On 24th May, FirstCapital and Silicon Valley Bank co-hosted a Smarter Connections CEO dinner in Dublin for a group of invited CEOs of high-growth Irish tech companies.
Successful serial entrepreneur Garry Moroney, Founder & CEO of Clavis Insight, which was sold to Ascential in December 2017, gave a great talk on how he founded, scaled and exited two tech companies, with some interesting and valuable insights for CEOs and founders on a similar journey.
Garry started in the oil business with Schlumberger before moving to McKinsey. He then took the plunge into the tech industry by founding Similarity Systems in 2001, just before the dotcom crash.
Venture capital group Delta Partners invested in Similarity and, as CEO, Garry grew the business rapidly before selling to Informatica in 2006 for $45m. Garry stayed with Informatica for nearly 2 years as General Manager in Data Quality (Products Division), before the entrepreneur bug bit again and he founded Clavis Insights in January 2008.
Clavis developed software which delivers eCommerce Insights and Online Store Audits. Their SaaS intelligence and analytics platform has been used by major consumer companies such as Unilever, Kimberly Clark, General Mills and Barilla to optimise distribution, content integrity and placement in the digital channel.
In December 2017, Clavis was sold to Ascential plc for up to $219m.
A VARIETY OF FUNDING SOURCES
Garry and the team at Clavis used several funding mechanisms during the lifetime of the company. In the early days, to get to a viable product, they accessed the Seed Capital Scheme and funding from Enterprise Ireland. The founding team had a history of success that really helped in raising the early money, and in securing Series A funding from Delta Partners and Scottish Equity Partners. Somewhat later, in October 2013, Unilever joined the investor group as a strategic investor.
As the company grew, Clavis decided to accelerate further with additional growth equity funding. They wanted to source a big-name VC in the USA; and in October 2015, they announced a $20m investment led by Accel KKR. This was followed in December 2016 by a €8m investment by Draper Esprit that also provided some liquidity for early investors.
As well as equity, the company also accessed debt finance from Silicon Valley Bank in 2011 to help fund working capital, which allowed them to broaden their funding sources.
THE VALUE OF A STRATEGIC INVESTOR
There was some concern amongst the team when Unilever came on board as a strategic investor as Unilever was an important customer for Clavis (as were several of Unilever’s competitors). However, they found that having a strong industry partner was very positive, both in terms of future sales and also the introductions into their network that Unilever provided. What was equally important was that the company now had a very large customer with a close relationship, which enabled it to test new features and helped to accelerate product development and adoption.
CHALLENGES AND LESSONS LEARNT
As in all success stories, there were also low points. At one stage, Clavis lost a major customer due to a product issue. At another point, Garry had to make some very tough decisions on the team, which is a very hard thing to do when you have all been on the journey together, but necessary to enable future growth.
Bringing in a CFO who was experienced in dealing with VCs turned out to be a very valuable decision. At the time, Clavis had 4 VCs on the board, who had all been involved for different time periods, and who potentially had diverging aspirations for the company. Having an individual with relevant experience and expertise on the team really helped to keep everyone aligned and informed.
And finally, as with any exit, the relationship with the buyer is key. Clavis had been developing a partnership with Ascential for a while, and the value proposition was clear. Although they did run a process and explore other options, not least to ensure that the deal got done in a timely manner, Ascential was the obvious and most motivated buyer. There is a great fit between the two businesses, which bodes well for the future success of the deal.