From zero revenue to a billion-dollar market capitalization, Upland Software has exponentially grown its business through M&A acquisitions, but how did they do it? In this article, Austin Woody, Senior Vice President of M&A and Corporate Development at Upland Software, explains how to grow purely on acquisitions.
"The value of the whole should be much greater than the sum of the parts." - Austin Woody
In the beginning, Austin’s team had a very loose thesis. They tracked down a huge opportunity in the enterprise software industry and decided to go from there. Upland Software’s approach to M&A is programmatic, they do a series of small deals rather than executing a big transformative deal. This strategy has allowed Upland Software to create immense value, resulting in seven function buying centers.
The biggest challenge when starting out was sourcing deals. Upland Software had no credibility in the market or history of transactions, so they relied on bankers and cold calling. It's safe to say that they were very reactive and that their integration plan was based on the target company.
However, as soon as they got their first deal, it started snowballing from there. Now that Upland Software has established themselves as a credible buyer in their industry, they have no problem landing proprietary deals.
One of the things that they started doing is socializing the acquisition strategy to the entire organization to motivate everyone to bring ideas. The primary goal is to make every employee feel like a part of the M&A process and make them the lead source of deals.
Like every other company, their M&A function started with Austin wearing many hats, and then he would borrow people from different parts of the entire organization to help with the transaction. Over time, as they grew bigger, the team has expanded, as having dedicated M&A people is essential for serial acquirers. There are now six dedicated people, but everyone is still very much involved.
The integration process is a product of experience through thirty-one acquisitions. Now, the integration thesis and philosophy impacts sourcing to the point where they already know from the beginning if the target company fits in within the thesis.
Upland Software has employed a dedicated integration team to be involved very early in the process. If it's a complex deal, they are involved pre-LOI. If the team predicts that the integration will be too complicated, they will kill the deal instantly.
Through experience and repetition, Austin's advice to any acquirer is to follow your gut and strategy. Make informed decisions and don't let anyone talk you into making an acquisition if you are not 100% comfortable with the deal. If you have a good framework and a list of company profiles, stick to it!