Concur Co-founder Raj Singh on How Surviving the Dotcom Bust Shaped the Company Culture and How Mobile Has Changed its Course (Part 1)

7/8/10

Seattle was one of the hardest hit regions during the dotcom boom and subsequent crash of the early 2000s. The companies that were able to survive the fall, however, were grandfathered into a strong regional, and once again booming, technology industry. One of these survivors—now a veteran on the local tech scene—is Redmond, WA-based Concur (NASDAQ: CNQR), a travel and expense reporting software developer.

And while travel and expense reporting software may not sound like the hottest product on the shelves these days, according to co-founder, president, and chief operating officer Rajeev Singh, the company has found a way to maintain rapid growth by shifting away from business services and into the fast-evolving mobile scene.

Singh has seen lots of trends come and go. When Raj and a man named Mike Hilton first founded the company in August of 1993, the two worked out of Raj’s apartment, hiring people with their own money until their first round of funding came through a year or two later. The goal then was to help businesses easily and efficiently manage their expense reporting, before the Internet. Now, 17 years later, all three are still part of the company. While the services they aim to provide have stayed the same, Raj says it’s the solutions that have changed, largely because of the increasing shift toward mobile technology.

Today, Concur products are used by some 10,000 small and large businesses around the world to track day-to-day expenses via traditional, mobile, and cloud-based platforms. The company was one of the first to have products offered in the new Google Apps Marketplace for businesses back in March. Over the last few months, the company has also rolled out new products that allow businesses and their employees to better manage every element of their trip—from hotel reservations to taxi cab pickups—from a mobile device, while also automatically inputting all transaction information into the expense report.

I had the opportunity to speak with Raj last week, just after the company released a few more mobile apps for its Concur Breeze mobile expense reporting system. Alongside its unique history, Raj talked about how the mobile industry has changed Concur’s course and where he sees the company going five years down the line. Here are some of the highlights from the first half of our conversation. Tomorrow, we’ll have the second half.

X: What’s your two-minute company history?

Raj Singh: We started in August of ’93…but in ’93, ’94 there was no web. There was no capacity to build applications that are going to be delivered over the Internet…It wasn’t until ’98 that the company really hit stride…We were probably at the time a less than 100-person company doing less than $10 million in revenues. But then the web happened, and by ’96 we were building a web application. By ’98, our web application on the market for expense reporting really exploded—we grew like mad—and so we took our company public at the end of 1998, so right before the giant dotcom boom of 1999/2000. We were one of the first companies to go public in ’98. We would go through that whole rollercoaster of ’98 through 2001/2 and we were lucky, actually, in that we were one of the only companies that survived that rollercoaster ride.

At the top of the dotcom boom it was craziness—there were companies doing $20-$30 million in revenue that were worth a billion dollars in terms of market cap. It was nuts! And so we were a company whose market value skyrocketed during the boom, and then absolutely tubed when the crash came. And what we’re really proud of is that 99 percent of all companies whose stock goes down below a dollar fail.They go out of business, they get acquired, they go away. We were one of the few that stuck it out, and we survived. And a big reason we survived was in 2002/2003 we saw a trend coming … Next Page »

Thea Chard is a correspondent for Xconomy Seattle. You can e-mail her at theachard@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/theachard. Follow @

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