While sifting through the news I missed on my vacation, one deal stuck out to me for not getting much media attention: Visible Measures sold to AcuityAds for $10 million. It’s a tiny deal, but it deserves a second look for two reasons: One, it was a very disappointing outcome for investors, and two, it is a sign of things to come for many well-funded adtech startups.
Founded in 2005, Boston-based Visible Measures raised $70.8 million in funding, valuing it in the hundreds of millions. The company’s biggest backers include DAG Ventures, Mohr Davidow Ventures and General Catalyst. The $10 million sale price mostly covered Visible Measures’ debt line. There were rumblings of founder and CEO Brian Shin taking money out in prior rounds, while not offering all investors the same option. But I’m told Shin’s share sale was “de minimis” -- around $500,000. Visible Measures had received buyout offers along the way, but the board supported the decision to turn them down because of its enthusiasm for the market.
Larry Bohn, who led the deal for General Catalyst, broke down what happened: Visible Measures started out as leader in digital advertising metrics, he said, but quickly learned the only valuable way to sell those metrics was to make it part of a video ad buying platform. So the company developed a video ad network and platform. It was going great! That is, until recent years, when the market consolidated around its current Facebook-Google duopoly. “A lot of the great work they did building out a sales force and customers got squeezed down to nothing because of the way bigger advertisers chose to buy from bigger players,” Bohn said. “Despite the best efforts of Brian and the team, it became clear being an independent player in the space was not possible.”
Visible Measures was close to breaking even, but revenue was “tenuous” and declining, he noted. My email to Shin bounced back, but earlier this week he tweeted a link to an article arguing startups shouldn’t use debt like growth equity. “Serious #startuptruth here,” he wrote.
The wider lesson is: Expect a flood of consolidation in ad-tech. The sector has become toxic to investors. Last year year the number of adtech deals fell 17% from the year prior, for example. “Anyone in this space right now is challenged. Anyone,” Bohn says. “You look at some of these very high flying ad-tech companies with multi-billion-dollar valuations… They just come screaming down.”
One way startups are avoiding the stigma associated with ad-tech is by positioning themselves as “mar-tech” or marketing technology. The difference seems, well, de minimis, to me. Ad-tech companies make money when advertisers buy ads, while mar-tech companies sell software via subscription, but the two seem to be increasingly blurring together. Buyers agree. Recall that last month, Salesforce’s head dealmaker John Somorjai told Term Sheet the company is not interested in acquiring companies in marketing and analytics categories.
One last thing to note: The Facebook-Google duopoly has its challengers, but they’re not ad-tech or mar-tech companies. Snap is the most obvious one, and Pinterest may be a close second. Yesterday Recode reported that the company plans to do $500 million in revenue this year and is “putting the pieces in place” for an IPO.
Oops: Yesterday’s …AND ELSEWHERE links were broken, thanks to a strange glitch of Apple’s not-so-great “Pages” software, which changed them all to Apple.com. I've included them with the correct links below. Also, Monday’s Term Sheet incorrectly categorized the combination of Cision and blank check company Capitol Acquisition Corp. III as an exit; Cision’s owner, GTCR, is not selling shares as part of the transaction.
THE LATEST FROM FORTUNE...
• Arianna Huffington says Uber's board is not even considering asking Travis Kalanick to step down.
• The trade deal may not be entirely dead under Trump.
• How long it will take each state to give women equal pay.
• Andrew Ng leaves Baidu.
• Wall Street's "Trump Bump" is dead.
• How Snap's IPO became one of Wall Street's biggest flops.
• Cisco and AppDynamics close their blockbuster deal.
• BlackBuck, an Indian provider of logistics for cross-country freighting, raised $70 million in Series C funding, according to TechCrunch. Sands Capital led the round, and was joined by IFC, Accel, and Flipkart. Read more.
• HotelTonight, a San Francisco mobile app for booking same-day hotel deals, raised $37 million in Series E funding at a valuation of around $500 million, according to Reuters. Accel Partners led the round. Read more.
• Boom Supersonic, a Denver, Colo. supersonic aircraft company, raised $33 million in Series A funding. Investors include 8VC, Caffeinated Capital, Palm Drive Ventures, RRE Ventures, and Y Combinator's Continuity Fund.
• Autotalks, an Israeli provider of vehicle-to-vehicle chipsets, raised $30 million funding, according to Reuters. Investors include Magma Venture Capital, Gemini Israel Fund, Amiti Fund, Mitsui & Co Global Investment, Liberty Ventures, Delek Motors, Fraser McCombs Ventures, and the Samsung Catalyst Fund. Read more.
• Databerries, a Paris-based mobile advertising platform for offline retailers, raised $16 million in Series A funding. Index Ventures led the round, and was joined by ISAI, Mosaic Ventures, and angel investors.
• Avere Systems, a Pittsburgh provider of cloud file storage, raised $14 million in Series E funding. Investors include Menlo Ventures, Norwest Venture Partners, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Tenaya Capital, Western Digital Capital, and Google (Nasdaq:GOOGL).
• The New York Shipping Exchange, a digital freight contract for global container shipping, raised $8.5 million in Series A. Goldman Sachs Principle Strategic Investments and GE Ventures led the round, with participation from Blumberg Capital, Tectonic Capital, and other investors.
• Pocketwatch, a Los Angeles media brand for kids, raised $6 million in Series A funding. Third Wave Digital led the round, and was joined by angel investors including Les Moonves and Robert Downey Jr.
• Elvie, a London women’s lifestyle brand, raised $6 million in funding. Octopus Ventures led the round, and was joined by AllBright.
• Mynd, an Oakland, Calif. mobile-based property management company, raised $5.1 million in funding. Jackson Square Ventures led the round, and was joined by Canaan Partners, Lightspeed Venture Partners, and angel investors.
• RavenPack, a Spanish big data analytics provider for financial services, raised $5 million in funding from Draper Esprit.
• Gro Solutions, an Atlanta leading provider of digital growth solutions for banks and credit unions, raised $4.25 million in funding. TTV Capital led the round, and was joined by BIP Capital, C&B Capital, and BLH Venture Partners.
• Pear Deck, an Iowa City K-12 classroom engagement SaaS platform, raised $4 million in Series A funding. Growth Street Partners led the round, and was joined by Village Capital, Hyde Park Venture Partners, and Steve Case.
• PlateIQ, a San Francisco cost management mobile app for restaurants, raised $4 million from Eileses Capital.
• Lightpost Digital, a San Diego online marketing company, raised an undisclosed amount in funding from Canal Partners and DWP Investments.
HEALTH + LIFE SCIENCES DEALS
• SutroVax, a San Francisco biopharmaceutical company developing vaccines for infectious diseases, raised $60 million in Series B funding. Frazier Healthcare Partners and Pivotal bioVenture Partners led the round, with participation from Abingworth, Longitude Capital, Roche Venture Fund, and CTI Life Sciences Fund.
• Pulmocide, a London drug discovery company developing inhaled medicines for respiratory tract infections, raised $30.4 million in Series B funding. SR One led the round, and was joined by Longwood Fund, SV Life Sciences, F-Prime Capital, Johnson & Johnson Innovation, and Touchstone Innovations.
• BioClin Therapeutics, a San Ramon, Calif. clinical stage drug development company, raised $30 million in Series B funding. Sofinnova Ventures and Ysios Capital led the round, and was joined by HealthCap, Life Sciences Partners, and Tekla Capital Management.
• Bivarus, a Durham, N.C. analytics company for healthcare organizations, raised $4 million in Series B funding. Hatteras Venture Partners led round, and was joined by Excelerate Health Ventures, NueCura Partners, and Boston Millennia Partners.
PRIVATE EQUITY DEALS
• GenNx360 Capital Partners acquired a majority stake in Appalachian Railcar Services,
• Summit Partners recapitalized Ascentis Corporation, a San Mateo, Calif. provider of HR software.
• AgileX Supply Chain, a Balmoral Funds portfolio company, acquired Lyndhurst, N.J. supply chain management company Argo Turboserve Corporation’s industrial division.
• KPS Capital Partners agreed to acquire WHA Holding SAS, a French maker of steel abrasives for transportation, equipment, energy and construction end-markets. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.
• Valence Surface Technologies, a Trive Capital portfolio company, acquired Magnetic & Penetrant Services Company, a Seattle provider of metal finishing services for the aerospace and defense sectors. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.
• Francisco Partners is exploring a potential sale of portfolio company Plex Systems, a Troy, Mich. maker of software used to run manufacturing plants, in a deal it hopes will value the company at more than $1 billion. Read more at Fortune.
• Akzo Nobel (ENXTAM:AKZA) rejected a second takeover bid from PPG Industries (NYSE:PPG), saying the higher price of €22.4 billion ($24.2 billion) was still too low. Read more at Fortune.
• Accenture (NYSE: ACN) acquired Focus Group Europe, a London provider of consulting services.
• Sun Basket, a San Francisco-based organic meal kit delivery service, is preparing for an IPO that could value the company at between $500 and $1 billion, according to Reuters. The company, whose backers Sapphire Ventures, Baseline Ventures, and Vulcan Capital, has raised $43 million in venture funding. Read more.
• Providence Equity Partners agreed to sell Professional Association of Diving Instructors, a San Margarita, Calif. provider of accredited scuba diving courses, to a group of investors for north of $700 million, according to the Wall Street Journal. Read more.
• O2 Investment Partners sold Greco Aluminum Railings, a Canadian aluminum railings manufacturer, to CSW Industries.
• 3i (LSE:III) sold ESG, a U.K. provider of testing, inspection, and compliance services, to Socotec for €30 million ($32.4 million).
• GTCR sold Cole-Parmer Instrument Company, a Vernon Hills, Ill.-based manufacturer and distributor of laboratory products, to Golden Gate Capital.
FIRMS + FUNDS
• Marlin Equity Partners, a Hermosa Beach, Calif.-based private equity firm, closed two new funds, raising $2.5 billion for Marlin Equity V, and $750 million for Marlin Heritage II.
• Värde Partners, a Minneapolis-based investment firm, raised $1.74 billion for its twelfth fund.
• May River Capital, a Chicago-based private equity investment firm, raised $165 million for its inaugural fund.
• J.D. Vance has joined Revolution as a partner, where he will work to expand the firm’s initiative to make investments outside Silicon Valley, New York City, and Boston. Vance is the author of Hillbilly Elegy.