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Omar Tawakol

I always considered BlueKai one of the hidden gems of Seattle’s startup community, a fast-growing online advertising platform with the promise of an aQuantive. So, when the 5-year-old company sent over a press release with a Cupertino, California date line the other day, I immediately wondered what was up. Turns out, it’s not quite as bad as it seems.

BlueKai CEO Omar Tawakol, who founded the company after stints at Seattle area startups such as Medio Systems and AudienceScience, tells GeekWire that he relocated to the company’s Cupertino office 11 months ago. The reason?

The company’s product and development team is located there, and Tawakol said: “I felt like I needed to be near them.”

“I am a bit of a geek at heart, and so having more face time and casual time with the engineers to kind of think through product and product design was pretty crucial to us,” said Tawakol, adding that it was a big decision given that he has four children.

Marketing, finance and sales remains in the Seattle area, with Tawakol saying that the company is about evenly split between the two locations. BlueKai, which raised $21 million from Redpoint Ventures and Battery Ventures in early 2010, employs about 80 people.

That number grew earlier this year when BlueKai gobbled up media analytics startup TrackSimple, which happened to be based in Seattle. Ironically, the acquisition brought a number of key engineers and developers onto the BlueKai team who remain in Seattle, meaning the development operations are now split.

“It is a bit funny,” said Tawakol who wasn’t planning to buy TrackSimple at the time of his move.

At the end of the day, Tawakol said that naming Cupertino the official headquarters is a bit random given how the company is set up.

“Calling Cupertino the headquarters, I don’t really know what it means. Literally, the only thing that changed is I am now in Cupertino,” he said.

BlueKai always operated a Cupertino office, in part because two of the other founders were located in Silicon Valley. With those connections, the company continued to hire key employees from other advertising-based companies in the area.

The Silicon Valley and Seattle split doesn’t appear to be hurting BlueKai. The company announced today that five of the top Fortune 15 companies have selected BlueKai’s data management platform. It also said that it has collected audience data on 300 million “cookies” in the U.S., providing advertisers with the ability to do detailed demographic targeting.

A number of technology companies — including large players like, Facebook and Zynga — have set up engineering offices in Seattle in recent months in order to mine this area for tech talent.

Key to the success in managing joint offices is communication, with Tawakol saying that he hosts a “water cooler call” each morning with executives.

“You just have to error on the side of over communication,” he said.

Tawakol said that the company continues to hire in both Cupertino and Seattle.

John Cook is co-founder of GeekWire. Follow on Twitter: @geekwirenews and Facebook.

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