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It’s a good thing (at least for Seattle) that Tableau Software decided to build its company in the Pacific Northwest. The spin-out from Stanford University established operations in Seattle shortly after it was founded in 2004, and it has been growing like crazy ever since.

Last year, in particular, was a big one. The maker of visualization software just announced that it doubled sales in 2011, posting a whopping $72 million in revenue for 2011.

Meanwhile, the company continues to hire at a mind-numbing pace, adding a whopping 160 new workers last year. The worldwide headcount now stands at 350, and much of that employment base is in the Seattle area. In fact, last January, the company opened a second office in Kirkland in order to tap into the talent pool on the east side of Lake Washington.

Christian Chabot (l) and Pat Hanrahan of Tableau Software
Christian Chabot (l) and Pat Hanrahan of Tableau Software

“Tableau’s growth is a symbol of what we believe is one of the most important trends in technology, the consumerization of enterprise technology,” said CEO Christian Chabot said in a statement announcing the company’s growth. “We are ushering business analytics out of the dark ages and into its golden era of fast, easy, visual self-service analytics for everyone. The impact for our customers is tremendous.”

About 7,000 customers — including eBay, Irish Life, The New York Times and Lowe’s — use Tableau’s products to make better sense of data. Eurostar, the high-speed European rail service, is using the technology to analyze passenger surveys while Kabel Duetschland is using it to derive more meaning from billing, fraud and collections processes.

Tableau has been discussed as a possible IPO candidate for years, with Chabot telling me back in 2006 that he believed they were on track to be “the next billion-dollar company from Seattle.” At the time of that pronouncement, Tableau employed just 25 workers.

Now, with annual revenue of $72 million, it is well within the ballpark of what investment bankers like to see.

Could 2012 be the year of an IPO? Will Tableau hit that $1 billion valuation mark?

Stay tuned.

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