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ActiveCampaign raises $240M at a $3B valuation as marketing and sales automation come into focus for SMBs

As businesses continue to adopt new digital tools to get their names out into the world, a startup that's built a sales and marketing platform specifically for small and medium businesses is announcing a big round of funding. ActiveCampaign, which has built what it describes as a “customer experience automation” platform — providing a way not just to run digital campaigns but to follow up aspects of them automatically to make sales and marketing work more efficiently — has closed a $240 million round of funding. The Series C values the Chicago startup at over $3 billion.

The round is being led by a new, big-name investor, Tiger Global, with participation from another new backer Dragoneer, along with Susquehanna Growth Equity and Silversmith Capital Partners, which had both invested previously.

This funding round represents a huge leap for ActiveCampaign. It was only in January 2020 that it raised $100 million, and before that, the company, which was founded in 2003, had only raised $20 million.

But as we have seen in many other ways, the pandemic resulted in a surge of interest among businesses to do more — a lot more — online than ever before, not least because so many people were spending more time at home, carrying out their consumer lives over the internet. That led to ActiveCampaign growing to a customer base of 145,000 customers, up from 90,000 16 months ago.

That points not just to the company already growing at a decent clip before the pandemic, but how it capitalized on that at a time when companies were looking for more tools to run their businesses in the new world.

The growth was not about ActiveCampaign throwing more money into business development, founder and CEO Jason VandeBoom said in an interview. “It was the network effect of people finding success. Even today, organic word of mouth is our primary driver.”

The company's tools fit into a wider overall trend in the world of business: automation, built on the back of new, cloud-based technology, is being adopted to carry out some of the less interesting and repetitive aspects of running a business.

In the case of sales, an example of what ActiveCampaign might provide is a way for an e-commerce business to identify when a logged-in customer (that is, a user who has an account already and is signed in) might have ‘abandoned' a visit to a site before buying a product that had already been searched for, or clicked on, or even added to a cart. In these cases, it sends an email to customers reminding them of those items, with options for other follow-ups, in the event that the choice was due to being distracted or having second thoughts that might be persuaded otherwise.

Users can opt-out of these, but they can be useful given the genuine distraction exercise that is browsing online — with all of the unrelated notifications, plus other options for considering a purchase. Tellingly, ActiveCampaign integrates with 850 different apps, a measure of just how fragmented the online landscape is, and also how many ways your attention might be distracted, or snagged depending on your perspective.

Abandoned carts can cost a company, in aggregate, a lot of lost revenue, yet chasing those down is not the kind of task that a company would typically assign to a valuable employee to carry out. And that's where companies like ActiveCampaign come in.

This, plus some 500 other actions like it around sales and marketing campaigns — Vandenboom calls them “recipes” — some of which have been contributed by ActiveCampaign's own users, form the basis of the company's platform.

The marketing and sales automation market is estimated to be worth billions of dollars today, and, thanks to the rise of social media and simply more places to spend time online (and more time spent online) is expected to be worth more than $8 billion by 2027, so it's going after a lucrative and much-used tool for doing business online. (And others are looking at it as well, of couse, including newer entrants like Shopify coming from a different angle to the same problem. Shopify today is a valued partner of the company, Vandeboom said when I asked him about it.)

That gives ActiveCampaign not just a big opportunity to continue targeting, but possibly also makes it a target itself, for an acquisition.

The other key aspect of ActiveCampaign's growth that is worth watching is related to its customers. While the company has a client base that includes recognized names like the Museum of Science and Industry based out of ActiveCampaign's hometown, it also has some 145,000 others across nearly 200 countries with a big emphasis on small and medium businesses.

SMBs form the vast majority of all businesses globally, collectively representing a huge win for tech companies that can capture them as customers. But traditionally, they have proven to be a challenging sector, given that they cover so many different verticals, are in many ways more price-sensitive than their enterprise-sized counterparts, among other factors.

So for ActiveCampaign to have found successful traction with SMBs — including with pricing that works for many of them (using it starts at $9 for accounts with less than 500 contacts) — is likely another reason why the startup has caught the eye of investors keen to back winning horses.

While the company did not need to raise money, Vandeboom said he “saw it as an opportunity to bring in more partners, saying that investors like how it purposely went after the idea of customer experience not on vertical or locale.”

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