Winshuttle Is Doubling Revenues Every Year, Looking to Win the Data “Shuttling” Battle
It might be the most successful software startup you’ve never heard of. Last year, Bothell, WA-based Winshuttle was ranked 124th on the “Inc. 5000″ list of fastest-growing private U.S. companies—and sixth in Washington state. It has been doubling its sales every year for the past four years, and now has some 400 corporate customers including Starbucks, Nike, Johnson & Johnson, and Proctor & Gamble.
So what does Winshuttle make? Software to help big companies manage huge reams of data. More specifically, software to bridge the gap between familiar programs like Excel, which anyone can use, and sophisticated business-management software put out by German software giant SAP. That may sound a little boring, but here’s some context: 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies use SAP software to run aspects of their business, everything from accounting and inventory to manufacturing and human resources. In most cases, the SAP software requires users such as accountants, supply-chain managers, and human-resources workers to get specialized support from their company’s IT department, and to enter data manually, which can take a lot of time. Winshuttle’s software is designed to make this data “shuttling” between SAP and Excel spreadsheets automatic and fast—with no IT call needed.
The company is led by CEO and co-founder Vikram Chalana, who did his Ph.D. in bioengineering at the University of Washington (with Xconomist Yongmin Kim) before going into the software business. “Vikram is one of the best entrepreneurs in the area,” says Bill Bryant, a partner at Draper Fisher Jurvetson who is familiar with the company. But what’s really interesting, he says, is how Winshuttle got to where it is. “The company has been built organically, without a penny of outside financing.”
Winshuttle began in 2003, when Chalana and fellow co-founder Rajat Oberoi took over an early version of the software from Rockwell-Collins consultant Mickey Shah, who already had half a dozen customers. “We put our houses on second and third mortgages, were living on credit cards, and not paying ourselves a salary,” says Chalana of the early days. “We built a culture to keep costs low, not spending more than we could bring in.”
Anyone doing a startup these days can certainly appreciate that challenge. “For instance, marketing is important, but can cost a lot of money,” he says. “We hooked up with Google AdWords, and it worked beautifully. Half of our customers have found us from Google—at very low cost.”
The key to being able to bootstrap, it seems, was having a working product that was easy to use. Customers could download the software and start working with it in 15 minutes, says Chalana. Within an hour, it would be up and running, loading data and mapping it between data-entry fields in Excel and SAP. “To get business user adoption, the learning curve has to be really quick,” he adds.
By 2005, word-of-mouth referrals from Winshuttle customers were starting to pour in, many from SAP user-group meetings. The company could start to build a sales and marketing team. “We did things in small increments,” Chalana says. “Once enough revenue came in, we hired a sales manager and built the team out slowly.”
Last year the company did more than $5 million in sales, and is projected to do $10 million this year. It’s up to 60 employees, about half in Bothell and the other half in offices in France, England, and India, where most of the development is done. And there are no signs of slowing down. “We’re in a really large market space,” says Chalana, who points out that some 40,000 companies currently use SAP. “We can grow really fast organically still, to 10 times where we are now, to $50 to 100 million [in revenues], easy.”
What does the future hold? Chalana says the goal is to expand into other areas where software customers have problems—such as similar data transfers with Oracle programs, for starters. Winshuttle is still debating whether to take venture capital at this point. The real tradeoff, says Chalana, is that if there’s an offer on the table to acquire the startup, the timing of the exit can be determined by the venture firm. Which says something about where the company is headed. “We can keep running the company for a long time,” he says. “But if IBM, Microsoft, or SAP wants to buy us, we’ll talk to them.”