Turn the corner on Church Street in Downtown Sandpoint, and it’s hard not to notice the large grey modern building that now houses the Kochava offices. The space used to house Inkwell—an office machine rental and office supply store—as well as a few doctors’ offices. Its upstairs was home to the local high school baseball team’s batting practice during the winter months. Before Kochava purchased it and moved its offices from the former Columbia Bank location in 2016, the large piece of real estate was rather rundown and far under serving its potential. “It wasn’t contributing to the local economy, and it’s a very large building in the middle of downtown,” says Kimberly Manning, the senior director of brand for the company and wife of CEO Charles Manning.
Originally from California and then Washington, D.C., the couple decided to make Sandpoint their home back in 2005, driven by the desire to create a better lifestyle in a smaller community with natural resources like the lake and the mountain. “No place had the combination of amenities that Sandpoint does. It’s really special, it’s really unique, and that led to our choice to be here,” says Manning. They arrived with a vision in place of starting a company that would fill the void in mobile analytics and attribution.
“We had already been hearing for several years, if your company is internet based, you really should be able to do it from anywhere. We kind of went into it thinking, ‘I get it in theory, we really have no idea if it will be proven out,’” smiles Manning. Over eight years since the founding of the company in 2011 and offices all over the world later, they’ve proven this theory cannot just work, it can thrive.
They named the company Kochava—a word that means star in Hebrew. “The idea is that we look in the night sky and you can see millions of stars with the naked eye, but there are billions that you can’t see, unless you have the right tool,” says Manning. “The stars are like data. You have these data points—some of which you can easily see—but many multiples more that you can’t without the right tools. Kochava provides those tools for our customers.”
The decision to start a tech company in the small mountain town of Sandpoint was no easy feat— partners in the Silicon Valley almost scoffed at the idea. But Charles Manning was dedicated to proving the fact that you could in fact work from anywhere—and do it well. “There was this forgone conclusion that it wasn’t possible, and that really impacted him to dig in and prove otherwise,” recalls Kimberly Manning. “That is underrecognized as a source of success for the company.”
There were benefits and drawbacks to the decision to base the company here. There is a much smaller work pool to choose from, and travel is not always easy. On the flipside, the cost is much lower, and there is less competition. “There’s only been a handful of serious competitors in the core space of attribution and analytics since our beginning, and we have held our own against those competitors, sort of against the odds because we’re much smaller,” says Manning. “We are an anomaly in that we’re located in a place like we are.”
Being a smaller company has its perks. For one, it’s able to adapt quickly and react more nimbly to customer needs. For another, it’s able to prioritize quality of life in its location offerings. Kochava might not have the huge private campus companies like Google and Facebook have in the Silicon Valley, but it’s been able to make the city of Sandpoint its campus, and to great success. “That really was the vision, allowing Sandpoint to be the campus and putting the company in the middle of it.” Manning laughs, “I think we really contribute to happy hour in Sandpoint.”
Location is at the center of Kochava’s culture. Recruiting may be difficult this far from a large tech center and university programs that specialize in computer science, but retention is high. Employees who are here really want to be here.
“If they can have a relevant job working on interesting global technology and live where they want to live, they’re very happy about that combination,” says Manning. “So we tend to have a company culture that is one of gratitude and hard work and willingness to dedicate themselves to what they’re doing here, and I think that is hard to quantify but it’s very unique. That’s a really good foundation for a great team.”
Employees at Kochava embrace the mountain lifestyle. They are in Sandpoint because they want to be here. Skiing, mountain biking, running, lake sports—all are central to the lifestyle of Sandpoint, and people have unparalleled access to these activities, access they wouldn’t have living in a place like San Francisco. “It costs more, it takes longer, it’s crowded, it’s difficult,” muses Manning. “Sandpoint is a breath of fresh air compared to that.”
Every year Kochava hosts Kochava Summit for their customers and partners called with the aim of highlighting “Why Sandpoint?” “We felt like if you could spend a day or two here, you would get it,” smiles Manning. Now catering to a couple hundred people and at capacity, the event includes seminars, workshops and local outdoor activities. “It’s become a really sought-after industry event,” says Manning. Kochava partners with local businesses for the event, and even works with Schwietzer to offer its guests an experience on the mountain. The Kochava team estimates the impact on the local economy from the three days in February the Summit convenes is around $250,000—a key boon to the local economy during a time of the year not much else is happening.
Kochava works to get involved in the Sandpoint communities in other ways beyond its location and Kochava Summit. It supports various nonprofits in the city like the Panhandle Alliance for Education—the focus for its giving is quality of life in Sandpoint and education.
“There are a lot of people in this town who volunteer a tremendous amount of time to work on what they believe in, and where we can come in and partner with the people who are on the ground doing that work, we really enjoy being able to do that,” says Manning.
Because Sandpoint is so small, the results of charitable giving can actually be seen and appreciated. “If we were in a larger city, many of the things that we do would be a drop in the bucket,” says Manning. “Here you can make a big impact with what we’re able to contribute, and it’s very rewarding. ... It’s a great honor and privilege for us and for the team in general to be able to support the things that we care about and that make Sandpoint great.”