By Chris Kenji Beer
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Back in the early internet days when people were paying attention to domain names, the market was more like a pioneer days gold rush. Susie Algard and her husband gobbled up what they estimated would become high-profile domain names, such as WhitePages.com, IndustrialSpace.com, CarDomain.com, and OfficeSpace.com. Domain names are highly valuable because they carry powerful brand marketing value. Algard’s husband Alex, for example, purchased WhitePages.com for just over $900 during college. It is a brand that is familiar to everyone. “Our goal was to build strong online businesses from the ground up,” says Algard. “We became a family-owned ‘Dotcom’ business through our own hard work.” The idea was to build quality consumer products, online consumer sites, with viable revenue streams around these sites.
The couple came to Seattle from our neighbor to the north, Vancouver, B.C., where they met in high school. She was born and raised there and studied at Canada’s top schools — McGill University and the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver. At UBC, Algard studied International Relations with the idea of joining the Foreign Service or the legal field.
Algard’s high school sweetheart and eventual husband founded WhitePages in 1997 as a hobby, while studying at Stanford University. The couple moved to the Seattle area, incorporated the company in 2000, and built a solid foundation for the business. “We set out to build a quality brand around WhitePages.com as a directory and information resource” on the web, similar to the yellow and white pages delivered to our homes. For the Algards, this meant in large part bootstrapping the businesses out of their own daily sweat equity (work for no or little compensation). In 2005, WhitePages raised $45 million in funding from Technology Crossover Ventures and Providence Equity Partners, which the Algards bought back for $80 million eight years later. From 2008 to 2013, the WhitePages directory grew to 180 million records and released a few mobile apps, including a redesign in 2009, which gave customers the ability to make changes to their contact information.
“We felt a need to move in another direction without being beholden to pressure from investors,” says Algard. It proved to be a good decision. From 2010 to 2016, the company shifted away from advertising revenue and began focusing more on selling monthly subscriptions to access information, such as individual contact information, background checks, and online security.
As founding member of WhitePages.com and its senior vice president for nine years from 2000 to 2009, Susie Algard was charged with perhaps the most challenging piece for startups — revenue. Algard managed and grew the WhitePages consumer business from $0 to over $50 million in revenue. Her hands on executive and management of key business relationships helped drive the early growth of the company. “I recruited, trained, and retained top talent, while ensuring infrastructure to scale the business across several locations.” She also led the charge to expand internationally and launched several new successful net-positive ROI revenue streams. “I have worn almost every hat as the company grew rapidly, including online ad sales, business development, and product marketing.” According to WhitePage.com Senior Vice President Maxwell Bardon, “Susie was a key contributor to the growth story at WhitePages. She is a very sharp, driven, and pragmatic business leader, who hires great people and can lead a team to do great things.”
After leaving WhitePages, Algard formed OfficeSpace.com in 2010, which is “a platform that helps tenants find office space and connect with local brokers in their area …OfficeSpace.com is a company that fills a niche in the work of acquiring office space.” While other platforms exist, they tend to take the broker agents out of the picture. They try to replace them with an online platform. “That’s not what we try to do. We actually help support agents and brokers in the businesses acquire and manage their office space clients, so there is no friction with the players in the industry … We connect business owner/decisionmakers to the brokers.” Algard drives the company’s vision, strategy and growth. As of December 2016, the company was serving over 200,000 users per month, and are on target to reach $1 million in revenue some time this year after, only two years of implementing their revenue streams.
Algard said the most difficult experience in her business career was not some catastrophic business deal gone bad, but the challenge of managing the work life while being five months pregnant during a critical period of her company’s growth.
Despite this, with two children and another one on the way, she credits her parents’ strong influence and husband who was with her every step of the way. Algard speaks of the advantages of family-owned businesses over being beholden to employers, a board, and especially investors. While she works diligently throughout the week, there is opportunity for she and her husband to manage a family life. “We make the effort to spend quality time with our children, and share all the responsibilities involved with parenting. Alex is an equal partner in our family life,” adds Algard.
Chris can be reached at email@example.com.