I used to roll my eyes when I heard Microsoft executives saying over and over that Web search is still primitive. It sounds like sour grapes...

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I used to roll my eyes when I heard Microsoft executives saying over and over that Web search is still primitive.

It sounds like sour grapes — a way to bash Google and coax shareholders into holding on just a little bit longer.Then I met Glenn Hasen, and I realized how true it is.

Hasen runs one of those enterprise software companies in Seattle you never hear about until they’re sold.

Called QL2, the company provides what it calls market intelligence to big businesses, including half or more of the top airlines, rental-car companies, online travel sites and pharmaceutical manufacturers.

The market intelligence is advanced Web search — data gathering that really does make Google, Yahoo and Windows Live feel archaic.

It is evidence that far better search technology is already available, but it’s not being given away to consumers as a free Web service, at least not yet.

Instead, QL2 serves about 300 customers willing to pay $60,000 a year or more to have precise information at their fingertips.

Like Google, QL2 constantly scours the Web and adds the newest information to its databases. But QL2’s specialty is harvesting unstructured data and information hidden behind registration gateways.

Drug companies use QL2 to keep tabs on research and products moving through the regulatory pipeline.

Airlines use QL2 to see competitors’ flights and prices, so they can adjust their offerings. If you’ve traveled within the past 30 days, QL2 influenced the price of your tickets, Hasen said.

No wonder it seems harder to find great deals on the Web nowadays. Vendors are using better search tools than consumers and constantly optimizing their prices, making hidden bargains less likely.

Competitive marketing isn’t new. Companies have always done it internally, Hasen explains. What QL2 does is automate the data collection and provide data sets that companies load into their research systems.

“They want their analysts analyzing, not going out and cutting and pasting into a spreadsheet,” he said.

QL2’s sales have grown more than 50 percent a year for the past three years and now exceed $10 million. Hasen expects a 75 percent gain this year.

In Pioneer Square, QL2 is renting as much space as it can find in its building, where it has 40 employees, with plans to add 22 more in 2008.

One room in the office has a 6-foot-tall stack of laptops waiting for new employees to grab and go.

“It’s kind of managed chaos — there are so many balls moving at any one time,” Hasen said.

Including an Atlanta office focused on the travel business and a crew in New Delhi, QL2 employs about 102.

The company has operated quietly since it was founded in 2003 by tech consultant Kelvin Chin and a partner.

But since it crossed the $10 million mark, the company’s coming out of its shell, trying to raise its profile and mulling its first outside investment since an early angel contribution.

QL2 is also bulking up its management. Hasen was hired in July from a competitor, Kapow Technologies in Silicon Valley. Earlier, the Ontario native was an executive at Vancouver, B.C.-based Pivotal Software.

Last month QL2 hired Rob Gilde, former product-development lead at F5 and Lockdown Networks, as chief technology officer.

Bigger companies are interested, but QL2 wants to keep growing for a few more years before it sells or goes public, Hasen said.

I asked Hasen if there’s a risk Google and Microsoft will catch up and start offering similar data in their search results a few years from now.

“We’ll be part of them,” he said with a wry smile. I think he was only partly joking.

Brier Dudley’s column appears Mondays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or bdudley@seattletimes.com.