Monday, August 26, 2013

Thoughts on The Sale of GiftWorks

A week ago FrontStream announced that it had acquired Mission Research, makers of GiftWorks (the company had changed its name to GiftWorks so that's how I'll refer to it herein).

I'll try to carve out some brief insights. I'm writing this from the perspective of an entrepreneur to entrepreneurs. 
  • When I started the company with Dave and Chris, nonprofits had only high-priced, poorly designed software to choose from. Our mission was to give small nonprofits powerful tools for an affordable price so they could focus their resources and time on their missions, and not on software.

    I feel we accomplished that with the 2006 release, and since then positively impacted over 10,000 nonprofits. The company is taking great care of its customers--more now than at any prior time.
  • In deciding whether to accept an acquisition, we had to consider what scaling the company would like, whether our customers would be better off or not, how all stakeholders would fare, and whether we had accomplished our mission, and whether there were alternatives, which weren't there in 2002.

    In order: I felt that scaling the company was a great path, but also felt our customers would do well under either scenario, that we had accomplished our mission, and that there are sufficient, viable, easy-to-use, affordable alternatives to GiftWorks (mind you, GiftWorks is still better as a total user experience, from the software to the support). I also felt that Frontstream's FirstGiving.com was very much a complementary offering, and that our customers will be taken of well.
  • I like that the GiftWorksConnect.com team will continue to grow here in downtown Lancaster.
  • I don't like the M&A process, dealing with lawyers, competing interests, and I'm certain the CEO feels the same way, and likely experienced much worse than I in terms of the stress and amount of work involved.
  • My time at the company...I had some of my best and worst days of my life there. I gained a lot of experience, learned a lot, screwed up enough that it hurts to think about, gained many friends and lost a few. Overall it was entirely worth it, except the friends thing. I probably would have done some things differently looking back, but I'm proud of what we built together and grateful for the help we received along the way.
  • The company will do very well if it continues to focus on serving customers. Steve has done a great job focusing on operational efficiencies and building a dedicated team. I'm sure he'll do well as he continues to grow the company under Frontstream's ownership.
  • The professionalism of the nonprofit sector seems to really have evolved among small nonprofits, which has been great to see. I'd say that GiftWorks and its education programs have been a positive contributor to that. I, on the other hand, have not evolved nearly so nicely :)
  • Working with Dave over the past few years has been one of the rewarding aspects of this, as well as serving with my old friend Tim Abbott, who's a terrific nonprofit professional and a helluva singer. Tim was a great coach for me, especially when my temper could have gotten the better of me.
  • In the future I'll be more careful about how much capital I raise (if any), and will be less flexible around terms. Investment terms really need to reflect alignment of goals of the founders, employees, and investors, and that wasn't the case in my opinion and experience. 
The confidentiality agreement means I won't be writing much more about this period, except in an obtuse, referential way, but I'll figure out a way to convey some of the lessons learned over time. 

Thanks to everyone involved. We built a good company, and it's continuing to have positive impact on the world. 

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