Phase I: 1993-1999—The Big Bet
Inspiration, imagination and innovation are the key drivers in the remarkable Qlik success and growth since it was first established in Sweden in 1993. The company was founded by Björn Berg and Staffan Gestrelius. Their vision was to create an entirely new piece of software—one that truly mimics the way the brain works to ensure the most intuitive user experience possible. It was a PC-based desktop tool called QuikView. “Quik” stood for “Quality, Understanding, Interaction, Knowledge.”
QuikView was designed to generate business insight by accessing information from standard database applications and displaying their data associatively. A key part of this vision involved Berg’s unique color-coding system in which selected values are highlighted green, linked values are highlighted white, and excluded values are highlighted grey. Lead software engineer Håkan Wolgé and Berg also had the shared pioneering belief that this software had the capacity to run entirely in memory. They also held the long-term view that Moore’s Law, which states that computing power and memory capacity will double every two years, would help QuikView evolve and gain significant traction as time went on.
Unbridled Potential Emerges
In 1996, the application was renamed QlikView to emphasize its ability to provide users with exceptionally-detailed data analysis with a single click. Jonas Nachmanson, the Qlik CTO, who served as its technology and R&D lead in the early days, played a paramount role in mapping customer and prospect requirements to the application and ensuring it seamlessly integrated into their systems. As a result of the team’s combined efforts, by 1999, QlikView was successfully deployed at a handful of major accounts and dozens of smaller companies, including global processing and packaging giant Tetrapak, who used it to match products, filling machines and packaging; and leading biopharmaceutical company Astra Zeneca, who used it to navigate through complex and voluminous clinical test data more efficiently.
“We were a close-knit team and we knew we had a marvelous product,” recalls Henrik Been, the Qlik Executive Director of Products, who served as a pre-sales and technical consultant during this period. “Whenever customers and prospects saw it, there was always a ‘wow’ effect. Each employee wore many hats and we were encouraged to get involved in anything and everything that could help push the company forward.”
Phase II: 2000-2005—Focusing on BI
With more and more deals being signed and in the pipeline every day, QlikView appointed Måns Hultman CEO in 2000. Hultman put a comprehensive management team into place—one that included Lars Bjork, who joined the same year as CFO. Together, Hultman and Bjork captured the interest of investors, as well as top-tier, forward-thinking professionals who soon joined the team. The decision was also made that year to focus the company on Business Intelligence (BI), a market that was growing by leaps and bounds, but saddled with competing technologies that were not keeping pace with business needs.
“Måns was a real visionary and he chose to focus Qlik on the BI market,” says Bjork. “When we joined in 2000, the technology sector was in its balloon phase in which any company could achieve a market valuation. Måns and I didn’t believe in that. We thought Qlik had to offer really serious BI products with real value, sell them at a reasonable price, and implement systems, initiatives and processes capable of handling and sustaining significant company growth.”
The shift to BI accelerated the company’s expansion and it went from 35 people in 1999 to 70 in 2003. At that point, Hultman and Bjork realized Qlik needed more capital and a broader vision to continue its growth. To that end, Qlik selected a syndicate consisting of prestigious venture capital firms Accel Partners and JVP (Jerusalem Venture Partners) and raised $12.5 million in capital. The focus and investments started to pay off quickly. By 2004, the company had achieved a 35% annual growth rate and $13 million in revenue.
Taking R&D To The Next Level
During this period, Nachmanson built a world-class R&D team with Wolgé at the forefront. Together, they took QlikView to the next level with exponential increases in functionality, usability and scalability. By 2005, it evolved from a single-user desktop tool to a server- and Java-based Web tool. Its calculation engine—the sophisticated technology that delivers QlikView’s lightning fast analysis—took a significant leap forward too, and was now able to handle data sets numbering in the hundreds of millions.
Qlik also established partnerships with Intel and HP to ensure QlikView could fully harness the power of emerging multi-core, multi-processor advancements. In addition, QlikView incorporated beautiful charts and colors within a simple, yet powerful user interface, further helping it stand out from the BI pack.
All of these factors contributed to Qlik establishing impressive, new customers including global shipping and logistics management leader Schenker, Life Sciences CRM company Dendrite, telecommunications giant Ericsson, and Swedish Post.
During this phase, Qlik also established yearly company summits, bringing together each and every employee from across the globe to share knowledge and best practices, and get to know each other a little better in the process.
“We were always a very in-touch organization and the summits reflected that very well,” says Wolgé, “The summits are a very welcome event every year. We hold team-building exercises, work on core values and lodestars, and further create a sense of community amongst our employees. It’s a spirit we’ve had since day one and one we maintain to the present day.”
Phase 3: 2005-Today—Explosive Growth and Opportunity
Qlik continued its laser focus on expanding its BI presence and widespread global adoption and user enthusiasm followed. QlikView’s analytical capacities and speed were significantly bolstered by major advances in its core technologies, not to mention a business market growing increasingly frustrated with existing BI approaches.
“As Qlik emerged and gained traction with its disruptive BI technology, traditional BI companies continued basing their offerings on old software stack paradigms from the late ‘80s,” says Nachmanson. “Qlik was brave enough to stick to its instincts and kept upgrading its in-memory and associative search technologies. QlikView’s abilities also evolved by leaps and bounds over the years in tandem with the introduction of faster-and-faster processors and expanding memory capacities. Now, QlikView is at the point where it easily handles billions of rows of data and tens of thousands of users. The combination of those advantages with our low service requirements created a fantastic business model and an incredibly loyal and large customer base.”
Global Enterprises Embrace QlikView
With its new and powerful capabilities, QlikView attracted the attention of many large-scale enterprises. Today, some of the world’s biggest and best-known companies, including Best Buy, Campbell’s Soup, Canon, ING, Gen-Probe, National Health service, Panasonic, Qualcomm, and Shell are QlikView customers. And QlikView users, from companies large and small, evolved into some of the most passionate and outspokenly supportive in the software world.
“Never underestimate the power of word of mouth,” says Been. “Everyone that got their hands on QlikView—IT people and regular users alike—were thrilled at their ability to master the product incredibly fast. It created a massive ripple effect with people recommending it to their friends and colleagues worldwide. We successfully created trust, as well as a brand that signified quality and ease of use. We also weren’t afraid to show up at prospects and deliver a working QlikView application using their own data that was configured and running in just a few days. In contrast, our competitors needed weeks or months to achieve that. This ‘Seeing is Believing’ approach was another key pillar in our success.”
In 2007, Lars Bjork transitioned into his current role as the Qlik CEO. As the person tasked with building internal processes and systems to take the company to new heights, as well as his excellence in financial controlling and management, it was an ideal and timely career evolution. Under Bjork’s leadership, Qlik grew revenue to 157 million in 2009 and it now employs over 2,000 people in 24 countries with over 1,700 partners worldwide. Its user base also exponentially expanded with approximately 40,000 customers in 100 countries.
A Great Company Built By Great People
Even as the company continues changing the face of BI, it maintains its commitment to its most valuable resource: its people. To this day, the global summits continue. Bjork also added an additional innovation by spurring the creation of Qlik Academy, a week-long intensive week of immersion into the world of Qlik for new employees. Held at the company’s offices in Lund, Sweden, the week focuses on its core values, products, sales processes, and people. Every employee must also learn the ins and outs of QlikView and get certified as a product expert.
“Qlik Academy helps ensure the core values that guide our company culture are truly understood by each employee so they can serve as exemplars of them to fellow staff, customers and prospects alike,” says Bjork. “It’s also a great way of introducing people to our global organization. New recruits participate with people from other nationalities and geographies and gain wisdom by sharing the unique insights each brings to the table.”
Today, the sky’s the limit for Qlik. The company is setting its sights on becoming a global, transformative presence that permanently changes the business world for the better.
“I believe QlikView has the potential to become the de facto global standard for how people get insight from their data,” says Bjork. “QlikView turns data into information and transforms information into insight. And that insight provides significant knowledge. It’s what tomorrow’s decision makers will rely on for understanding where their business should go next. That’s the big opportunity and we’re well on our way to achieving it.”