iContact, the privately held e-mail and social media marketing services firm that grew into an international company after being launched by a pair of students at UNC-Chapel Hill, has been sold.

After the markets closed Tuesday, Maryland-based Vocus (Nasdaq: VOCS) said it had acquired iContact for $169 million in cash and stock.

Ryan Allis, the chief executive officer, and Aaron Houghton, the board chairman, launched iContact in 2003.

iContact’s operations will remain in the Triangle, and Allis will join Vocus as president of the iContact division, Allis said in an interview.  He will report directly to Vocus CEO Rick Rudman.

“We’re very excited,” Allis said. “We’re very excited to be part of a combined vision.”

Vocus approached iContact as an acquisition target in January through an iContact board member, and Allis met with Rudman in January to open negotiations. “They sought us out. We were really not seeking a sale. 

“Rick and I talked several times. We share the same vision about the company, the community, the employees and the customers. Our cultures are very closely aligned.”

All of iContact’s 328 employees – including 250 in Morrisville – also will be retained, Allis added.

However, Houghton, will no longer have a role with the company but instead will focus on a new startup unaffiliated with iContact in Durham, Allis explained.

In August 2010, iContact raised $40 million in venture capital. 

Vocus said it would incorporate iContact’s products and services into its “cloud” computing offerings of various marketing services.

“Thanks to the hard work of many dedicated people, iContact has emerged as a leader in email and social marketing software, with over 70,000 customers and 1 million users,” Allis said in a statement. “I am thrilled that iContact and Vocus are combining forces to become the global leader in cloud-based marketing software for small and mid-size businesses.”

The acquisition closed Feb. 24 but was not disclosed until Tuesday.

“The Vocus marketing suite is one of the most comprehensive digital marketing solutions for small and mid-sized businesses,” Rudman said. “It combines elements of search marketing, social marketing and publicity to enable users to reach and influence potential customers in today’s online world. Now it will include email, which is a vital component of a digital marketing suite. Our customers will be very excited to have a complete cloud marketing suite to help them grow their businesses.”

iContact earned several awards over the years, including ranking in the INC 500 as one of the nation’s fastest growing companies.

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