Expedia. Microsoft. T-Mobile. The Eastside has long been home to leading innovative tech companies. But it’s not just these big companies that comprise our area’s thriving tech industry. The region seems to inspire aspiring entrepreneurs and startups alike. Although they might not be global brands today, the Eastside companies spotlighted in the following are claiming their own spaces in crowded industries — e-commerce, healthcare, marketing, among others — and in ways both inventive and imaginative.
Software and photography have captured David Vaskevitch’s interest throughout his lifetime.
He wrote his first software code at age 14; landed venture capital funding to start his first software company before the age of 30; and was living in Silicon Valley and working for 3Com Corporation, an early leader in computer networking technology, before the age of 40.
But it was at Microsoft that Vaskevitch became a major figure in the software industry. Hired in 1986 as the company’s first director of U.S. marketing, Vaskevitch worked there for 23 years, leading the development of Microsoft SQL Server, and reporting directly to Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer while serving as the company’s chief technology officer.
All along, Vaskevitch was drawn to photography, and he spent his free time on photo expeditions throughout the world. It wasn’t until Vaskevitch retired from Microsoft in 2009 that he decided to pursue an idea that would blend his interests in software and photography.
In 2012, he launched the startup company Mylio.
“Our motto is, ‘Changing the way the world remembers,’” Vaskevitch, 65, explained during an interview in the company’s roomy 10th-floor headquarters in downtown Bellevue — a space packed with Vaskevitch’s own wildlife photography, as well as paintings, sculptures, and other artwork that comingle with desks, computers, and work stations occupied by the company’s 25 employees. “The central thing Mylio has solved is how to organize the memories of a lifetime.”
Seated on a sofa in his office, Vaskevitch touched the screen on his iPad and offered a demonstration of Mylio.
“Let me start by explaining what Mylio is not,” he continued. “Mylio is not a product for serious photographers. I don’t mean serious photographers can’t use it. But it’s a placeholder for what I would call the middle market, people who care about their pictures and want to do more with them.”
At the high end, the most sophisticated photographers use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. At the low end, the casual photographer who shoots birthday parties and family vacations on his or her smartphone often turns to Google Photos or Apple’s iCloud photo library.
Mylio aims to reach a sweet spot between these two nodes. More than just another photo app in an already-crowded marketplace, Mylio stores photos, videos, scanned documents, and other materials.
As Vaskevitch views it, Mylio could appeal to the hundreds of millions of people looking for a better way to organize all their photos, but can’t afford or find all the storage space needed for those images. He also thinks the app could serve people who want to scan and save old family pictures from photo albums handed down through generations, as well as physical documents and other items.
For example, Vaskevitch tapped the screen on his iPhone X to show that he had nearly 540,000 photographs, videos, documents, and other items — a cache of material that would certainly strain the storage on most smartphones, tablets, and laptop computers. On Vaskevitch’s 256-Gigabyte iPhone, the storage was only half-full, thanks to what he described as proprietary compression technology that doesn’t compromise the quality of each image, video, or document.
“It’s unbelievable,” he explained. “It’s indistinguishable from the original. You can’t tell it apart.”
Perhaps even more curious, Mylio users can access all of their items at once without storing them to the cloud, and without being online.
“Google Photos will store all your pictures in the cloud for free, and then all of a sudden they are starting to offer you advertisements based on the contents of your photo,” Vaskevitch said. “Maybe that’s OK. I find it a little creepy. I like the idea that none of my pictures are in the cloud. They are all mine. They are all on my devices, and I get to decide what they are used for.”
During the demonstration, he scrolled through photographs of his mother in her childhood years, newspaper clippings from when his father died in a plane crash, and even his membership card to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City — all of which he scanned and uploaded to Mylio, and organized by decade, essentially flipping through the last 90 years of his family tree via his iPad, and all without accessing the cloud or the internet.
According to Vaskevitch, Gates, Michael Dell, and Salesforce founder and CEO Marc Benioff have invested in Mylio. About 10,000 people are using a free beta version of Mylio available on the company’s website. Of that number, about 1,200 people are paying between $8 and $21 per month for versions of Mylio with enhanced features.
The number of users is small, but that’s by design. Vaskevitch said the company has refrained from any big marketing pushes while it fully develops the beta version and brings Mylio to market.
“We are going to come out of our paid beta late this year or early next year, and then we are going to relaunch the product,” he said. “The main challenge we have is making the product simple enough, self-installing enough, and then creating awareness. I’m as excited about Mylio itself as I ever was.”
At any given moment, many of us can activate our smartphones and pull up the weather forecast with just a few screen swipes and all within a matter of seconds. It’s an amazing feat, really, considering all the data, modeling, and information compiled behind the scenes to provide such basic and essential information.
If we can accurately forecast something as complex as the weather using available data, why can’t companies do the same when it comes to reaching the right customers?
That question was top of mind for Chris Matty six years ago, as he was being bombarded with emailed offers from the likes of Groupon and Living Social on products and deals he would never use, from stores located far from where he lived and worked.
“I remember one time I got a great offer for a Brazilian wax in West Seattle,” Matty recalled. “I’m not the best candidate for a Brazilian wax, and I live probably almost an hour away from West Seattle when there’s traffic.”
Matty and business partner Kevin Marcus, who both had experience building technology around data at InfoSpace in Bellevue, decided to launch Versium Analytics, a company that applies advanced and proprietary automated AI and predictive modeling to large amounts of data (some publicly available, some purchased from commercial data aggregators) to better understand business and consumer behavior, buying patterns, and interests.
Through its product offerings, Datafinder and Predict, Versium Analytics was able to improve the results of T-Mobile’s small-business direct marketing nearly four-fold by building a predictive model for the telecommunications company.
“We looked at who was engaging and who wasn’t engaging in (T-Mobile’s) past campaigns, uploaded the data into our system, and pushed a button,” Matty explained. “We let our computer models look for the characteristics that correlate to the people that are buying. Once the model was trained, we could take a geographic area and score every business in that area as to their propensity to buy. The higher the score, the more likely someone is to buy or engage.”
In another example, Versium Analytics took a small sample of data gathered on customers who had previously signed up for a wealth management company’s services, then folded that data into a model that looked at large volumes of customer attributes, such as demographics, social behavior, purchase interests, and financial background. In the end, according to Matty, Versium Analytics was able to double the wealth management company’s marketing response rate.
Versium Analytics has raised about $4.3 million from angel investors, and employs approximately 30 people at its Redmond headquarters. According to Matty, Versium Analytics recorded its seventh consecutive profitable quarter in March.
For Matty, companies that wisely harness data in our increasingly data-driven world have an edge.
“That’s why Amazon is beating all these retailers,” Matty said. “They understand consumers well. They happen to be a data and technology company that is in commerce. Compare that to a traditional retail store that doesn’t understand anything about data. That’s what we’re looking to solve: work with those companies and give them that power to compete in the modern digital world.”
Consider Sanjay Chandiram the Amazon Whisperer.
Six years ago, the former management consultant was burned out and searching for a new career path. He wanted to replace the six-figure salary he earned by selling products on Amazon.
“Everyone said it couldn’t be done,” Chandiram, president and CEO of Bellevue-based Kaliber Global, recalled. “But I accomplished that in five months, which was awesome. I never looked back.”
At first, he scoured the clearance racks at Target and Walmart, and resold those items on Amazon from a computer workstation in his basement. He would sell on Amazon everything from toys to office supplies to protein bars.
But his biggest break came in 2014, when an Eastside toy manufacturer tapped Kaliber Global to help sell 5,000 units of a novelty toy sand-castle kit. The product sold out in five weeks, according to Chandiram, and he went on to help manage the company’s brand on Amazon for the next couple of years. He also started to hear from other companies asking whether his company could produce the same results for them.
Today, Kaliber Global works with manufacturers to produce its own line of branded products (Force1, USA Toyz, Party Sticks, and Livin’ Well), offering toys, drones, games, and party favors that are sold on Amazon and the company’s own individually branded websites.
The company’s revenue has grown from approximately $5.3 million in 2014 to approximately $26.3 million in 2016, according to Chandiram and employs more than a dozen people.
How has Kaliber Global cracked the code for turning products into best-sellers on Amazon?
Chandiram said his company is nimble when it comes to switching up its product selection based on what’s selling and what’s not. Kaliber Global also keeps on top of changes Amazon might make that could affect sales, such as product recategorizations, new fee structures for sellers, and evolving keyword indexing. And Chandiram believes that his company’s evolution as a small-time seller in 2012 to a top seller today has given him experience competitors lack.
“There is really no single factor (that is) responsible for our success,” he said. “It’s a combination of things.”
Looking ahead, Chandiram is optimistic about Kaliber Global’s future. “We’ve grown pretty rapidly,” he said. “I think we have plans to continue growing and reaching nine figures very soon.”
A Healthy Spark
In 2001, Dr. Darren White and three other colleagues created Worksite Wellness, a small organization that offered health and wellness services — on-site lunch-and-learn meetings, biometric testing, cooking classes, exercise classes, and even “desktop yoga” — to a couple hundred Puget Sound companies.
By 2007, however, the company’s name itself, Worksite Wellness, had become a term in the greater vernacular, and the brand was becoming diluted. Also, the rise of smartphones and tablets meant on-site worksite wellness programs were increasingly migrating to the web.
“As we started to lose clients, we thought, ‘Well, maybe we should just wind the whole thing down,’” White recalled. But when one of Worksite Wellness’ biggest clients, Fred Meyer, described how the company had improved its employees’ health while lowering healthcare costs, White instead decided to pivot.
Worksite Wellness morphed into the “human performance company” Aduro (Latin for “igniting a fire”), which has reimagined the old model of HR departments or employee assistance programs tasked with employee health and wellness.
Aduro created a suite of services — accessible via the company’s digital app or connecting live with a personal coach — around four main categories: Health and Fitness, Money and Prosperity, Growth and Development, and Contribution and Sustainability. Through Aduro, employees can set health and fitness goals, get advice on managing their 401(k) or student loan debt, improve their time management, and enrich their personal lives through community service and volunteerism. The employer pays for Aduro’s services, and participation is not mandatory.
Aduro has been effective at the Port of Seattle, which employs nearly 2,000 people and interacts with tens of millions of customers who pass through Seattle-Tacoma International Airport every year. As the Port of Seattle views it, customers are better served by employees who are happier and healthier.
“We pride ourselves on offering our employees a holistic approach to health that’s not just about nutrition and exercise,” said Manette Moses, health and services director at the Port of Seattle. “It’s about financial health, employee development, volunteering in the community, and designing a plan that fits you where you’re at. I have to say that our partnership with Aduro has been stellar.”
The tech-based health and wellness industry is competitive, but Aduro has emerged as a leader.
The company’s revenue has grown from $1.8 million in 2012 to $28.5 million in 2017, according to White, and its roster of approximately 165 clients includes Levi’s, Dairy Queen, TiVo, and Kellogg’s, as well just under 1 million end users.
Aduro employs just over 200 people, and the company recently moved into a newly renovated, $3 million headquarters in Redmond.
How has Aduro distinguished itself from its competitors?
“(Instead of saying), ‘OK. The client has a lot of diabetics. Let’s go alienate the diabetics and help get them better,’ we try to engage (employees) through the thing they care about at that moment, such as their finances or their career,” White explained. “We earn that relationship over time, and then when they do have a health opportunity, we work on that, as well. At the end of the day, the winner will be the company that really tries to solve this problem at the individual employee level.”
Engines of Innovation
Here are five other notable Eastside tech companies you should keep an eye on.
By Cole Paxton
A spinoff of Intellectual Ventures in Eastgate, Echodyne is backed by Bill Gates, Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital, and Madrona Venture Group. The company’s patented radar sensors help drones, autonomous vehicles, and heavy machinery operate. Echodyne scored $15 million in funding when it launched in 2014, and picked up $29 million more last year. echodyne.com
This 4-year-old IoT cybersecurity company made news in September, when one of its researchers discovered malware on a U.S. government website, and again this spring, when the same researcher discovered routers in Singapore that were vulnerable to hackers. newskysecurity.com
A cybersecurity outfit that uses an innovative and changing “attack surface” to thwart attackers on open source Linux distributions. Polyverse has landed $7 million in venture capital since it was created in 2015. polyverse.io
A medical device company that landed $5 million in venture funding, and aims to proactively diagnose strokes and heart attacks in people by using a laser-based medical camera. veravanti.com