It’s often said that “good things come in threes”, and today’s announcement that Exact Target is acquiring Pardot for $100 million completes just such a trifecta. The deal caps a theme started by Oracle’s acquisition of Vitrue for $300+ million and Gannett buying BLiNQ Media for up to $92 million. That’s nearly a half billion dollars in Atlanta exits from marketing technology companies in less than 6 months. MailChimp is here, thriving, and possibly worth more than all of them combined. That’s not an accident.
Pardot CEO David Cummings noted this trend 2 years ago, and Half Off Depot COO Lance Weatherby delved into some of the fundamental reasons later that year. We are in an era where the Chief Marketing Officer of major companies can buy technology products and services without the approval or even recommendation of their CTO or CIO. Atlanta is flush with large, consumer-facing companies – they haven’t always been strong customers or acquirers of startups, but their very presence shapes the character and mindset of the town and its’ entrepreneurs.
Atlanta thinks about problems that large, growing, and huge companies have – information security is one class of problem Atlanta rose to solve quite well. Now it is marketing technology’s turn to join the conversation. We have fresh generations of founders and companies focused on these problems. We have the talent to start these companies and the talent to grow them – as these companies grow, they pluck some of the best talent from Atlanta’s thriving marketing agencies and consumer brands, and form the foundation for the following generation of founders.
I first started working on Badgy around the time Lance and David started having this conversation. Feedback from many mentors, investors, and others was that marketing wasn’t an area for technology startups, and that I should focus on “something Atlanta is good at, like Health Care IT or Information Security”, both of which I find about as appealing as pink slime, with all respect to the founders who love such things (slime, health care, or security). Starting a company requires a balance of taking advice and completely ignoring it. I’m glad some of us ignored such advice.
We’re just getting started on this. This is the moment where people stop just thinking that Vitrue was a fluke or that BLiNQ was a coincident echo. Marketing Tech is real in Atlanta. We have exited founders and early employees equipped to invest in and start new companies. This is the time for Georgia’s advocacy groups to begin drawing up the maps of companies in Atlanta’s marketing technology cluster. This is the time for our local, large public and private companies to get serious about tapping into the local technology that can help their business and spur innovation, and it’s also the time for them to dive into the ecosystem and buy some companies where it makes sense.
Kudos to David Cummings, Reggie Bradford, Dave Williams, and their teams on building outstanding companies and outcomes. Let’s do a great job telling these stories and building a narrative going forward. This very week, someone from a local marketing agency said to me, “it’s a shame there’s not much going on with startups in Atlanta.” Nothing could be more false, but it is the perception because we can be pretty terrible about building these narratives. Great things are happening, Let’s keep talking about it.