Almost every tech company dreams of being acquired by a bigger and better funded company. Besides proving that what you’re doing is worth it, and that your team/services are of value, it usually means a payday for time invested building the company.
TechXpress, the company I worked for over 7 years, was acquired by SpendSmart Networks in September of 2014 for $1.6 million. TechXpress had two divisions: Web Services and IT Services. SpendSmart acquired the Webs Services division, while IT Services was purchased by Tim Synder, then chief technology officer of TechXpress.
As VP of Web Services, my team and I moved from TechXpress to SpendSmart, while IT Services moved into a new office.
The story gets more interesting as we look into who SpendSmart is. SpendSmart purchased SMS Masterminds, founded by Alex Minicucci, in a reverse merger early 2014. Alex became CEO of SpendSmart and its single largest shareholder.
Alex hired me in 2006 when he was chief operating officer of TechXpress (this was prior to him starting Masterminds). I was hired as Project Manager of Web Services and worked closely under him for 2 years. In 2008, Alex left TechXpress to start his own company (Masterminds), using technology we developed at TechXpress to send text messages.
In 2008, text messaging technology was cutting-edge. There were few companies offering text message marketing, and we had a client who wanted to develop a bespoke system for just that. With no experience in text messaging technology, we made the sale and got to work.
It was one of the most challenging projects I ever worked on. Not only was the technology extremely difficult to understand (it was so new), there were few companies to model, and limited documentation.
Part of the plan when we made the sale was to hire on resources to help develop the platform. We had a very small team (fewer than 10) and all of their time was devoted to our eCommerce line of business. We couldn’t pull resources because they were already booked with work.
The plan didn’t come to fruition as expected: we wound up outsourcing the project, but split between two completely separate technology platforms, we struggled with learning curve and time to manage both.
The project required extensive research and advanced understanding of text messaging technology. Further, communicating this to contractors was challenging to say the least. I personally hired a project manager consultant to help me with the project.
A few months into the project, Alex and I attended a conference relating to text messaging technology. Our eyes were opened, and we learned the true potential of what we were doing. There were speakers from the leading cell providers, and those technology companies building infrastructure for text messaging.
After the conference, Alex and I were excited about the potential! On our ride home, we discussed the wide-reaching application of text messaging, and how it was superior to email in many ways. We saw an opportunity in distilling the application of this technology to others, as it was (and is) still relatively unused.
The name “SMS Masterminds” was born during that return trip, with Alex purchasing the domain name as he drove.
Back from the conference, I was energized to complete the platform. Roughly 75% of the way through development and we sold another project for text messaging. A departure from what we had already developed, but same concept using text messaging.
We hadn’t completed the initial project and were running into many resource allocation issues. The addition of this project would stretch our team too thin, and without additional resources, development would slow.
Also, during this time, our lead designer resigned, recruited by another company. Fortunately, he helped finalize the remaining design of the project, and we replaced him with a contractor. Shortly after his resignation, came the resignation of our programming contractor, leaving both projects incomplete.
I called my previous business partner and software engineer, Ken Colvin, and asked him if he could help finish the project. He jumped right in and completed the remaining programming.
As Ken was completing programming, Alex tendered his resignation at TechXpress, then made an offer to purchase the text messaging technology.
It was a great move for TechXpress, as we were unable to hire resources needed to maintain multiple technology platforms. By selling the technology to Alex, we were able to focus our small team on our other platforms (primarily eCommerce).
Alex took the just finished technology and developed it into the business now known as Masterminds. The system has evolved greatly over the years! What was once a single text messaging platform has transformed into a multi-tenant platform supporting hundreds of individually owned platforms.
As Masterminds was growing, TechXpress entered a sales plateau. Lacking outbound marketing, the business was not generating new business. To compound the issue further, I was bored managing projects. Over the years, my responsibilities grew, but previous responsibilities weren’t re-assigned.
Knowing Alex was always on the lookout looking for opportunities, I discussed what my team and I were working on, a few of the clients we worked with, and we agreed there was great synergy between both our companies.
Alex made Bryan an offer to buy the Web Services division of TechXpress, and for the next few months, we worked through the due diligence process.
This was a true win-win, as Alex needed the help, Bryan could walk away from TechXpress with a few bucks, and I’d be able to bring my team/clients over to Masterminds. Further, Alex promised a budget for new hires and the possibility of developing NEW technology (I love new technology).
Since being acquired, my team and I folded into the existing Masterminds office, but operate as a completely independent division. Within a few weeks of the move, we were tasked with developing a completely new platform, taking what we developed for our successful eCommerce clients and transforming this best of breed technology for use in small business.
We were provided a healthy budget, and freedom to develop what we wanted. It was a dream come through, something my team and I discussed at length while working at TechXpress. Having a budget and the freedom to develop technology is something every tech team dreams of.
We poured ourselves into the new platform, taking great care to develop something truly epic. So far, our efforts have been well received and commensurately well rewarded!
It’s been a whirlwind of activity at Masterminds, managing our existing eCommerce clients, while developing an entirely new platform, but challenges help us grow and test our resolve. It’s better to be slightly uncomfortable than comfortably complacent.
The biggest take away for me is that there’s always a solution. Sometimes it takes time to see the right solution rise to the top, but if you’re patient, you’ll develop a solution that’s a win-win for everyone.
The journey is far from over – the future holds much potential, and I’m truly inspired!