The Onyx Connection: Seattle-Area Software Firm Spawns 13 CEOs

The Seattle tech family tree spreads far and wide. This morning, my San Diego-based colleague Bruce Bigelow published a story about Covario, a search engine marketing firm backed in part by Seattle’s Voyager Capital. The other Seattle connection there is that Covario’s CEO, Russ Mann, worked for Bellevue, WA-based Onyx Software in the glory days of the mid-to-late 1990s. Now, we have word that Mann embodies a larger trend, as one of at least 13 Onyx alumni who have moved on to become CEOs of their own companies.

Onyx was co-founded in 1994 by ex-Microsoft employees, including Brent Frei, who is now executive chairman of the Bellevue startup Smartsheet. Onyx, a maker of customer relationship management software, was bought by M2M Holdings for $92 million in 2006. The company was eventually beaten out by larger competitors like Siebel Systems, but the Onyx experience was apparently quite a formative proving ground for entrepreneurs.

Mann certainly seems proud of the experience. According to an Xconomy reporter, Mann was seen on Friday wearing a black polar fleece vest embroidered with the Onyx logo. I reached Frei for a comment about what Mann had learned at Onyx back in the day. “Russ is kind of like the Borg in Star Trek,” Frei says. “I think he’s learned the best things from a whole lot of people, and he has the drive and intellectual horsepower to turn them into success.”

Most interestingly, Frei says he’s aware of at least 13 employees who have moved on from Onyx to become CEOs of their own companies. “We had a heck of a talented group of folks at Onyx, and we all shared some very solid fundamentals around teamwork and business operations,” Frei says. “It’s evident in the success their companies are having under their leadership.”

Since this also dovetails nicely with the 711-company “Puget Sound Tech Universe” map unveiled by the Washington Technology Industry Association last week, I thought we’d share who these entrepreneurs and companies are, and where they are.

So here’s a not-quite-complete list of ex-Onyx CEOs (Frei listed eight of them off the top of his head—we’ll update the rest soon):

Mark Upson
AdmitOne Security (Issaquah, WA)

Brad Jefferson
Animoto (San Francisco, CA)

John Hawk
Bidadoo (Seattle, WA)

John Gravely
c360 (Atlanta, GA)

Russ Mann
Covario (San Diego, CA)

Andrew Bennett
Deneki Outdoors (Anchorage, AK)

Patrick Angelel
Creo Industrial Arts (Everett, WA)

Rob Eleveld
Shiftboard (Seattle, WA)

Mark Mader
Smartsheet (Bellevue, WA)

David Birnbach
Vaultus Mobile Technologies (Boston, MA)

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