It has been another big year for technology news in the Seattle region. Major acquisitions, historic transitions, and critical community initiatives have been reshaping the landscape in one of the world’s most active and vibrant regions for technology.
We document these changes every day on GeekWire through our news coverage, and last night at the GeekWire Gala, we unveiled our 2014 Newsmakers of the Year. This annual tradition, now in its fourth year, recognizes the people behind some the biggest stories of the year. Several of the newsmakers attended the event last night, receiving limited-edition GeekWire soccer scarves and cheers from the crowd of more than 1,000 people.
So here they are, our 2014 GeekWire Newsmakers of the Year.
Andy Sack, Founders Co-op
A passionate advocate for the Seattle tech community and the driving force behind the influential Techstars Seattle startup accelerator, Andy Sack stepped down from position in November, after shepherding more than 50 startups through the program over the last five years.
“I set out on a 5-year mission to improve the Seattle startup ecosystem,” Sack said. “I feel like I’ve done that. It’s time for me to move on.”
Replaced by business partner Chris Devore in the TechStars role, Sack has since signed on with Microsoft as a consultant.
Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO
Only the third CEO in Microsoft’s history, Satya Nadella took on the job in February with a mission to transform the tech giant for a new world of cloud computing and mobile devices.
Nadella has weathered layoffs and controversy, and challenged longstanding traditions at the company by prodding Microsoft’s teams to look beyond Windows — making the company’s applications and cloud services work across a wide variety of competing platforms. He also surprised the tech world with the $2.5 billion acquisition of Minecraft — a major deal that promises to help keep Microsoft relevant for a whole new generation.
Wall Street has reacted favorably to his tenure, sending Microsoft shares up more than 30 percent since he took the job.
Elise Worthy and Susannah Makarkey, Ada Developers Academy
There’s a gender imbalance in today’s tech world, and Ada Developers Academy wants to fix that, one class at a time.
Once instruction is completed, students are placed in a six-month apprenticeship with a local tech company to apply their newly-learned skills.
The academy, which is sponsored by local companies like Nordstrom, Amazon, and Redfin, just graduated its first class in October and a new class of 24 students is already two months into the program.
Raj and Steve Singh, Concur co-founders
The story of Concur is one of persistence and patience, capped by a blockbuster outcome this year as SAP acquired the 21-year-old company for $8.3 billion.
The company is led by brothers Raj Singh and Steve Singh, who founded concur in 1993 with Mike Hilton. The Bellevue-based company, which makes travel and expense management technology, had successfully made the transition from traditional software to cloud services.
“The real thing, the last pivot that fundamentally created our growth story, was the move to the cloud,” recalled Raj Singh in a public talk last month.
Concur’s online tools are now used by 23,000 customers worldwide, with 4,200 employees globally.
The world’s largest tunnel-boring machine isn’t a person, obviously, but she’s a technological marvel and definitely one of the biggest newsmakers of the year in the Seattle region — for reasons that the state’s transportation officials would rather have avoided.
Bertha spent the bulk of the year stuck, unable to make progress on the Alaskan Way Viaduct tunnel replacement project due to an unidentified blockage that turned out to be a long steel pipe left over from previous efforts to assess the soil in the area. The pipe damaged Bertha’s blades, setting the project back by a year or more.
It was an epic 2014 for Paul Allen, the Microsoft co-founder.
The year started with a Super Bowl win for Allen’s Seattle Seahawks, a team he’s owned since 1997. Later in the year, Allen donated $100 million to help fight Ebola and a few weeks later his classic Seattle movie theater, Cinerama, reopened after a big renovation.
In between all that, Allen sold a painting for $56.2 million, and gave nearly $6 million to a group of artificial intelligence researchers.
And if that wasn’t enough, the Portland Trail Blazers owner even made a cameo on the popular IFC comedy show “Portlandia.”
Is there anything Paul Allen can’t do?
Paul Thelen, Big Fish Games
It was one of the most surprising deals of the year: Big Fish Games, one of the largest privately-held tech companies in the Northwest, agreed to be be acquired by Churchill Downs Inc. for $885 million. Yes, that Churchill Downs, operator of the famed Kentucky racetrack.
The deal is a big outcome for one of the mainstays of Seattle’s thriving video-game community, and a win for the Big Fish business model. Big Fish has grown its business without producing a single hit game like rivals such as Zynga with Farmville or Rovio with Angry Birds or PopCap with Plants vs. Zombies — which has actually made the company more stable as a result.
Churchill Downs has big expectations for Big Fish, and that was evidenced by the incentive plan put in place for Thelen. If the Big Fish unit achieves $1 billion in gross bookings in 2016 — about triple 2013 totals — Thelen will earn a founder bonus payment of $50 million. That’s on top of $15 million in Churchill Downs’ stock that Thelen will receive.
Spencer Rascoff, Zillow CEO
For years, Zillow and Trulia battled for supremacy in the online real estate arena — often nipping at each other in what could best be described as a contentious rivalry. So, when Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff announced in late July that he was making a $3.5 billion acquisition bid for San Francisco-based Trulia, some in the industry did a double take.
After all, these were two companies that had previously battled in the courts and sparred in the press. Even so, Rascoff orchestrated the masterstroke deal, which is expected to close early next year. In Trulia, Zillow is taking over its largest competitor — a company with 1,100 employees and more than 50 million monthly visitors. It marks the biggest acquisition in Zillow’s nine year history, and puts the company in the driver seat to become the dominant brand in online real estate.
“It never has been personal,” said Rascoff of the rivalry with Trulia. “It has always been business, I guess is the way I describe it. Maybe it is the Seattle Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers. There is certainly a rivalry there, but it is not a hatred. We both are in this game, and we are both very successful, and we can compete on the field but still respect one another off the field.”
Meanwhile, Zillow continues to grow in its hometown of Seattle — announcing late last month that it plans to take over an additional five floors at the Russell Investments Center in downtown Seattle. At the rate Zillow is growing, it might not be too long before that 42-story Seattle skyscraper takes on a new moniker: Zillow Tower.