Can I Marry Your Daughter?
You might have seen that we changed our name to Sitrion, the name of the company we acquired last year. Some of you have asked how this all came together and if I could write about it.
Don’t Take a Job, Build Something
It all dates back to about 2001 when Oliver Ziegler, today our VP of Customer Care, needed an intern to build the first intranet for his company, RedDot. Without any knowledge of that history, I became the CEO of RedDot some years later. This intern, our very own Markus Dopp, was so good that Oliver offered him a job as a consultant in the New York City office, which he turned down despite the huge salary it came with. He didn’t want to consult, he wanted to build things.
As Markus returned to the small town of Oldenburg in Germany, he started as a developer in a small SAP services company building the early versions of a product that would change my view of how good work can be. The company’s owner became a mentor and when the product started to gain traction in the market, it was then spun it off as its own firm. Over the years Markus went from technical mastermind to CEO of that company, building a global business. Turning down a six-figure job because you like to be a geek is big. Building your own company is huge.
You Always Meet Twice
It was about 2010, we had sold RedDot to OpenText and Markus von Aschoff (yes, Markus is a very popular name), Stefanie Lightman (today our SVP of Strategy & Corporate Marketing), and I started our own company called ifridge & Company. One of the customers we helped was Sitrion. I was amazed to see what this wonderful little software business has built, that could completely change the way we work. Around the same time, Stefanie recruited NewsGator as a customer to improve their go-to-market strategy in North America.
We were knee-deep in projects helping two fantastic companies to get even better, when we learned that each company had recruited a series of former RedDot employees. In a wonderful turn of events, Markus even hired his old boss Oliver to build the US operation for Sitrion. We knew that one day we might all meet again, but who would have believed that the intern who once turned down a job at RedDot would be the driver of it.
7 Course Meal Leads to New CEO
About a year later JB Holston, our Chairman and former CEO, and Brian Kellner, our CTO, went on a roadshow through Europe introducing the power of social to hundreds of customers and prospects. I knew they would love Markus Dopp, so we met at the Bayerische Hof in Munich and had one of the best meals I’ve ever had. My memory is quite blurry as each of the seven courses was accompanied by a great wine pairing, but we left the dinner knowing that together we could change the way work is done. JB made an offer to buy Sitrion, but they said no as the two founders were not ready to let go of their baby.
A little side effect of that dinner was JB and I started to talk more. One thing led to another and he asked me if I would be interested in joining the board of directors at NewsGator. A couple of talks later it turned out that the board seat came with the CEO title. Looking back I think it was all a plot masterminded by JB. Why else would a Denver-based company hire a German CEO. It is still a mystery to me how he knew that it would all work out, but it did. Anyway, before I accepted the offer, I reached out to Sitrion as I would only accept the CEO role if they were ok with it and I was adamant that I still believed the two companies belonged together.
Can I Marry Your Daughter?
Right after joining NewsGator, I made Sitrion a new offer which was again turned down – not immediately, but after weeks of painful negotiations. With my background in investment banking I thought I knew it all. We hired tough lawyers, drafted a fancy Letter of Intent, conducted due diligence, and I was ready to close the deal. What I completely missed was that letting go of Sitrion was not a financial transaction for the founders, it was like somebody asking to marry his daughter. I will never forget the day they called off the deal. I was on vacation hiking with my family. We were watching deer pass by when I got the call: "We can’t do this, you have to understand." It felt like being left at the altar on my wedding day. What had I done wrong? It was simple. I looked at it as a deal. They looked at it like letting a part of their family go.
You can imagine how the NewsGator board looked at this German soap opera. But to their credit, they let me do my thing and a little while later I started talking again with Markus Dopp and the fire was still there: we need to do something together. We talked, talked, and talked some more. And one night they said, let’s do this. I can’t remember if we shook hands, but I remember it ended with a big hug and that’s when I knew this would work out. Business with a touch of family.
Two Great Beginnings, One Great Story
The moral of the story here is that an acquisition is not just about exchanging money, it’s also like asking a father if you can marry his daughter. Once I understood this, it was easy (not really, but that is another story). It is also a great story of a board trusting a guy doing things his way. I know many boards that would have called it off, but not ours. I don’t know the ending to our story yet, but every great story has a beginning and ours actually has two. Two amazing companies with a rich history and fantastic successes came together. I am grateful to be part of it!