Below is an article originally written by John Pletz, Senior Reporter at Crain's Chicago Business, and published on June 26, 2019. This article is about PowerToFly Partner Relativity. Go to Relativity's page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.
Two big questions in Chicago tech just got answered: What's Mike Gamson, one of the city's most seasoned executives and investors, going to do next? What's ahead for Relativity, one of the city's most closely watched, high-growth companies?
Gamson, who left a top job at LinkedIn earlier this year, takes over as CEO of Relativity from founder Andrew Sieja, who will become executive chairman July 1.
Relativity, a maker of document-management software that's used by nearly all the 200 largest law firms in the country, has quietly grown to 1,000 employees. It has one of the largest engineering teams in Chicago and is seen as one of a handful of potential long-term winners and IPO prospects.
The move at Relativity defies an oft-cited weakness of a Chicago tech scene that's still looking to catch up to more established players such as Seattle, Boston and Austin, Texas. Chicago has a limited pool of experienced tech executives who've "seen the movie before" and can step in and guide a promising company to bigger and better things. Gamson, who joined LinkedIn in 2007 but was based in Chicago, certainly qualifies. He oversaw a sales force that grew from a handful of people to more than 5,000 employees in 36 cities around the world, generating more than $6 billion in revenue.
Gamson and Sieja are both humble but successful members of the Chicago tech community who have kept relatively low public profiles. Sieja, a self-taught coder, started a software company, then called kCura, in 2006. "I'll still come to work every day," the 42-year-old says.
Gamson, who joined Relativity's board two years ago, says, "This is Andrew's company. I've been fortunate to have worked inside a company (LinkedIn) where a founder transitioned to executive chairman from CEO and it played out to great success."
Relativity was largely under the radar until four years ago, when Iconiq Capital invested $125 million. The San Francisco-based fund, whose investors include Mark Zuckerberg and Sam Zell, is known as patient capital. But the investment immediately set off chatter about whether Sieja's company was potential IPO material.
Hiring Gamson will only amplify the speculation, although Caroline Xie, a vice president at Iconiq, says, "We spend almost no time talking about exits with our portfolio company partners (including Relativity), and while we know it is important to some investors, we have taken a slightly different view and find it sometimes can conflict with building durable businesses and making decisions for the long term."
Chicago has had few tech IPOs recently, and certainly none of them exploded to the scale of LinkedIn, a social media platform for professional networking and a recruiting tool for companies. It went public in 2011 with a valuation of $4.5 billion and sold to Microsoft five years later for $26 billion when it had more than 10,000 employees.
Gamson easily could have remained in the background as a tech investor after riding the LinkedIn wave from startup to IPO and through the Microsoft acquisition. But the 45-year-old Highland Park native has made it a personal goal to help boost the size and reputation of Chicago's tech community. One way to do that is to build a multibillion-dollar flagship tech company.
The only thing Gamson will say is, "We want to be an enduring company in the constellation of tech companies that matter on a global scale that solve big problems . . . building world-class technology that's interesting to work on."
Sieja also ducks the IPO question. "We're all thinking about the long game."
PIECES FALL IN PLACE
For the past couple of years, Sieja has been assembling an experienced senior management team, the kind that would be needed to both build a much bigger company and win investor confidence. Among the hires are Keith Carlson, chief technology officer, who was a top executive at Amazon Web Services, and Amanda Fennell, chief security officer, who worked at Zurich Insurance, Dell and Symantec.
Sieja, who frequently mapped out the future of his company years in advance and has the sketches to prove it, says he met Gamson by chance a few years ago after an introduction by a mutual friend. Without it, "I don't know if I would have made the decision to do this," he said. "It was a great opportunity."
He says he asked himself, "Am I really the right guy to lead the company indefinitely? I could probably muscle my way through it, but the company is way better served with an experienced, super-competent and charismatic leader."
LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, who has invested in Chicago startups with Gamson, calls him "one of the most naturally gifted leaders I've ever worked with. He's always dreamt of being a CEO at some point. Coupled with his personal mission to accelerate the success of Chicago's startup ecosystem, this next play couldn't be a better fit."
Gamson became one of Chicago's most active startup investors over the past several years, largely out of public view. He declines to say how many companies he backed but says he has wound down most of his board commitments to focus on Relativity.
HOW BIG CAN IT GET?
Under Sieja, Relativity has made its mark by having one of the largest technology teams in Chicago. Whether it can become a juggernaut remains to be seen.
Sieja declines to disclose the company's revenue, but it's believed to be in the low nine figures.
Relativity counts nearly all of the 200 largest U.S. law firms as users, as well as big consulting firms, which means it's connected in some way to three-fourths of the 100 largest publicly traded companies.
Sieja says Relativity could triple the size of the business by continuing a move to cloud-based subscription software, getting a bigger share of industry spending on electronic discovery. It also aims to grow beyond the legal business.
Relativity is not only moving from customers' own computer servers to the cloud—it has evolved from pure data intake to more sophisticated analytics fueled by artificial intelligence.
It developed a new product called Trace to spot and prevent problems. Relativity's core product generally has been used to investigate misconduct after the fact. Sieja and Gamson also see opportunities in compliance and surveillance, which can take Relativity beyond law into other industries, such as trading and banking.
Gamson, who is soft-spoken but relentlessly upbeat, doesn't hesitate to sketch a bold vision for the company. "Relativity's mission, to organize data and discover the truth so that others can act on it, is something that the world needs right now."
Sort of the way Chicago needs a breakout tech success.