Opinion and Editorials

EDITORIAL: ExactTarget deal will send tech ripple

June 8, 2013

A toast is in order: The $2.5 billion sale of ExactTarget Inc. to San Francisco-based Salesforce.com is the most lucrative exit yet for an Indianapolis technology company.

An acquisition of a local tech titan may elicit sadness at first blush. But there’s plenty here to celebrate, starting with the ripples of investment the deal is likely to spark in our local tech community. (See story, page 3.)

ExactTarget has a strong ownership culture. Every employee received stock options in the company, which means the deal with Salesforce.com minted a gaggle of potential angel investors and tech entrepreneurs, many of them with roots firmly established in Indianapolis.

The deal calls to mind another sale of a local tech company eons ago (in technology terms) that wound up setting a foundation for the growth of more than a dozen other tech companies in Indianapolis, including ExactTarget.

In 1997, IBM paid $200 million for Software Artistry. Five years later, a city-organized gathering of eight executives considered among the top names in local tech included seven alums of Software Artistry, recalled Dave Millard, a Barnes & Thornburg partner who counsels high-growth businesses and venture capital funds.

At a meeting just 18 months ago, with a much larger crowd, there were still numerous Software Artistry veterans who continue to make contributions as tech executives, entrepreneurs or investors.

Donald Brown, a CEO and co-founder of Software Artistry, went on to launch Interactive Intelligence. He and other Software Artistry vets also invested in local software maker Aprimo Inc., which sold in 2010 for $525 million.

Another investor who scored big on the Software Artistry deal was former venture capitalist Bob Compton, who became one of the key early investors in ExactTarget after it was founded in 2000 in a Greenfield business park.

Even before its sale to Salesforce.com, some of the early employees of ExactTarget already had branched out. Chris Baggott, a co-founder and chief marketing officer, left in 2006 to launch what is now Compendium Software, a content marketing company.

ExactTarget CEO Scott Dorsey said in a memo to employees that the company would continue to operate as an independent unit within Salesforce.com and retain its Indianapolis headquarters. And Salesforce.com no doubt will try to retain ExactTarget’s brightest stars.

But entrepreneurs will be entrepreneurs. Plenty of those dollars should and will wind up reinvested locally as the tech-company circle of life rolls on.
Could the aftermath of ExactTarget’s sale wind up making the ripples from the Software Artistry sale look small? That’s a good bet.•

Send comments on this editorial to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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