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When good things happen to good people: SinglePlatform acquired by Constant Contact

The news just came out that SinglePlatform is being acquired by Constant Contact--up to $30 million of the $100 million deal in incentive based awards.  If you've ever met Wiley, you know you can bank on him maxing out that additional $30 million.  You don't give a sales team like that a target without expecting him to crush it.

I first met Wiley Cerilli on April 23, 2010.  I biked down Broadway to his temporary office space at SoHo Haven.  I had come from breakfast at Coffee Shop with Rob Hayes and it was a great sunny day to be on wheels.

Wiley was soft spoken and extremely professional.  He oozed a quiet confidence--like a baseball pitcher who had all his stuff working and knew exactly in his head the pitch he was going to finish you off with.  No need to get worked up about it--it was just about executing what you had in your head, like he had done on each pitch before during this game.  (A VC once said about him that "I'm not sure about the company, but I sure do want him reading bedtime stories to my kids.")  

A chalkboard stood in the corner with sales totals for the week.  He proceded to tell me a story about how, in his SeamlessWeb days, he spent a day at a customer just watching their day--how they got hounded by the yellow pages guy, the napkin guy, the vending machine salespeople, sold to minute after minute while they ran around just trying to keep their business afloat.  

The hard sale was never going to work and so he went about developing a better methodology--one about being supportive of the customer and thinking about how what you did made their life easier.  There isn't a thing you could tell Wiley about how to walk into a pizzeria and walk out with a check, but that doesn't mean he won't sit and listen to you anyway, because he's that kind of guy.

He's also the kind of guy that volunteers at a summer camp for kids who have lost parents.  He'll take any meeting with a student looking to find their way in their career.  When I asked him to come share his sales and company culture expertise at GA, he was on it--right in the middle of acquisition negotiations.

After I met him, I told the team at First Round that I had just met the guy we were going to back in the local space.  A year later, SinglePlatform was chosen as one of Business Insider's 25 Companies to Watch.  When BI put up a photo of Wiley, he asked that they replace it with a photo of his team.  That's the most important thing I learned about working with Wiley over the last two years...

You don't just get the entrepreneur--you get the team he puts in a position to succeed.  

Given that, I'm incredibly proud to be able to congratulate the whole SinglePlatform team on their successful sale to Constant Contact, because it was truly a team effort. 

The company culture that SinglePlatform had built up was outstanding--something other companies should really try to emulate.  Sales goals were setup to encourage representatives to help each other out--not only by structuring team incentives, but creating an environment were one day someone would carry the load and the next day, someone else would--and it was all about getting the team there.

Early on, Wiley had invited me to a team building session.  Salespeople were working with a coach to identify communication styles and preferences.  It struck me that nowhere else were kids this age getting their personal development cared about in the same way.  

In fact, one potential recruit that I sent over there, who eventually followed his writing passion and become a journalist for Forbes, liked the company so much that he went back and wrote a magazine profile on it.  The cool thing--Lance Armstrong saw Wiley's Livestrong band and wrote him a handwritten note wishing him good luck with the company.

I was an extremely proud investor in the company through First Round, but it wasn't easy to get there.

Wiley initially didn't want to take any money, so it wasn't the easiest deal to get.  He wrote to me in July:

"...We are pretty sure we will not be going the institutional route... Although we are excited about being cash flow positive, we are most excited about the next phase of the business. Our service has a ways to go but the feeling the team has and the feedback we are getting, reminds me of month 9 at Seamless when we all started to realize that this was going to our lives and passions for the next 10 years..."

Selling the salesguy wasn't easy, but when I made the full pitch to him about getting involved early, and rolling up our sleeves, especially around recruiting, he became more and more excited.  The cool thing was that I felt so good about SinglePlatform as a place to work that I felt like I wasn't just helping the company--I was helping the employee find a great home.

Not everyone was enthusiastic about this company, though.  

When we first syndicated the seed round with other investors, some people didn't get it.  Despite the fact that he had over 100 signed customers--something that never happens when you get pitched a service for local merchants that isn't a Groupon clone, people asked about how robust the product was.  The answer: it wasn't.  SP had built a minimum viable product with a 30 hour a week tech consultant and sold the hell out of it.  Product?  We'll build whatever we need to later after we solve the hard part in our space--sales.

It also wasn't a particularly "hot" round when the company raised money last year.  All Wiley and his team had ever done is follow through on all their promises--and accomplish just about everything he said he was going to in his seed round.  Their success became almost routine.  Yawn.  Revenues.  Partners.  Powering Foursquare's menu data?  Yawn.  B2B.  Meh.  It was tough to get the market excited if you weren't doing viral photosharing.  Thank you Thatcher at DFJ and Jeff at New World for having the conviction to see a real business and to step up.

I can't say enough about how much I've learned from Wiley and how much I've enjoyed getting to know the other folks on his team.  

They mention in Casino Royale (I'm a Bond geek.) that it takes two kills to become a Double-0 agent.  Now I feel like I'm kind of a "real" VC now that I've got a second exit (GroupMe) in less than a year.  I owe it in large part to finding great people whose skills were uniquely matched to the entrepreneurial challenge they were taking on.  I certainly have to thank the First Round team for supporting an investment in SinglePlatform, especially Howard who worked on the investment with me.

So congrats again to the SinglePlatform team and best of luck in their continued success now as a division of Constant Contact.  

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