Update: Automated Insights CEO Robbie Allen blogs about the exit here.
Sometimes, a deal is just too good to pass up.
The Durham startup with “robot” computers that turn millions of pieces of data each day into stories for the Associated Press and Yahoo! has agreed to be acquired by a top-performing national private equity firm and merged with its portfolio company STATS, the world’s largest provider of sports data. It’s a deal Automated Insights (AI) founder and CEO Robbie Allen never would have predicted when the company closed a $5.5 million series B round just seven months ago, but one so ideal that he couldn’t say no.
Austin-based Vista Equity Partners promises Allen capital and resources to grow even faster than planned, access to additional industries to test and implement his products, the ability to grow the business and team in its hometown of Durham, and all at a valuation pleasing to everyone in the deal.
“It’s pretty surreal,” says Allen, who started work on AI-predecessor StatSheet in 2007 while an employee at Cisco. “This isn’t something I expected to do at this point—we just raised money and things were going really well. But it was just the right mix of opportunity—and everything.”
That round raised the company’s valuation significantly enough that it could drive a sale “attractive to not only the old investors but the new ones as well,” Allen says. He will continue to serve as Automated Insights’ CEO and will join its board of directors. He expects to hire at least a person a month this year, hiring just slowly enough to ensure the company’s culture is maintained. It was a Triangle Business Journal Best Place to Work the last three years. Today, the company employs 35 at its new offices overlooking the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Allen, “the superstar CEO”
Despite that Allen is a first-time entrepreneur and CEO, Delgado credits his technical prowess, vision and leadership for the company’s success. Not only has he won patents and published technology books, proving his technical capability, but he sold his idea, raised money and grew and managed a strong team.
“He really is the complete package,” Delgado says. “He’s one of the superstar CEOs we have here.”
Beyond that, Allen’s journey provides the perfect case study for the NC IDEA process, Delgado says. Allen was denied a grant in 2008 but resubmitted and won the following year. That $50,000 was the impetus for him to quit his job and pursue StatSheet full-time. He then secured early investment from NC IDEA partner Idea Fund Partners, which helped him raise additional funds from out-of-town investors. Today, he culminates that journey with a successful exit.
Delgado calls the deal “bittersweet.” He once envisioned an IPO opportunity.
“This company is very unique and has a lot of potential to be much bigger than it is now,” he says. But the small-in-size funds that invested over time made an earlier exit possible, and Delgado says the deal ended up best for everyone.
“The great thing for us is we’re not going anywhere. The name of the company is not changing,” he says. “This has been a great exit for everybody involved and we’re going to maintain a very strong presence in Durham. And who knows? Over time, we could even see another exit at some point.”