When A Good Exit Feels Like a Big Entrance

When A Good Exit Feels Like a Big Entrance

We did it. A successful exit.

During a long career in digital marketing for several leading tech companies, I saw a lot of M&A action. A couple of deals turned out great. Most of them failed miserably. I’ve actually seen, firsthand, a deal that evaporated more than a billion dollars’ worth of market share in the 12 months following an acquisition. There’s a life experience worth keeping.

For our part, we’re a boutique executive search company, and we found a lot of success working with people in a space we really enjoy – data-driven marketing and advertising tools. We most often work with companies who are building new solutions for the modern world of advertising and marketing – AdTech, MarTech, programmatic, real-time bidding, data science, content marketing, CRM, and other layers in today’s marketing software stack.

Like many other companies in our space, as we found traction, we had several larger companies approach us. Some were serious in their approach, looking to bring our expertise and connections on board in a mutually beneficial relationship. Others were just looking for a few new employees for their current business – and we’re a bit too visionary for that.

However, we did establish a relationship with a larger firm that, ultimately, won the day. On 21 April, we announced our acquisition by The Newport Group. This would not be the billion-dollar roll-of-the-dice I just mentioned, but it was still a big deal for us – and for them. We weren’t giving up our independence unless we thought it would make a positive difference. Thankfully, our experience with Newport says that we made the right decision.

But how do you know? We learned a lot during the process, but we also drew on past experience. Here are a few insights that helped keep us true to our values during the acquisition process.

We defined what “fit” meant. “Fit” is tricky. If it’s squishy, malleable, or undefinable, you won’t know it’s not there until it’s too late. We defined it as “the ability to scale business process while remaining customer-focused.” Nobody else at our new parent company specializes in our market and knows much about it – not surprising since it’s still early days in this evolution of marketing. But we had common business practices and tools that benefited from scale, which is already giving us access to more of our markets and helping speed delivery on our projects.

Culture really, really does matter. I’ve seen it firsthand – if you still have two companies after an acquisition, the fail train is coming your way. Our new parent is committed to values – respect for the individual, collaboration, celebrating success, learning from inevitable setbacks, flexibility, continuous learning – similar to the ones on which we built our company. More than anything, we’ve enjoyed the interaction we have with our new colleagues, and feel additive to the culture. We’re committed to making this work because we like being here.

We built a company. The exit took care of itself. When we started Three Sixty, we didn’t have an exit strategy. We weren’t seeking an acquisition. We just wanted to build something cool – and great. I think we have so far, and we get to keep doing that with Newport. I just can’t imagine being part of a company whose ultimate goal was “…and then we exit!” Tell me that I’ll be part of something unique and awesome, and I’m there.

Obviously, the numbers have to work in any deal. But intentionality on the people side of the business will always make the difference between paper success and the real thing. We feel as if we’re entering a new period of growth for 360 Digital Talent, not exiting our independence.