Vivek Bhaskaran’s journey from India to Seattle’s competitive tech community can easily infect aspiring entrepreneurs with an accelerating passion to move forward on his path. As the CEO of QuestionPro and Survey Analytics, he has left a tremendous impact in the survey and research domain. Together, Survey Analytics and QuestionPro offer survey, feedback, and insight participation software available for engaging customers, employees, and other key constituencies.
Born in a town named Margherita – a remote town in India’s north-eastern state of Assam that is known for its scenic beauty, coal mining and tea gardens, Bhaskaran moved to Kolkatta where he spent a majority of his formative years. Post high school, the tech aspirant moved to Russia and then to Brigham Young University (BYU) in the United States to pursue Computer Engineering. “I was extremely fortunate to graduate from BYU at the peak of the dot-com boom. I had over 10 job offers right out of college and I moved up north to Seattle and started working for a small boutique tech consulting company,” he says.
Securing the title of a consultant, Bhaskaran did not feel satisfied. He explains, “Over the last few years, working as a consultant, made me realize how much I hated working for other people. As a consultant for big companies like Washington Mutual, I always joked that I was the professional apologizer.”
The techie yearned for freedom to implement his own technical strategies while experimenting with business models and new ideas, thus conceptualizing QuestionPro. Shortly after its creation in 2005, QuestionPro earned a position in Inc. magazine’s list of the fastest growing private companies in 2008, ranking 172nd overall and 25th among business-service providers.
With offices in India, US, Mexico and Germany, Bhaskaran’s brainchild QuestionPro, now in mergence with Survey Analytics, is netting its growth on a global map. It tackles four product lines within its domain - Surveys, an easy to use and create, send, analyze surveys; Workforce, employee/HR facing tool allowing Pulse polling, 360 Feedback and workforce analytics and intelligence; Communities, enables companies to create digital communities for crowdsourcing, insight and listening to the voice of the customer; and CX, customer experience measurement system that systematically allows companies to stack rank and see how their customers perceive them and what are the areas of continuous improvement.
Q&A with Vivek Bhaskaran
What would you describe as the defining point of your career so far?
I remember vividly – I worked as a consultant for Washington Mutual in downtown Seattle. I lived in a town called Issaquah, just 20 miles east of Seattle and I took the metro bus from Issaquah to Seattle everyday to work. One day, in the fall of 2005 as I was returning back from work, I got off at the Park-and-Ride, my wife Kalpana came to pick me up as usual. I got into the car and something clicked – and I told her – “Honey I am going to quit my job and I am going [to] start/run QuestionPro. I’m done.” She looked at me with a sense of bewilderment, horror and pride. “But what about our mortgage?” – was her next statement. My answer was – “Well - we’ll figure it out. I have 6 months of savings” – to which she said - “Ok cool.” – We then proceeded to go back home, cook dinner and the next day QuestionPro was officially incorporated.
Your advice to aspiring tech entrepreneurs?
Well three things;
Woody Allen said - Showing up is half the battle – I would strongly recommend that entrepreneurs take the plunge before they get settled with kids and family. Not that it’s not possible, but risk appetite usually dies when you have toddlers running around the house or you have a pregnant wife in the house for that matter!
Forget the norms – there are no rules. When I started QuestionPro, and given I was in Seattle, I remember a bunch of my Microsoft friends laughing at me – and we all know now that everyone who worked at MSFT made exactly zero dollars in stock options between 2000 and 2010 – and they hated their lives. The greatest thing in an open and capitalistic society like the US, Canada et al – is that it gives us freedom from being judged. Listen to a lot of people but make your own rules and judgment around what you want to do.
Focus on providing value – To me, value is defined by either when a customer pays for your service/idea (in the B2B context) or folks truly enjoy using your product – in the B2C context. It’s truly not about your next round of funding or your next flashy PR article – it’s all about creating independent value for the customer and hence the business.
Anything else you would like to share?
Yes, there is one thing that I am very excited about – we imported a couple of auto-rickshaws – yes, the same one’s you see running around in India everywhere – here in California and we finally managed to get it registered and certified. We use it at our company events to give rides to all the folks here to give them a first hand taste of what it feels like riding in an auto rickshaw. I am personally a big car/motorcycle enthusiast, so this means a lot to me personally!