The practice of investing in software businesses and aggregating them under one umbrella is nothing new, and the most well-known example of this is probably Constellation Software in the USA and Visma in the Nordics. Constellation Software is a publicly-traded business which owns more than 1,000 businesses spanning across 50 verticals through its six operating groups. This anti-conglomerate strategy of aggregating vertical market software plays (VMS) has achieved significant returns for investors over the long term.Visma on the other hand is private equity backed and has acquired more than 380 companies since inception, with roughly 50 acquisitions annually.
This article provides an overview of a new trend, the trend of aggregating SaaS business. Rather than working as standalone businesses with teams trying to become market leaders in a certain domain or a vertical market, the SaaS world is an area where a product or an app is used for a certain sticky function, solving a small pain which can be transferred across markets horizontally and is generating a nice cash flow profile out of it.
There are many bootstrapped SaaS businesses out there like this. Similar to the Amazon FBA brand aggregation game, many are too small for private equity investors and/ or strategists, and given their potentially small total addressable market or very fragmented industry, they are not the right fit for VCs either. The new business model of aggregating these small/ micro-SaaS companies under one umbrella provides an opportunity for SaaS company founders to exit.
The long-term vision of most of these aggregators lies in cross-selling SaaS products in its portfolio to merchants that already use one of the other SaaS products. One can maximise marketing channels such as SEO, paid traffic and email marketing across a suite of tools, combining them with an established vendor network to leverage the distribution process to the maximum. Seeing more solutions and more pain points, it is easier to incubate and develop tools in-house. Having a portfolio of SaaS products and seeing how merchants use them generates data which can further add value to the acquisition and development process of SaaS tools. Finally, one can take these tools from the Shopify ecosystem and develop them for the Woocommerce, BigCommerce, and Amazon content management ecosystems.
We do not expect a similar big number of SaaS aggregators (micro/small/mid-cap) to pop up as in the case of Amazon aggregators, which ended fairly tragically with many of the aggregators going into distress under the load of expensive debt. It is not an easy task to operate so many individual brands under one roof, let alone scale them, however, the success of Constellation Software and many other smaller players in the US, as well as quite a few very successful private equity funds, shows that acquiring software business can lead to better results.
So far, there are only a handful of aggregators in this space, but please get in touch at [email protected] if you know of a name that is not on the list or if you are a software aggregator yourself and want to be featured here.
Acquisition criteria are split into Business Performance (profitable and healthy financial metrics), Software Capabilities (strong development team, super fast and ultra-responsive software), Customer Satisfaction (high retention rates, low churn, positive feedback) and Sustainable Growth (whether there is more room to grow in the existing market, organic growth).
Shop Circle promises to close deals in less than 40 days, which includes a virtual meeting with the core team, submission of a letter of intent outlining the purchase price, terms of transition and support and closing date. Following that, there is a code review and tech due diligence, followed by the submission of a binding sales & purchase agreement.
- Conjured Referrals: Referral program app
- Sky Pilot: Allows store owners to deliver digital assets (music, videos, book files) to customers on Shopify
- Order Tagger: Helps to add, remove, delay and backdate order tags when managing orders
- Shipping Rates Calculator Plus: Calculates and shows shipping rates with geolocation on the customers’ cart page
- Customer Tags & Segments: Auto tags customers and allows for smarter segmentation
- Video Background: Embeds YouTube and Vimeo videos into storefronts
Building on the SEO, PPC, Email Marketing and Amazon services capabilities, the business started creating its own apps and automation to provide more value for customers looking to scale their businesses. Verticals of interest include e-commerce enablement, developer tools and marketing tech SaaS. The group is acquiring businesses and solutions that help companies solve problems in a better and faster way. NUOPTIMA is looking to disrupt the traditional marketing agency model by embedding SaaS solutions into its offering. The bespoke services element allows NUOPTIMA to increase marketing ROI and provide a much smoother customer experience.
Working with more than 50 venture-backed businesses, NUOPTIMA developed a 100-step value creation plan it is using to improve operations and performance of the acquired business. A sophisticated tech stack and automation within the portfolio allow a smooth integration of products while leveraging the customer base to upsell and cross-sell the products.
Agency CRM: Helps agencies with more than 6 clients manage communications through a centralized web platform. The agency is able to manage replies and communication through a single platform, and the clients are able to message natively in their existing messaging tools (e.g Email, Slack) and integrate directly into the Agency CRM.
The founders are:
Tim Schumacher (CEO of SaaS.Group), Chairman and co-founder of Eyeo (AdBlock Plus) and co-founder of Sedo.com.
Tobias Schlottke, who serves as CTO, co-founded one of the largest tech conferences in Europe called OMR (Online Marketing Rockstars). In the past, he was Co-Founder & CTO of Metrigo and adyard.
Ulrich Essmann, Chief People Officer at saas.group. He co-founded Sedo.com with Tim Schumacher in the past and served as Chief Product Officer.
The group is industry and vertical-agnostic and has a portfolio spanning scraping, developer tools and SEO (search engine optimisation) products. The business is registered in Nevada with a remote culture of 80+ staff members spread globally.
The average acquisition size is in the region of $6 million, with deals starting as small as $1 million if they fit the criteria. The group prefers businesses that have been around for a few years, show strong organic numbers and have a loyal customer following.
- DeployBot: Allows developers to build and ship code faster. Acquired in February 2018.
- Juicer: Aggregates hashtags and social media posts into a single social media feed on your website. Acquired in June 2018.
- Sniply: Enables sharing links with a call to action. Acquired in August 2019.
- Scraper API: Proxy service which allows developers to embed scraping into any application. Acquired in August 2020.
- GitTower: Git client for Windows and macOS. Acquired in February 2021.
- Rewardful: Setup of affiliate and referral programs with Stripe & Paddle. Allows users to track referrals, discounts and commissions. Acquired in November 2021.
- Pipeline: Client Relationship Management system (CRM). Acquired in April 2022.
- Keyword: Tracks keyword rankings and providers competitor insights on SEO performance.
James Albert Gasteen comes with a background in advising and investing in B2B SaaS business. He has co-founded Precursive, a customer onboarding and resource management application.
In May 2021, Carbon6 Technologies raised $2.1 million in venture funding from Benevolent Capital at a $6 million pre-money valuation. The group raised $13.8 million in funding in July 2022. According to Pitchbook, the pre-money valuation was $80 million. In October 2022, Carbon6 Technologies received $66 million in Series A funding. The capital was a mix of equity funding provided by White Star Capital, Benevolent Capital and Kale Investment Fund, and debt funding provided by MidCap Financial.
- PixelMe: Allows Amazon sellers to increase revenue, improve listing rankings and attract more traffic.
- SellerTools: Optimises Amazon listings to increase conversions.
- AMZAlert: Monitors Amazon listings 24/7 and immediately alerts sellers of problems.
- ZonTools: Facilitates Amazon PPC management and reduces ACOS.
- ScanUnlimited: Makes it easy for Amazon sellers to select profitable products and find suppliers.
- PayFleet: Allows sellers to quickly borrow money to grow their business.
- MerchNinja: Facilitates keyword research for merch sellers.
- PrettyMerch: Utilises advanced sales analytics to help business owners get on top of profitable trends.
- ZenArbitrage: Makes it easy to create and operate a profitable online arbitrage business.
In December 2020, WeCommerce raised $60 million via a Reverse Takeover listing (RTO) on the TSXV (Toronto Venture Stock Exchange). In April 2021, WeCommerce acquired Stamped, a provider of reviews, ratings, loyalty & rewards for merchants. In July 2021, WeCommerce raised $33.7M in follow-on funding via an equity offering, and in August 2021, they purchased Archetype, another theme provider. In March 2022, the group acquired Kno Commerce, a post-purchase survey provider.
- Stamped: Helps business owners gather reviews and ratings and utilise referrals.
- Foursixty: Facilitates the use of user-generated content by brands.
- KnoCommerce: Allows e-commerce brands to easily carry out surveys through a variety of channels.
- Orbit: A suit of applications used by business owners to improve conversion rates, increase order totals, etc.
- Archetype Themes: Shopify theme provider.
- Pixel Union: Shopify theme provider.
In January 2019, the firm received investment from Providence Strategic Growth and used that funding to acquire Helium 10, the leading business intelligence software for Amazon merchants.
A follow-up investment by Providence Strategic Growth and Advent International for an undisclosed amount in July 2021 valued the group at $1 billion.
The firm also received over $224 million in debt financing in the same period to expand their business, hire new staff and acquire new companies. Of that sum, $113 million came in the form of a first-lien senior secured debt, $58 million as a first-lien senior secured unfunded commitment and nearly $53 million as an unfunded commitment from Goldman Sachs Private Middle Market Credit II BDC and Goldman Sachs BDC. In October 2021, the group borrowed a further $270 million from Morgan Stanley Direct Lending Fund BDC and Monroe Capital for new acquisitions.
- Pacvue: Suit of software products for e-commerce sellers.
- Helium 10: Leading platform that provides a host of tools for Amazon sellers.
- PipeCandy: Provides market intelligence obtained by analysing over 6 million retailers.
- Refersion: Facilitates affiliate influencer marketing for merchants.
- SellerBench: Automatically monitors missing FBA reinforcements and overcharged fees and helps sellers get refunds.
- OldStreetMedia: Allows Amazon sellers to grow sales through marketing and management services.
- TacticalArbitrage: Makes it easy for sellers to engage in online arbitrage and find good wholesale deals.
- HotShp: Creates automatic blog and social media posts, titles, etc.
Newor Media: Provides ad management services to website owners.
Codeinero: Creates apps for Shopify stores.
Quetext: Checks text for plagiarism.
Txt2Give: Facilitates donations through text messages for nonprofit organisations, churches, politicians, etc.
SentryKit: Monitors Amazon listings and notifies sellers of problems and changes.
In Cart Upsell: Allows sellers to upsell their products in the shopping cart.
Product Customizer: Makes it easy for e-commerce customers to customize products and view visualisations in real time.
Trackify: Facilitates Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and TikTok pixel integration.
Website On Demand: Provides apps for Shopify sellers.
Prior to 2014, the firm also incubated its own business, launching 11 companies.
The group has 35 majority-owned companies and more than 90 minority investments.
Their investment criteria are as follows: high margins, MOAT via brand/ community/ or niche, simple business model, profits ranging from $500k to $50M, operating time of over three years, a high-quality team and a positive and ethical approach.
The firm promises to respond to acquisition proposals within 48 hours, make an offer within 7 days and close the deal in 30 days. Founders can stay on or leave.
Pixel Union: Shopify theme provider, which was sold to WeCommerce, the listed Shopify apps aggregator.
KnoCommerce: Customer survey platform built for e-commerce brands. Collects customer insights to improve marketing strategies.
Dribble: Community and marketplace plays for creatives.
Notarize: Provides remote online signature, notary and eClosing services. Revenues for 2021 exceeded $500M.
The group received $14.5 million in venture funding in 2017 and an extra $13.4 million in 2018, with a pre-money valuation of $200 million. They received another $8 million in 2019, with a pre-money valuation of $192 million. Japan Post Capital led AnyMind’s Series C funding round, during which the group received $26.4 million. In March 2022, AnyMind got approval for an IPO on the Tokyo Stock Exchange but ultimately decided against going public due to poor market conditions. Instead, the group raised money through a Series D funding round, receiving JPY 5 billion (1 billion of this sum in the form of debt capital).
- AnyX: Provides cross-platform management capabilities to e-commerce business owners.
- AnyFactory: Allows e-commerce sellers to find manufacturers and suppliers.
- AnyShop: Provides development and maintenance services for e-commerce stores.
- AnyManager: Gives e-commerce sellers everything they need to grow their brands using media.
- AnyChat: Automates communication with customers.
- AnyTag: Makes it easy for business owners to utilise influencer marketing techniques.
- AnyDigital: Gives business owners the opportunity to manage offline and online marketing activities in one place.
- AnyLogi: Facilitates logistics management for e-commerce and D2C companies.
- AnyCreator: Makes it easier for creators to make content and grow their brands.
- ENGAWA Company: A company that facilitates brand relations for Japanese businesses.
- GROVE: Japan-based influencer network.
- Pokkt: Platform for video ads popular in MENA, Southeast Asia and India.
- LYFT: Fitness clothing and accessories brand.
- AnyUp: Influencer marketing company.
- Acqua Media: Facilitates ad monetisation with different web publishers and app developers.
- Moindy Digital: Facilitates video content management.
- VGI AnyMind Technology: Provides digital ad delivery services.
- Vitay: Facilitates automatic reference checking for HR professionals and recruiters.
- Simple Purchase Orders: Automates inventory restocking and purchase orders for e-commerce sellers.
- MeetEdgar: Automates social media management for owners of small businesses and influencers.
- GrowthHero: Enables Shopify store owners to run affiliate programs.
- LeadDyno: Affiliate marketing tool.
- Tradervue: Online trade journaling tool for trading firms and traders.
- Docparser: Makes it easy for companies to move data from images, Word and PDF files to Google Sheets, Excel and other data formats.
- Back in Stock: Helps Shopify sellers to automatically notify customers about products being back in stock.
- Storemapper: Store locator tool that can be added to any website.
- Wingman: Helps traders improve their performance by automating trade tracking.
- Cross Sell: Allows Shopify sellers to add the “you might also like…” feature to their stores.
- Plug in Useful: Allows e-commerce sellers with Shopify stores to optimise their websites for search engines and improve their speed.
- FeedbackPanda: Makes it easier for ESL teachers to track their students’ progress and manage feedback.
- ChargeStripe: Helps small store owners accept credit and debit card payments using their smartphones.
- Jell: Makes it easy for teams to collaborate and conduct standup meetings.
- Mailparser: A tool that extracts necessary information from emails to save business owners time on administrative work.
- MySiteAuditor: Creates automated SEO reports for businesses.
- Paydirt: Helps freelancers track time and create invoices.
- Taster’s Club: This is a spirits subscription box that creates curated selections of rare bottles.
Currently, the company is looking to acquire apps that help Shopify sellers increase their revenue by improving conversions and customer retention rates and boosting the average order value. Once a company is acquired, StayTuned improves the software by adding new features, offering new pricing plans, and internalising it in their ecosystem. The aggregator also gets the opportunity to cross-sell new apps to their existing customers.
It’s important to mention that the Shopify software ecosystem is currently undergoing a rapid period of growth, with the total number of apps available to sellers increasing from around 3,000 in 2019 to over 7,000 in 2022. Out of 1.75 million Shopify sellers, 87% use at least one app in their day-to-day business activities. Most Shopify apps have recurring charges and large profit margins, making this space very attractive for aggregators.
- Kiwi: Gives brand owners an easy way to determine the correct clothing sizes for customers.
- AOVBoost: Allows store owners to automatically create exclusive offers before checkout.
- Dexter: Facilitates easy A/B price testing.
- Moonship: Creates personalised discount offers for shoppers to increase conversion rates.
- Evey Events: Makes it easy for brand owners to sell tickets to their events.
- Box Builder: Allows e-commerce sellers to create customised product bundles and gift boxes.
In April 2022, the company raised $60 million in a Series A funding round led by Silversmith Capital Partners, an equity firm based in Boston, USA. The aggregator is planning to use the funds to facilitate the development of software in-house and acquire more e-commerce companies.
Conversion Bear: Helps e-commerce sellers increase conversion rates and sales revenue.
RoboTurk: Provides an address validator tool and festive decorations to Shopify sellers.
ViralSweep: Facilitates email marketing efforts by providing a host of useful features.
Nextsale: Helps business owners improve conversions by using marketing tools and analytics.
Rich Returns: Allows sellers to simplify the return process for their customers.
OrderBump: Facilitates upsells during checkout and after purchase.
Technology is constantly improving, with more data, new APIs, advancements in bandwidth, machine learning and increased penetration rates across businesses and customers. SaaS products will continue to grow and evolve, and while conglomerates and platforms continue to scale, so will independent micro-SaaS businesses, with often just one founder behind a whole business. Providing the infrastructure and support necessary to bring that micro-SaaS business to the next level is becoming an attractive value proposition, and we expect the number of exits in this space to increase.
An aggregator of SaaS and software companies can be thematic or industry agnostic. The group usually looks at $500k-2m ARR micro-SaaS companies which solve a problem in a certain niche and have a sticky business model. The group has a centralised marketing, tech and finance function, providing synergies across the portfolio of companies it acquires.
Private equity funds such as Hg Capital, Vista Equity Partners or Marlin Equity Partners have a strong focus on Software companies, however, they operate each acquired company as a stand-alone business with no centralised support apart from the financial function. Each business private equity firms acquire has a large team of professionals across multiple functions such as HR, marketing, distribution, software development and finance. With micro-SaaS aggregators, the product is fairly simple and is a self-serve solution, thus rarely requiring a big customer success team. Plus, a lot of the sales & marketing is done via product-led growth and email marketing rather by than large teams of sales professionals. Without the big workforce, it is much easier to acquire these small companies/ solutions and put them under an umbrella of functional experts who sit in the aggregator.
At this point, there are not that many companies in this space, as it is not easy to find targets and many software companies try to get venture capital funding, making it not a suitable target to acquire these businesses.
Given the lack of exit opportunities and a ceiling in the size the business can achieve, the businesses are usually valued at 4x to 6x EBITDA multiples. Many of the aggregators raise debt financing to acquire these businesses, using the cash generated from the operations to pay down the debt. This approach is similar to private equity and the Amazon aggregator space.