Why LiveRamp is selling to Acxiom

May 15, 2014, 3:56 PM UTC


FORTUNE — Acxiom Corp. (ACXM) yesterday announced that it would pay $310 million in cash to acquire LiveRamp, a San Francisco-based company that “onboards” customer data into digital marketing apps. The basic idea would be to help Acxiom bring its myriad offline data online, with the result for end-users being more digital ads that seem to follow you around the web.

This morning I spent some time on the phone with Paul Santinelli, a partner with LiveRamp investor North Bridge Venture Partners. He tells me that LiveRamp was approached by multiple bidders, and that the purchase price multiple was “better than 11x” revenue. What follows is an edited transcript of our conversation:

FORTUNE: How did you originally get to know LiveRamp?

Santinelli: In 2009 the [Grateful] Dead went back on tour, and I took off with a couple of guys to see a few shows. At one of them I ran into a guy named Dan Scudder, who had gone to Babson and told me about this company that he was working on. So I told him we should get together at some point to learn about it, and I eventually met up with him and [LiveRamp CEO] Auren Hoffman and was really impressed. In August 2010, we put in money.

Wasn’t the company still part of Rapleaf at the time?

Yes. Eventually it became one of those, ‘hey, let’s stick with the founder’ sorts of stories. The business was on track to do around $1 million in revenue, and when all the Facebook (FB) and Google (GOOG) privacy stuff came up, Rapleaf got brought into it. Auren spent a lot of time talking to the Feds, explaining how they anonymize stuff.

It was clear the direction they were going wasn’t going to carry the business long-term, so they decided to focus much more on how to on-line offline data, particularly CRM databases. For example, Toyota Motor Corp. has a big CRM database, but it has no idea how to really market to specific people in it beyond direct mailing. This gives them a better targeting and marketing ecosystem. When that began to take off, we decided we should create LiveRamp as a separate entity and essentially dissolve Rapleaf.

So why sell now?

Good companies like this get acquired, they don’t get sold. We were approached by multiple entities that saw significant value in a business that was doubling revenue year-over-year. We sat down to do the math around the multiple on revenue, and it made a lot of sense.

What was that multiple?

I’m not going to say, except that it was better than 11x, which is about what Blue Kai got bought for by Oracle (ORCL) earlier this year. A big part of our consideration wasn’t just our own return, but also what made sense for the employees. These businesses are fun to start but if, after eight years, there isn’t any light at the end of the tunnel for employees, then it becomes very hard to retain them. Particularly in a tech bubble.

Will the employees remain with Acxiom following the acquisition?

Yes… all 73 of them are expected to make the transition.

Were other suitors also willing to pay around $310 million?

They were all around the same ballpark, but cultural fit played a huge role in the final outcome. I’ve been fortunate to work with the CFO over at Acxiom, Oren Jensen, before and everyone who met CEO Scott Howe is just incredibly impressed with him. When some people think of Acxiom they think of these Arkansas bumpkins running an old-age data company, but they really have an incredible executive team that is very knowledgeable about the latest technology trends.

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