When we invested in FullContact in 2012, they were a small team with a big vision to create One Address Book To Rule Them All. Over the past four years, they’ve systematically executed on their vision, building a contact management platform that touches all aspects of the problem. Along the way they built a sizable business.
I love using a targeted acquisition approach in conjunction with a business that has a clear strategy and strong organic growth. My first company (Feld Technologies) was acquired by a company doing a rollup (AmeriData – acquired 40 companies between 1992 and 1996 when it was then acquired by GE Capital.) I learned a lot from that experience and then proceeded to try to use the rollup strategy with several other companies, including Interliant, my biggest failure of all time.
By 2002 I realized that what was classically called a rollup strategy was not generally effective, at least not for me. But by reflecting on which particular acquisitions worked, why they worked, and when they worked, along with understanding the opposite (what failed, why, and when they failed) I started to develop a clear view around a targeted acquisition strategy.
Today, I’ve got a clear view of how this can work. I’ve learned a lot from my partner Seth and his own experiences around M&A. While a few acquisitions don’t work out, with the right strategy, approach, and clarity on what success is, it can be a very powerful approach.
At the essence of the approach is a focus on two things – acquiring people and product. The classically rollup strategy was much more focused on acquiring revenue. In my world, historical revenue is the least interesting thing to consider in an acquisition strategy. The goal is to acquire technology that is on your product roadmap or people that fit culturally within your organization and help you execute on your roadmap faster. The phrase acquihire emerged from this, but many acquihire’s, especially by large companies, are not particularly well thought out or integrated into an existing roadmap.
Ultimately, the goal is to use acquisitions to compress time on product development and get people on the team, especially in senior roles, who can help build out areas of the company they have experience in. Interestingly, many technology assets don’t need a lot of people. At the same time, many people are interested in working on things other than the technology they’ve been focused on.
In FullContact’s case, the team, led by Bart Lorang, has figured out their own strategy around this and is executing well on it. In the absence of any of the acquisitions they’ve done, FullContact has a strong business. But our acquisitions of Cobook, nGame, Brewster, and now Conspire and Profoundis has accelerated our business in powerful ways.
I live in Gmail. Gmail Contacts has been lame for a long time. Within an email, it’s even lamer on the right side bar, especially since it could be so amazingly useful.
I’ve been obsessed about the contact management problem for many years. In 2012 when we invested in FullContact, I wrote a post titled One Address Book To Rule Them All. FullContact has made great progress in the past two years on this problem while building a substantial enterprise API business. At the same time, we’ve been working extremely hard on a wide range of consumer products which are all just now rolling out into production (many have been in beta for the past year.)
I use all of them. FullContact for Gmail. FullContact for iOS. FullContact for MacOS. FullContact Web. All integrate with each Address Books on all my devices and computers. Everything syncs bidirectionally. Everything integrates with my contacts in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, AngelList, and Foursquare. FullContact deduplicates everything so I only have one integrated contact record for each person. It enriches each contact record automatically with new public data that is finding on a continual basis.
This is a really hard problem. We invested in a company called Gist in 2009 – it was acquired early in its life by RIM in a deal that was financially successful for everyone involved, but before Gist rolled out in a big way. At the time, Gist was competing with several other companies, including Rapportive, all which were ultimately acquired and then more or less abandoned.
While we hoped to blanket the world with FullContact in 2014, we knew that waiting until we got the underlying massively large data infrastructure right, at scale, in a way that wouldn’t fuck up any contacts, was price of admission for going big on the consumer side. So we focused on building out our enterprise API business which started the year at a substantial level and tripled in 2014. At the same time, we acquired a company called CoBook and went extremely heads down on getting to a place where we thought we were ready to fix everyone’s address books on Planet Earth.
We are there. FullContact for Gmail is the first product to be released. If you are a Gmail user, quit fooling around, download it, and make your life a lot better right now. And get ready for several more releases in the next few months.
The FullContact team works as hard as any team I know. I’m proud of you guys and glad to be on this ride with you to finally solve a problem that has vexed me my entire adult life.