Gnip’s Old, New Bosses Open Up About Recent Leadership Change

6/21/13Follow @MichaelXBD

Gnip, one of Boulder’s top tech companies, has reshuffled its executive team, and in an interview Friday the company’s new and old CEOs explained why.

Gnip co-founder Jud Valeski is stepping aside from the CEO job and will become the company’s chief technology officer. Chris Moody, who spent about two years as Gnip’s president and chief operating officer, will replace Valeski.

Gnip’s ambition is to be “the source of record for all social media conversations,” Moody said. To do that, it has partnerships with social media powerhouses like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr to collect public postings. Gnip collects, packages, and sells the social media data to social media monitoring companies, financial firms, and business intelligence companies, among others.

According to Gnip, it delivers about 4 billion “social activities” each day, and 95 percent of Fortune 500 companies receive analytics from data originally collected by Gnip.

During Valeski’s tenure, Gnip has rebounded from early difficulties and grown to more than 70 employees. The company does not release numbers about revenue or customers, but Valeski said it hopes to double the number of employees over the next year or so.

Valeski was a first-time CEO when he took the helm of Gnip, and after leading it through its startup and early growth stage, Valeski said it felt like time to turn over the reins.

“We’re making a change like this on an upslope, which is actually very interesting and powerful,” Valeski said. The move was about “getting everything in the right place to move us forward.”

A “confluence” of factors like customer, revenue, and headcount growth brought Gnip to a point where Moody’s skills and experience were more appropriate for what the company wanted in its CEO, Valeski said.

“There wasn’t a perfect date or scale metric that said, ‘If we cross this threshold, we should make a change.’ There was nothing like that,” Valeski said.

As president and COO, Moody has been handling more and more of the executive duties over the past year while helping shape Gnip’s strategy, Valeski said.

“From my perspective, relatively little [is changing] operationally,” Valeski said. “He’s had significant input into how Gnip has been run for quite some time.”

Gnip’s leadership also felt it needed a full-time CTO. Valeski was the CTO during Gnip’s early years, and the company has not had an official CTO since he became CEO three-and-a-half years ago.

The position will allow Valeski to focus on keeping up with the rapidly changing social media industry and determine how to serve the ever-evolving needs of clients.

“That is Jud’s sweet spot,” Moody said. The move “is a great way to leverage some core strengths that he has that he hasn’t been able to focus on as much in his CEO role.”

Success has created new challenges for Gnip the company needs to address, Valeski said. First, there’s the vast increase in the amount of posts, photos, tweets, and check-ins Gnip needs to collect. Gnip also has to deliver that much more data to customers.

“As our customer base grows, so does the amount of data we have to move out the back door to them. As our partnerships with publishers increase in number, which they’ve steadily been doing over the past number of years, the inbound bandwidth and volume requirements are increasing as well,” Valeski said.

Managing that traffic has and will require infrastructure and software upgrades, and that will continue, Valeski said.

Gnip has emerged as one of the leaders in its industry and grown to be one of Colorado’s leading software companies. But the company’s ascent has not always been smooth, and Valeski said he reminded the dozens of employees added over the past three years how far they have come.

Valeski divides Gnip’s five-and-a-half year history into roughly three phases. The first stage was spent trying to understand the new and rapidly evolving social media industry—back when Gnip was incorporated in early 2008, Myspace was valued at $12 billion and beat Facebook in the Alexa rankings.

Gnip spent its early years “trying to figure out what social data meant, and who would consume it, and who would pay for it, and what should the software look like,” Valeski said.

“Nothing had any clarity or definition, and we were flailing around trying to create some clarity and definition,” he said. “There were lots of fits and starts, and lots of failures.”

During that time, Gnip began to see who its customers were and what it needed to deliver to them. So it pivoted away from its initial focus of delivering data from one social media network to another, shed seven of its 12 employees, and co-founder and then-CEO Eric Marcoullier left the company.

The second phase was spent developing a product and building relationships. It culminated in a syndication agreement with Twitter that made Gnip the first company able to sell data collected from the Twitter firehose. Gnip now has access to the archive of every public tweet in Twitter’s history.

The final and current phase has been scaling up as Gnip added customers and formed partnerships with all the major social media platforms. Moody has been instrumental in overseeing that, Valeski said.

Gnip has managed to grow largely on the strength of its own revenue. It has raised a total of $6.6 million with the last round coming in November 2010, according to SEC filings. Foundry Group, SoftTech, and First Round Capital are investors.

Michael Davidson is the editor of Xconomy Boulder/Denver. He covers startups, venture capital, clean tech, energy, aerospace, telecoms, and whatever else happens above 5,280 feet. Contact him at mdavidson@xconomy.com. Follow @MichaelXBD

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