By April Bourie –
For the 11th consecutive year, Tucson-based Simpleview is on the Inc. 5000 list, the national magazine’s annual ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in the United States.
With three-year sales growth of 58 percent and annual revenues of $32.1 million, the travel technology company took spot 4,376. Companies such as Microsoft, Dell, Domino’s Pizza, Pandora, Timberland and LinkedIn gained their initial national exposure as honorees of the Inc. 5000.
If you don’t work in the travel and tourism industry, you may not be familiar with Simpleview. Yet the company’s phenomenal success is well known among convention and visitors bureaus and other travel industry experts.
Simpleview’s clients include 38 of the top 50 U.S. convention destinations. The company employs more than 185 people and works with more than 400 customers throughout North America and around the world. With offices in Pittsburgh and Norway, the company is now the global company Ryan George and his fellow founding partners first envisioned
Founded in 2001, Simpleview provides destination marketing organizations (known as DMOs) with integrated customer relationship management and content management system platforms. It also offers benchmarking and reporting tools, responsive website creative and design, search engine optimization and digital marketing.
“We think of the company as a ‘customer-experience management’ company,” said George, Simpleview CEO and co-founder. “We provide destinations all of the digital marketing solutions that they need to promote leisure and business travel to their respective markets.”
According to George, Simpleview’s competitive edge is that it can provide either a single piece of a client’s digital marketing plan or be a one-stop shop. This option allows customers to streamline both the creation and management processes and to reduce their dependence on several different suppliers. “This saves our customers money and makes it easier to contact someone when there is an issue,” George said.
Simpleview’s evolution is as interesting as its success. While attending the University of Arizona, George worked as an accounting intern at a company called Heinfeld and Meech. This experience inspired George to choose accounting as his major and later declare a second major in management information systems. He finished both degrees in four years and stayed on at the firm after graduation.
To this day, he counts the founders, Gary Heinfeld and Nancy Meech, as mentors. They started their company from their kitchen table, and during George’s tenure were able to triple the number of employees.
Heinfeld and Meech saw potential in George, making him director of information technology responsible for starting their IT consulting division. It was at this time he hired Scott Wood, who today is Simpleview’s COO, and reconnected with and hired an old friend from elementary school named Bill Simpson, now Simpleview’s chief technology officer.
The IT consulting division quickly began focusing on database-driven applications and web design. Its clients were mainly school districts and local companies like Gadabout, the Central Arizona Project and the Metropolitan Tucson Convention and Visitors Bureau, now Visit Tucson.
Eventually, the strain of operating two completely different cultures within one business proved to be too much, so George, Simpson and Wood struck a deal with Heinfeld and Meech.
The three would continue to support all of Heinfeld and Meech’s internal systems for two years at no cost, while the three men would take their customers, servers and other equipment to start a new business under the name 220solutions. An additional $16,000 loan from George’s dad made the transition possible. The loan was repaid within three months and the company has been profitable ever since.
“At this point, we were a ‘we’ll-do-anything-for-money’ business,” said George. “But luck was on our side.” While working with Visit Tucson, George met Rich Reasons, the owner of a company called cvbTV, who was pitching a new database-driven website project.
As Visit Tucson’s technology partner, 220solutions was invited to the meeting. They quickly realized that combining 220solutions’ platform and Reasons’ connections would create a new travel technology company that could compete in the global marketplace.
Simpleview was born and the original vision for the company remains today – to be THE standard for integrated destination marketing solutions built on experienced leadership and meaningful relationships.
“These last two are a recurring theme in our company,” said George. “We built the company around leadership, relationships and technology, and we continue to focus on these aspects to make our company a success. I get my energy from staying connected to our people and our customers.”
George attributed the company’s success to a lot of hard work, a lot of luck and surrounding themselves with good people. “You get lucky every once in a while and have to learn to take advantage of the lucky moments. In addition, Scott and Bill are phenomenal and consistent leaders who are good at keeping everyone working toward the same vision. We also hire people smarter than us.”
Employee investment is an important tenet of the company. Each employee is budgeted $2,500 per year to use in the professional development programs of their choice. That comes to more than a quarter of a million dollars a year dedicated to professional development. “We’d rather over-educate our people and risk them leaving than under-educate them and keep them stagnant,” George said.
This investment sometimes pays off immediately. Because one of their email-marketing employees chose to attend a seminar on software that helps email marketers avoid the junk box, Simpleview was able to improve the effectiveness of one of its client’s email marketing campaigns.
In 2007 and 2011, Simpleview was named the “Best Place to Work” in the Wells Fargo Copper Cactus Awards. “We have always worked to make Simpleview a company that people genuinely want to be a part of – and that goes not just for our clients, but for employees too,” said George. “We’ve built our business on relationships and if employees aren’t happy, those relationships fail. Making Simpleview a great place to work isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also good business.”
To further cultivate customer relationships, Simpleview hosts a “users conference” attended by current and prospective clients. The conference hosts approximately 1,000 attendees each year over three days and shows attendees what the company does and how they can be more effective using Simpleview’s services to market their destinations. The conference also gives Simpleview employees a chance to connect face-to-face with their clients and potential clients and explain emerging trends.
Simpleview’s investment in customer relationships has paid off. “Simpleview helps hundreds of DMOs throughout the world better operate their businesses,” said Brent DeRaad, president and CEO of Visit Tucson. “Its customer-relationship management platform is an essential business tool that allows us to track and report data quickly and accurately to our stakeholders. We are proud to be one of Simpleview’s original customers.”
Word-of-mouth referrals are one of the company’s best sources of marketing. “The travel industry is a very tight-knit community and word travels fast,” George said. In addition, Simpleview markets itself through frequent attendance at trade shows – with five people on the road on any given day.
Even after all of his travels, George is happy to call Tucson home both for his family and for his company. Businesswise, Tucson was a great place to start Simpleview and continues to be beneficial to the company’s growth. “Had we tried to start in a larger community, our competitors would be clawing at the talent and make it much harder to succeed. There’s no place I’d rather live or start a business.”