Good things come to those who wait, especially if those who wait have a big audacious mission that they are trying to tackle.
Just ask Tableau Software co-founders Christian Chabot, Pat Hanrahan and Christopher Stolte who today filed to take their company public — a key milestone that comes 10 years after it was founded.
Ten years is a long time. And it wasn’t always easy. They watched in utter amazement over the years as younger “startup supernovas” grabbed headlines and big dollars on Wall Street.
“After I founded Tableau, YouTube was founded. Zing!! Groupon. Zing!! Zynga. Zing!! Facebook. Ever heard of it? These startup supernovas were all founded after we started Tableau, ” said Chabot at the GeekWire Meetup in February. “Now, you see these things, and I don’t know if this happens to you guys, you see these things and, on the one hand, you are totally inspired as just an entrepreneur…. But, of course, on the other hand, you are just so frustrated. Every time that happened, me and my co-founders we’d be like: ‘What are we doing wrong? Are we just stupid? You just naturally think, that: ‘boy, we don’t know how to do this.’” (Minute 27 in the video below).
But Chabot and crew never really let the superstar success stories get in their way.
They just kept plugging away.
Now, with news today that Tableau has filed to raise up to $150 million in a public offering, company executives may finally get their desserts. Tableau is solidly profitable, and growing fast with revenues that more than doubled last year to $127 million. The company plans to trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol “DATA.”
A couple things have always struck me about Tableau (going back to my very first meetings with them seven years ago at their tiny offices in Fremont).
First, unlike many entrepreneurial ventures, Chabot picked up the bat and immediately swung for the fences. As a 3-year-old startup, Chabot told me in that interview that Tableau would be the “the next billion-dollar company from Seattle.” It had 25 employees at the time, and he was already thinking about the IPO.
Chabot also never wavered in his company’s mission. He was singularly focused on the idea of making data more visual, and he was patient on the path to get there even as higher-profile companies took the limelight.
The market eventually developed, and when the time was right, they were positioned for success.
That slow and methodical build-up may not be as sexy as the Groupons and Zyngas of the world (or even the Zillows or Zulilys), but it is how real companies get built. (Remember that Microsoft didn’t go public until 11 years after it was founded).
It boils down to this: It takes time. And it takes hard work to build a business in a new market.
Perseverance and patience, coupled with a bold vision. That was the recipe at Tableau.
Sometimes in a world where it seems that Instagram millionaires can be minted almost overnight, those lessons can be lost. Tableau is a counterexample to the startup supernova— and frankly a more compelling story because of it.
Chabot’s advice to startups? Ignore the supernovas, which make up 0.1 percent of all startups. Instead, “Just be patient.”
Here’s more from Chabot’s chat at the GeekWire Meetup in February.
Editor’s note: Tableau is an annual sponsor of GeekWire.