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How BrightRoll bucked a big tech startup trend

November 12, 2014, 8:06 PM UTC

When BrightRoll yesterday agreed to be acquired for $640 million by Yahoo (YHOO), it was much more than just a validation of the eight year-old company’s online advertising platform. It also was a reminder that tech startups needn’t always raise every last dime available from venture capitalists.

San Francisco-based BrightRoll raised around $40 million in venture capital funding since being founded in 2006, but its most recent round was a full three years ago. Instead, BrightRoll kept its cash burn in check and focused intently on execution — becoming profitable with what Yahoo says will be more than $100 million in net revenue this year (a figure that I hear is a significant underestimation).

“The key is that the company’s sales and marketing efficiency was phenomenal,” says a source familiar with BrightRoll. “They really managed to scale from very small to very large by increasing sales productivity, rather than by raising money to hire more and more salespeople. It was unusual, in a good way.”

BrightRoll has been talking to Yahoo about an acquisition for quite some time, with talks really heating up in September. Had the deal not come together, however, there wasn’t much appetite for another venture capital round. Instead, BrightRoll likely would have tried going public sometime in 2015 (depending on the broader market receptivity to ad-tech).

All of this is a major departure from the recent trend in Silicon Valley, which is for companies like BrightRoll to keep raising large new rounds of VC funding at ever-larger valuations. Not only to fund operations, but also as a sort of rainy day fund in case the markets turn and the venture well runs dry.

To be sure, BrightRoll didn’t ultimately become a so-called unicorn, selling for $1 billion or more like prior Yahoo acquisition Tumblr. But BrightRoll also raised less than one-third of the venture funding of a company like Tumblr, meaning that its founders likely experienced much less dilution. Just goes to show that there is no “right” path for tech entrepreneurs to follow when financing their companies…

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