RALEIGH – It may not be this month or this year, for that matter. But sometime in the near future, Raleigh startup Pendo seems destined to become a unicorn, hitting the rarified $1 billion valuation mark.
“We’re pretty darn close,” the firm’s CEO and founder Todd Olson, 43, told WRAL TechWire, while sitting for an an extended interview at the company’s downtown Raleigh office shortly after Pendo announced closing on a deal to secure bigger headquarters for its explosive growth.
“It’s not a public number. But practically speaking, we probably will.”
If that’s indeed the case, the fast-growing cloud tech firm would join a select group in North Carolina with that kind of valuation, including Cary’s Epic Games, Charlotte’s AvidXchange as well as Tresata and, more recently, Prometheus Group based right here in Raleigh.
So what’s a unicorn? “A unicorn is a privately held startup company valued at over $1 billion,” Wikipedia notes. “The term was coined in 2013 by venture capitalist Aileen Lee, choosing the mythical animal to represent the statistical rarity of such successful ventures.”
They remain rare. But Olson is quick to point out that it’s not his goal.
“First off, these monikers like unicorn aren’t beneficial. They just feed people’s egos,” he argues.
More to the point, he says he’s more concerned with building a sustainable, long-term business with “an eye towards delivering in an efficient and profitable way.”
“We’ve seen pushback in the market when companies only focus on growth and not efficiency. Those are now being valued less than companies that have more efficient-minded growth. We’re going to focus more on that.”
Sure, there’s a high probability that they will be able to call themselves a “unicorn” in the near future, but it’s just another milestone along the journey as far as Olson is concerned.
100 percent year-over-year growth
His remarks come at a busy time for the company. Just last week, Olson signed a signed a seven-year lease to occupy the top five floors in the new 19-story tower at 301 Hillsborough Street. Commissioned by the Fallon Company, it’s set to be complete by late 2021 – with Pendo’s bright pink logo atop, dotting Raleigh’s skyline.
Olson admits that as a startup, it feels “a little odd” to be planning so far in advance. But that’s the reality of the situation. “With our growth – if you plot it out and look at the spreadsheets – we just don’t have anywhere else we could move.”
Founded in 2013, Pendo has been growing consistently at a rate of “100 percent year over year.” Part of that explosive expansion has included acquisitions such as its recent purchase for an undisclosed sum of Receptive Software Limited, a privately-held SaaS company based out of Sheffield, England.
The uptake: The firm plans to more than triple its local operations over the next five years, adding 590 jobs and investing $34.5 million in Wake County.
Still, Olson won’t let go of being defined as a startup.
“Of course we’re a startup. Granted, we are a growth-oriented startup now. But it’s still a fight every single day to continue executing on our plans. As we continue to grow and start steering towards a potential public company, we’ll start to shift quite a bit. But the growth really defines us right now.”
Pendo’s secret sauce
It might come as a surprise to some, but Olson doesn’t have his own dedicated corner office.
Instead, he works from a standing desk amongst a sea of open cubicles, side-by-side with his employees. He keeps his desk on a rotation every quarter. This month, he resides with the customer success team on the 14th floor.
It’s this kind of close-knit work culture – with bi-monthly “town hall meetings,” pulse-check surveys and regular one-on-ones — that has garnered Olson outside praise.
Arguably, it’s also the firm’s “secret sauce,” he says.
“We are literally maniacally focused on every detail of our culture. I want to make sure that people know that they can come to me for everything. No piece of feedback is too minor or insignificant. It all matters.”
As Pendo closes in on that $1 billion mark, one thing appears certain: Olson won’t become complacent.
“It’s funny. Becoming a unicorn was never a goal. But it’s pretty neat that we can see it now. Now I’m sort of thinking, what’s that next goal? Is $1 billion in revenue the next goal? Maybe.”