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Qualtrics IPO, Poised To Be Utah’s Largest, Is Validation Of State’s Burgeoning Tech Scene

Qualtrics increased its initial public offering range to $27 to $29 per share Monday, positioning the company to be the largest IPO to come from Utah.

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At that heightened price range, the company could be valued at up to $15 billion and raise about $1.5 billion through its IPO. Qualtrics, which provides software to help gauge employee, product, and customer experience and competes with companies like SurveyMonkey, previously set an IPO range of between $20 and $24 before raising it to between $22 and $26.

Qualtrics will be one of 67 public companies based in Utah, according to Crunchbase data. If it prices at the top of its range, it would raise nearly twice the amount of Utah’s current largest IPO, EnergySolutions’ November 2007 initial public offering, which raised about $690 million.

Utah’s burgeoning startup and tech scene isn’t entirely new. The Provo-Lehi-Salt Lake City area is known as Silicon Slopes, and has created a tech community of its own. Venture-backed companies based in the state raised $1.2 billion in funding last year, per preliminary Crunchbase data.

But Qualtrics’ IPO is a big deal for the state, as was its previous exit when it was acquired by SAP. It could also lead to a flywheel effect for more big exits coming out of the state, according to Joe Kaiser, director of Utah-based Mercato Partners, a growth equity firm that invests in technology and consumer businesses. 

“Qualtrics has this cluster of incredibly talented people who were not here before it, but now are rooted in the Utah market,” said Kaiser, a Utah transplant who moved to the state for business. He helped take Lehi, Utah-based Vivint Solar public in 2014 and ended up staying.

Now, when Qualtrics alums want to start the next cohort of great companies or the next generation of entrepreneurs is looking for leaders to help build their startups, they’ll be able to tap a pool of talent created by companies like Qualtrics and Domo.

“It has now incubated the local market with exceptional talent that now knows how to work in a hypergrowth environment that lacks structure initially,” Kaiser said.

Qualtrics was on the verge of an IPO in November 2018 when enterprise software maker SAP announced plans to buy it for $8 billion. At the time, Qualtrics was SAP’s second-largest acquisition ever, only behind the $8.3 billion acquisition of travel and expense management platform Concur, according to CNBC. The acquisition was also Utah’s largest of the year. 

SAP announced in July 2020 that it instead intended to take Qualtrics public after all, and the enterprise software-maker filed formally for an IPO for Qualtrics in December.

“We decided that an IPO would provide the greatest opportunity for Qualtrics to grow the experience management category, serve its customers, explore its own acquisition strategy and continue building the best talent,” SAP CEO Christian Klein said in a July statement. “SAP will remain Qualtrics’ largest and most important go-to-market and research and development (R&D) partner while giving Qualtrics greater independence to broaden its base by partnering and building out the entire experience management ecosystem.”

Qualtrics’ acquisition  was one of two $1 billion-plus acquisitions to come from the state in 2019, with HealthEquity buying employee benefits manager WageWorks for $2.12 billion. It was also the largest acquisition of a Utah-based company ever, according to Crunchbase data. The $8 billion acquisition by SAP was around four times larger than the second-largest acquisition of a Utah company, when Blackstone bought Vivint Smart Home for $2 billion in September 2012.

As Kaiser put it, Utah companies are going for Silicon Valley prices, and he only expects transaction volume to climb. Mercato Partners’ portfolio companies have had five exits since March 2020, with three of those being over the $1 billion mark. 

Acquisitions in the billions

SoFi announced plans to acquire Salt Lake City-based Galileo Financial Technologies in April for $1.2 billion. Thoma Bravo acquired Venafi for $1.15 billion last year, and Ericsson bought Cradlepoint for $1.1 billion. Other notable recent acquisitions of Utah companies are VMWare buying SaltStack and Rubicon Technology Partners buying Central Logic.

“It’s not like one Utah company is buying another Utah company, this is much much broader than that,” Kaiser said.

Qualtrics also marks the second notable public exit for a Utah-based company in recent months. Clene Nanomedicine, a biopharmaceutical company based in Salt Lake City, went public around three weeks after merging with a special purpose acquisition company.  

To John Yoon, Mercato Partners’ vice president of marketing practice, tech companies being more flexible with remote work will only help Utah’s burgeoning tech scene and the next generation of tech companies.

“It starts with big companies encouraging people to move, or allowing people to move and once they move here, they don’t have to stay with the big company. And that’s where we‘ve started to step in as investors,” Yoon said, referring to the phenomenon as the “pollination effect.”

Startups in Utah will also benefit from the regional hubs that some large tech companies are starting to accommodate remote work, Kaiser said. Once talent moves to a place like Utah, Columbus or Minneapolis and settles down there, they could be more inclined to join a local startup.

“They’ve set down roots, they’ve seen how much easier life can be and they couple it with ‘Now there’s a cool startup in town and they need a backend engineer and this is what I do,’” Kaiser said.

Illustration: Li-Anne Dias

Editor’s Note: This story was updated Monday to reflect Qualtrics’ increased IPO price range.

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