Raghu Raghavvan plans to keep his company, Act-On, in Oregon. In 1998, he moved Responsys, a company he co-founded, to California with nearly disastrous results. "It was awful," he says. // PHOTO BY TERESA MEIER
Raghu Raghavan was building web apps before there were web apps, and selling software-as-a-service before there was SaaS. A native of Bangalore, India, who came to Oregon to join the then-tiny team at Mentor Graphics in 1983, Raghavan plans to build his new email marketing company, Act-On, from a dozen employees to more than 30 by the end of 2011. And he plans to do so in Oregon, not Silicon Valley.
His desire to keep his business local flows from experience. Raghavan co-founded Responsys in 1998 and moved that company from Oregon to California partly to appease investors who had poured “a mountain of money” into the company – north of $60 million. Then came the dot-com crash, followed by what Raghavan calls “intense investor meddling.” The company barely survived the bloodbath. “They decimated the Oregon team and left all the underperforming guys in Silicon Valley,” says Raghavan. “It was awful.”
Raghavan and his team ended up saving Responsys from collapse and turning the company around (it recently filed for an initial public offering that could prove quite profitable for Raghavan), but not before vowing never again. So in the fall of 2009, when a major California firm offered $5 million to grow Act-On with the condition that he move the company to the valley, Raghavan declined. “It’s our idea,” he says. “We built it. And it’s going to succeed where we are.”
Raghavan decided to grow the company on his own, hiring salespeople to prove customers were interested in Act-On’s all-in-one marketing package. In November he landed $4 million from Voyager Capital and U.S. Venture Partners, along with a promise that the investment team was not interested in forced relocations.
Raghavan says Act-On sells its services to 160 customers, among them Siemens, Motorola and Roseburg Forest Products. He’s developed a sales team in Sacramento and a technical team in Bangalore, but the bulk of the resources are going into Oregon. The company is expected to grow out of its office space in Beaverton soon, and Raghavan is considering moving to Portland’s central eastside, a lively neighborhood for innovative young companies.
Raghavan says he likes what he sees in Oregon’s tech sector, especially as technical advances continue to bring down the costs of launching startups. “It will never be like Silicon Valley here,” he says. “But we don’t need that. As long as we have a steady number of new companies doing well, that’s right for Portland.”