Updated to include Ansible’s $100M sale to Red Hat in October 2015. Here’s the story and read below for the top M&As of the decade.
Originally posted April 27, 2015:
There was plenty of speculation about historical Triangle mergers and acquisitions activity last Thursday when Bronto announced its $200 million sale to publicly-traded NetSuite. To get to the bottom of it, we collaborated with the Council for Entrepreneurial Development to rank and detail the top 10 (reported) tech M&A deals in the Triangle over the last 10 years.
Here they are, in order of size:
One of the nation’s largest owners and operators of cell phone tower sites, the Cary company was sold to Boston-based American Tower.
Price tag: $3.1B
Closing date: August 2005
How it went down: SpectraSite had amassed nearly 8,000 wireless and broadcast antenna towers in metropolitan areas across the U.S. and American Tower wanted to supplement its tower dominance along highways and in rural areas. According to MarketWatch at the time, the company was also on an acquisition spree to pull way ahead of its nearest competitors in the space. The acquisition of SpectraSite grew American Tower’s site count to 22,600. But the news wasn’t good for everyone reported the Triangle Business Journal—SpectraSite filed bankruptcy just three years before the sale leaving many original investors with nothing after it. And at least half the 350 local employees lost their jobs within a year.
Where they are now: Founder Stephen Clark quickly purchased a plot of land for residential development in Ocean Isle Beach. He also joined Intersouth Partners as a venture partner a year later. Now he’s the owner of Sunfresh Produce in Sarasota, Fla. Former president Dale Carey in 2012 formed Eco-Site Inc. in Chapel Hill with the aim to raise $80 million to build cell towers on brownfields and in blighted urban areas. COO Timothy Blitz became CEO of Virginia-based fiber Internet service provider Lumos Networks in 2012.
Another Cary-based wireless tower operator—the fifth largest in the nation at the time—TowerCo was acquired by SBA Communications of Boca Raton, Fla.
Price tag: $1.45B
Closing date: October 2012
How it went down: Consolidation in the industry happened as wireless customers wanted faster and better service. TowerCo offered SBA 3,252 additional antenna sites in 46 states. TowerCo was founded by former SpectraSite vice president Richard Byrne and had some high-profile investors like Soros Strategic Partners, owned by billionaire financier George Soros, and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital. The company continues to operate in Cary.
Where they are now: Byrne remains president and CEO and cofounder Scot Lloyd remains COO.
3. Relias Learning
The Cary-based maker of educational software for training in healthcare and social service fields was acquired by Europe’s largest media group Bertelsmann SE & Co. (owner of Penguin Random House).
Price tag: $540M (reported but not confirmed)
Closing date: November 2014
How it went down: Relias was formed when private equity firm Vista Equity Partners acquired two other educational software companies and merged them to start as a 15-man operation in a Cary strip mall. Silverchair Learning Systems of Charlottesville, Va. provides online education for the senior care and assisted living industries and Essential Learning of San Diego targets workers in behavioral care, family services, corrections, hospice and autism care. The company grew quickly over two years to 250 employees, and announced plans to hire 400 more after the acquisition.
Where they are now: CEO Jim Triandiflou continues to run the company in Cary.
4. Hosted Solutions
The regional hosting and data center provider based in Raleigh was acquired by the publicly traded ISP and phone services provider Windstream of Little Rock, Ark.
Price tag: $310M
Closing date: December 2010
Founded: 2000 when founder Rich Lee acquired the assets of another company out of bankruptcy
How it went down: With more and more data being collected and analyzed, Hosted Solutions’ hosting and infrastructure-as-a-service offerings and five data centers in Raleigh-Durham, Charlotte and Boston were attractive to Windstream. The deal brought Windstream’s total data center count to 12 nationally and added 600 new customers. Hosted Solutions employed 125 at the time—90 in the Triangle. Today, the company remains based in Raleigh and employs more than 200.
Where they are now: Lee has gone on to invest in real estate, according to 2012 and 2014 stories in the Triangle Business Journal. His LinkedIn page says he’s semi-retired.
5. A4 Health Systems
The Cary-based electronic health records and other technology-related service provider to medical practices was sold to publicly-traded, Chicago-based Allscripts.
Price tag: $272M
Deal closing: March 2006
Founded: 1970 as Management Systems Associates
How it went down: A4 was attractive to the much larger clinical software and IT solutions provider Allscripts because its 1,600 customers were mostly small medical practices of 25 physicians or fewer. The company’s electronic medical records software, HealthMatics, was originally developed by the pharma company Glaxo. Investors in A4 besides CEO John McConnell (who had decided he didn’t want to run a public company) included Wachovia Capital Partners and The Wakefield Group, as well as numerous other employees. The company employed about 400 employees at the time, and today has more than 1,000 in Raleigh.
Where they are now: McConnell founded McConnell Golf in 2005 with a vision to reinvent the private club experience. He pursued the business full-time in 2006 and now operates nine private clubs and 11 golf courses in North and South Carolina, offering a variety of membership options.
6. Bronto Software
Durham-based marketing automation software provider for the world’s top eCommerce retailers agreed to be sold to publicly-traded cloud software provider NetSuite of Silicon Valley.
Price tag: $200M
Deal closing: Second quarter 2015
How it went down: Bronto has grown quickly in recent years to become the email marketing provider of choice for Internet Retailer’s top eCommerce retailers, and NetSuite has built a suite of products also geared toward online retailers. Together, they’ll serve thousands of customers from offices in 11 nations around the world, providing end-to-end point-of-sale and sales software, marketing and advertising-related technology. The company will continue to grow its team of 250 people in downtown Durham and to operate as a business unit within the bigger company. Notable about Bronto is its organic growth over the years—the founders never raised venture capital and retained majority ownership of the company.
Where they are now: Founders Joe Colopy and Felix Chaz are working diligently to get the deal closed, and they’re committed to continue leading and growing the company in its existing offices in Durham.
The Morrisville provider of cloud-based email marketing software to small businesses was sold to publicly-traded marketing and PR software maker Vocus of Maryland.
Price tag: $169M
Deal closing: February 2012
How it went down: iContact raised $65 million in venture capital, acquired more than 70,000 customers of its email marketing software over nine years and had begun to bring in significant revenue when the acquisition offer came from Vocus. Founders Ryan Allis and Aaron Houghton started the company while students at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and built it to 250 employees, raising $53 million in venture capital. An increasingly competitive market for email marketing services made the timing right for the sale. Who suffered in the deal were the many employees who lost their jobs after the acquisition.
Where they are now: Allis has moved to Silicon Valley, founded a startup called Connect, a community called Hive and an angel investment fund called Connect Ventures, which has funded companies like SpaceX, LendingClub, SendHub and Pengo Loans of Kenya. Houghton founded and has so far bootstrapped Bootsuite in Chapel Hill. It’s a company he believes has a $1 billion opportunity to help mom-and-pop and other small businesses better market themselves and grow their businesses. He’s also invested in Idea Fund Partners’ latest fund, the craft beer maker Lonerider and now defunct Argyle Social.
The Durham company with a content discovery service used by customers of 46 Internet service providers around the nation was acquired by the publicly-traded, Silicon Valley-based TiVo, which introduced the first digital video recorder (DVR) to the market.
Price tag: $135M
Deal closing: February 2014
Founded: 1998 but moved to RTP in 2006
How it went down: Founders Matt Berry and Ben Weinberger initially entertained TiVo as a potential customer of its service that lets TV operators offer search, recommendations and browsing on multiple interfaces (iOS, Android and more), according to the Triangle Business Journal’s report of the sale. But an acquisition made more sense as Digitalsmiths was the most widely adopted cloud-based content delivery and recommendation engine and TiVo worked to improve its user experience for customers. Digitalsmiths raised more than $38 million from investors like Chrysalis Ventures, .406 Ventures, Aurora Funds, Cisco and Technicolor, and employed 49 people at the time of the sale. Employee count in Durham has grown since that time and revenue grew 32 percent the quarter after the sale.
Where they are now: Weinberger remains vice president of services at Digitalsmiths and Berry, vice president of operations.
This cloud IT automation company grew an impressive list of over 500 clients over two years in business, attracting the attention of Raleigh-based open source giant Red Hat.
Price tag: $100M+
Closing date: October 2015
Founded: August 2013 (but as a project in February 2012)
How it went down: Co-founder and CEO Said Ziouani spent 2000 to 2010 as a vice president of business development and sales at Red Hat before starting Ansible in 2013 and raising an initial $6 million from high-profile investors like Menlo Ventures. Numerous other Ansible employees also spent time at the open source software leader. Over just two years, the team built a cloud-based software company that made IT management seamless for its customers and became recognized as a top open source automation project. According to a Red Hat news release, the acquisition helps users deploy applications more affordably and easily across the cloud.
Where they are now: Now based in Santa Barbara, CA, Ziouani is still serving as co-founder and CEO of Ansible. Founder and former CTO Michael DeHaan left the company in January 2015 and though still based in RTP, is lead software engineer at the Indianapolis-based cloud software company Interactive Intelligence.
The app marketing company based in Durham was acquired by Mandalay Digital, a publicly-traded Los Angeles-based mobile content creator for wireless companies, which promptly changed its name to Digital Turbine and moved its headquarters to Austin.
Price tag: $100M
Deal closing: March 2015
Founded: 2008 as PocketGear
How it went down: There was local speculation that Appia would be an acquisition target for at least a year prior to the sale. It had become a leader in helping app developers advertise their apps within other ones and acquire new users, and raised $44 million in venture capital and debt financing to grow the company. The company’s revenue spiked from 2012 to 2013, and its employee count topped out at 86 people. Though sales dropped in 2014, CEO Jud Bowman told the Triangle Business Journal he wasn’t forced into a sale. Mandalay Digital was already a partner of the company and wanted to create a network that let wireless providers market apps directly to subscribers. The combined company expects to double its revenue over the next year.
Where they are now: Bowman is still a board member at Digital Turbine, and told the Triangle Business Journal in March he’d be actively involved with the company. But after starting and selling several Triangle-area businesses, he’s also likely to start another. Appia chairman Craig Forman of San Francisco also sits on the Digital Turbine board.
The Raleigh-based human resources and talent acquisition software provider was sold to New York private equity firm Bedford Funding.
Price tag: $100M
Closing date: January 2010
How it went down: Dreamt up by minority investor David Gardner and spun out of Raleigh’s Global Software Inc., according to the Triangle Business Journal, PeopleClick went on to raise $30 million and hire dozens of people. Bedford merged it with another human resources software maker called Authoria to create a suite of talent management software, services and consulting to fulfill all the HR needs of Fortune 500 companies. Today, the company is called PeopleFluent and based in Waltham, Mass. with an office in Raleigh.
Where are they now: CEO and co-founder Ron Kupferman remains CEO and chairman of Global Software Inc. Gardner is the Triangle’s most active angel investor, with more than 17 local portfolio companies. He’s actively raising a fund now to invest in even more local companies, and last year, he published a book called The Startup Hats.