowledged that Tableau could still get scooped up.

“There’s always a chance,” he said. “We would do it if it’s the right thing for people and customers.”

But now the big players would have to pay $5 billion instead of $500 million to acquire Tableau.

Then we’ll have a rags to unfathomable riches story.



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