Risks & Rewards of ExactTarget Deal Still Hinge on People, Ideas & Dollars
Todd Saxton is an associate professor of management at the IU Kelley School of Business Indianapolis, where he also serves as the Indiana Venture Faculty Fellow.
Earlier this quarter, Salesforce.com formally closed on its long-discussed acquisition of ExactTarget. As ownership of one of our region’s largest high-tech employers shifts from Indianapolis to San Francisco, many questions remain: How will the acquisition impact local employees, the company’s commitment to civic endeavors, its position as the anchor of a growing cluster of local digital marketing firms?
These questions may not be answered for some time. The entrepreneurial world isn’t a place for the faint-hearted. This summer, we’ve seen a leadership change at one of the region’s most visible entrepreneurial initiatives (Verge) and a major investigative report from the Star on the state’s major source of public funds for start-ups (IEDC and Elevate Ventures). The entrepreneur always has to be ready for the next curveball.
But there are a few constants in successful entrepreneurship – namely, the core elements of people, ideas and money. The long-term impact of the ExactTarget acquisition will largely depend on the allocation and evolution of these critical resources:
First, human capital. As it was launched here and skyrocketed into a global corporation, ExactTarget has developed legions of executives who have gained valuable experience along the way. In the wake of the acquisition, how many of these employees will take the opportunity to start their own ventures…and will they stay in Central Indiana to do so?
ExactTarget can already claim ‘parentage’ of a number of enterprises launched by former employees. For example, co-founder Chris Baggott starting Compendium, the successful blogging platform headquartered on Monument Circle. If this process accelerates, the infusion of risk-taking talent into our entrepreneurial ecosystem will be a big win.
Then there is the intellectual property, new ideas. Large companies have the wherewithal to attract lots of smart people, who generate lots of good ideas. But conversely, big business is also hamstrung by its size – often too slow to take advantage of niche opportunities, too focused on quarterly earnings or core business priorities to see the potential in ‘orphan technologies.’
ExactTarget is a big company that’s getting a lot bigger. And to the extent its operations are assimilated into the even more mammoth structure of Salesforce.com, it may simply be unable to pursue every promising idea with the vigor of a smaller start-up. If opportunities are left on the table, the ability of would-be entrepreneurs now in the company’s ranks (or outside the organization looking in) to liberate and commercialize this portfolio of intellectual property could be a tremendous economic opportunity.
Finally, the money – specifically, the estimated $2.5 billion price tag paid by Salesforce.com. While some of that money will flow into the pockets of venture capitalists on the coasts and investors outside Central Indiana, much of it will stay with ExactTarget’s early investors, founders, and leading executives. If redeployed as angel investment and seed funding for the next generation of high-tech start-ups, these funds will leave a lasting legacy for Indiana’s entrepreneurial community.
We should recall that this churn of people, innovative ideas and dollars plays out constantly in places like Silicon Valley, and can here in Indiana as well. After all, it was the IPO of Software Artistry in the late 1990s that led to the formation of Interactive Intelligence, Aprimo, and yes, ExactTarget. We should applaud the ExactTarget visionaries who have been rewarded for their ideas, risk, and hard work – and understand that uncertainty comes with opportunity.