When rumours started circulating last month that casual game maker PopCap was about to be sold for more than $1 billion, a lot of people were surprised.Pop who?
The reason: PopCap is based in Seattle.
The city is a tech hub — and the fastest-growing tech jobs market in the U.S. — but it’s still small and isolated enough to have a tight-knit and insular startup scene.
While Seattle companies get a lot of love in the local press, they don’t get as much national attention as companies based in California and New York.
We surveyed several big investors and company founders who are plugged into the Seattle startup scene and came away with 14 private companies you need to pay attention to. Some of them aren’t exactly tiny startups — but neither was PopCap when it got bought, and you hadn’t heard of it, either.
Cheezburger -- it started with funny cat pictures, but now gets as much traffic as the Wall Street Journal.
The Cheezburger Network -- the company behind LOLcats, Failblog, and a bunch of other simple sites that somehow became Internet phenomena -- raised a $30 million round in January. The old folks don't get it, but one insider tells us the network now has about the same traffic as the Wall Street Journal. It hasn't come close to making as much money per user, but where the users go, the ad bucks follow.
Swype makes a software keyboard for touch screens that lets users enter text by swiping their fingers across the letters instead of typing, enabling speeds of up to 40 words per minute. It shipped on more than 26 million phones last year.
Cofounder Cliff Kushler invented T9, the shorthand system for entering text on standard phone keypads, which is used on more than 2.4 billion phones worldwide.
Geocaching is a real-world game where people hunt for 'caches' of information using GPS devices, and this Seattle company is the owner of Geocaching.com, the official hub for the game. And in case you're prone to dismiss it as some weirdo trend, the site notes that there are more than 5 million active geocachers around the world, and they submitted nearly 6 million logs in the last month.
The company also has a couple of other location-based services, including Waymarking.com, which lets people mark and catalogue interesting locations around the world.
It's not exactly a startup -- the company was founded in 2000 -- but it's still largely under the radar.
Decide.com was founded by a rock star tech team to bring consumers bargains on consumer electronics gear.
Decide.com is a newcomer, but it made the list of every single one of our sources. The company was co-founded by Oren Etzioni, who created Farecast -- the predictive airfare technology that Microsoft bought for more than $100 million back in 2008 and built into Bing Travel.
This time, the team is applying similar technology to consumer electronics gear. The site tells you whether prices are likely to rise or fall on a particular tech item, and also whether it's about to be obsoleted by a newer model.
Apptio sells a cloud-based service for managing IT costs, and boasts customers like Microsoft and Facebook. It's not sexy, but the company has raised more than $35 million from investors, including an oversubscribed $20 million round in November 2010, with a big investment from Cisco, along with Andreessen Horowitz, Greylock, Madrona, and Shasta Ventures.
Several of our sources named this maker of search engine optimization (SEO) software, and one told us it's being stalked by Silicon Valley VCs looking to fund a monster round. Minus -- weird name. Plus -- cute robot!
PopCap just sold for $1.3 billion. Now, the Seattle gaming community is waiting to see who will buy Big Fish, and for how much. Or maybe it will be the next hot gaming IPO after Zynga. The company, which makes and distributes games for every imaginable platform, passed $100 million in annual revenues back in 2009 and 1 billion downloads last year. It's not exactly a startup -- it was founded in 2002 -- but neither was PopCap.
This company has been around since 2000 and makes RFID chips -- tiny chips that transmit little bursts of information over short distances -- and readers for them. RFID technology is widely used in shipping and retail, and the company's customers include Wal-Mart and Banana Republic. Impinj filed for a $100 million IPO in April, and revealed that it had lost $11 million on $39 million in revenue in 2010.
This site has been delivering TV guides, news, information, and other content to television fanatics since 2005. More recently, Buddy TV has begun releasing mobile apps that not only provide information about what's on TV, but can also replace your remote control. It's also working on an app for Google TV, which it showed off at Google's I/O conference earlier this year.
Giant Thinkwell creates celebrity-branded games for Facebook. It just emerged from the TechStars incubator and is at a much earlier stage than every other company on this list, and it doesn't really belong in the same category -- except almost every person we spoke with brought it up. That's probably because it just released a Facebook game that featured 1980s hip-hop star -- and Seattle celebrity -- Sir Mix-a-Lot.