The Qpass Mafia: Digital Commerce Execs Wield Influence at Firms from Amazon to Zipwhip

Here’s an interesting “people” trend to start out the week. I always like hearing about Seattle-area tech companies that spawn huge amounts of entrepreneurial activity. Besides the obvious giants—Microsoft, Amazon, RealNetworks—there are a few notable smaller companies whose employees go on to influence an inordinate number of other firms. These connections don’t get covered in the press much; you have to follow the family tree to uncover some important relationships.

Earlier this year, for example, we pointed out that employees of Bellevue, WA-based Onyx Software have gone on to become CEOs of at least 13 other companies in the past few years. Besides strong talent, these employees shared solid fundamentals around teamwork and business operations, according to Onyx co-founder Brent Frei (now executive chairman of Bellevue-based Smartsheet).

I wonder if there’s something similar at work in another trend that has come to my attention: the influence of former employees of Seattle-based Qpass, the digital commerce company founded in 1997 that survived the dot-com crash and achieved a successful exit. In 2006, Qpass was acquired by Missouri-based Amdocs (NYSE: DOX) for $275 million. The company, which provided mobile services and payment processing software (e.g., for games and ringtones on carriers like Cingular, T-Mobile, and Alltel), among other products, had been backed by some $100 million in venture funding from Oak Investment Partners, SeaPoint Ventures, Venrock Associates, Westbury Partners, RRE Ventures, and others.

Now that Qpass’s integration into Amdocs is complete, a number of Qpass leaders have moved on to intriguing new projects. Some are prominent VCs—take Tom Huseby and Bill Bryant, who back companies like Ontela, Zumobi, and Mpire. But other execs are leading companies you don’t read about quite as much, like Datacastle, DropStation, Zipwhip, and stealth startups Doxo and Ground Truth.

I asked Sterling Wilson, a former Qpass president and eight-year veteran of the firm (now CEO of Ground Truth), what traits or skills these former Qpass employees share. Wilson didn’t give too many specifics, but he said the success of Qpass resulted from the following four factors:

—“Recruiting great employees and giving them the leeway to do their jobs.”

—“The market we served and the support of our customers.”

—“The ability of the leadership team to make tough decisions and to never give up, even in the face of tough odds.”

—“The support the company received from its venture investors.”

Without further ado, here is my initial list of the “Qpass mafia” (17 people total, including 6 CEOs), giving their former positions at Qpass and their current companies. It’s an impressive snapshot of a growing sphere of influence; let me know if I forgot anyone.

Jeff Arrowsmith (senior director of finance, Qpass)
COO of Tax Credit Group of Marcus and Millichap

Scott Blanksteen (head of business and corporate development, Qpass)
VP of product strategy at IceBreaker

Bill Bryant (co-founder of Qpass)
Venture partner at Draper Fisher Jurvetson … Next Page »

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