Since John Gabbert created PitchBook Data in 2007, the company's database has become indispensable to venture capitalists, equity investors and a broadening base of customers that includes consultants and salespeople.
EARLY DAYS: I grew up in a small town near the Bay Area but my family later moved to Redmond. I worked my way through the University of Washington cold calling for Dain Bosworth and Copiers Northwest. After graduation, I did the same for AT&T and John Hancock, making hundreds of sales calls a day. You develop a thick skin.
CAREER: In 1998, I moved to San Francisco to work for VentureOne Corporation [providing information and research to the venture capital investment industry]. In my nine years there, I had six titles and twice the number of roles, including director of operations leading HR and admin, head of worldwide research and managing director of private markets. I had a lot of general management experience.
EQUITY: VentureOne had a venture company database, but we also had private equity newsletters and a directory of alternative investment providers. My pitch was: “Why don’t we put the directory of investment providers in the database and add the deal data from the newsletters?” They weren’t interested, but I knew the customers wanted this product, so I decided to go out on my own.
STARTUP: For four years, I did 80- to 100-hour weeks. I would be the last one out leaving work, then I would get two pieces of pizza and a Coke — amazing fuel — and then close down the UCSF library or a coffee shop to organize and plan. I would try to catch the last 10 minutes of a late call-in radio show to decompress, thinking “at least I don’t have that problem.”
RAISING MONEY: I pitched to over 200 people who said no. Luckily, 18 people said yes: three in 2007, eight in 2008 and the rest in 2009. Morningstar was the last one in. That was a horrible time to be building a financial services firm, but we did the company for $100,000 less than the $3.8 million I had projected.
PRODUCT: People are shocked at the high-quality information we have. Every year, we add data that opens a whole new market. At first, it was a private equity deals database. Then we added the limited partners that invest in venture or equity funds. Today, we have 20,000 of those investors, so now it’s a fundraising tool. Then we added the public company data, making it a public comps tool, and venture capital data, making it interesting for companies like Microsoft interested in acquisition targets. With funds performance data, we became a benchmarking tool. Last year, we grew 67 percent. This year, 55 percent. We now have 650 employees and we’ll be at 725 by year end.
CULTURE: Our core value is that the customer is king. It’s on the wall, on our T-shirts and on our mugs. We have an incredibly high net promoter score [the percentage of customers who recommend the product] and we are proud of that. When someone sends an email and says thank you for your service, that’s the rewarding part.
MORNINGSTAR: When they acquired the entire business in December [valuing the company at $225 million], our initial investors received 50 times their money back. Morningstar is a good partner; they let us do our thing. We partner with them on fundamental public company data. They have the largest independent equity research group and we’re going to leverage their data in PitchBook.
FUTURE: We have over 100 people on product development. One initiative is a full platform redesign that will come out this summer so we can scale more easily into analytics and discovery. If you are interested in one company, we’ll give you the top 50 companies ranked on how similar they are. If someone is interested in bitcoin and blockchain or machine learning, how do they discover what is happening? We track all of those landscapes. We can map the market in 60 seconds — it’s incredibly powerful. We are also focused on providing actionable insight into your workflow on mobile. If you are a real estate broker and you learn that a company just raised $5 million, you can bet they are going to move offices soon. That info could be tied back into Salesforce to see if anybody has spoken to that company. There are tens of thousands of firms we can serve better — anybody who is selling on a B2B level.
VENTURES: We track over 30,000 venture-backed companies but there are fewer than 100 IPOs a year. The prospect for venture-backed companies [exiting] are not very good. But companies with an earnings history, [investors] are on like a rash — a good rash.
SEATTLE: It’s amazing how many venture firms, equity firms and buyout firms have started to make investments here. So capital is here; talent is here. I think the bigger challenge is the opioids, meth, homelessness. That’s the biggest inhibitor to the ecosystem. If the recent trajectory doesn’t change, people are going to start saying: “I’m not going to open an office in Seattle.”
TAKE 5: Get to Know John Gabbert
WHEELS: “I drove to work in my 2000 Toyota but I’m buying a new Ford truck. Trucks are cool.”
READING: “With four children between 4 and 16, we read things like the Hardy Boys. From an entrepreneurial perspective, I like Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. It’s about not quitting. It’s hard to grow unless you can suck it up and get out of your comfort zone.”
DREAM VACATION: “I would love to raft for a week the Salmon River in Idaho or the Grand Canyon.”
SF VS. SEATTLE: “As wonderful as the energy is in San Francisco, people can be myopic about startups. They’re overly obsessed with ideas of grandeur. It’s warped in many ways. Seattle is an incredible draw. I do a new-hire lunch every other week. At the last one, three of the nine people had moved to Seattle specifically to join PitchBook.”
NO RELATION: Gabbert is not the John Gabbert who founded Room & Board, the contemporary-furniture retail chain, but says, “I would love a friends-and-family discount there.”
EXECUTIVE Q+A RESPONSES HAVE BEEN EDITED AND CONDENSED.