The typical tech acquisition story is as follows: large US giant spots up-and-coming UK firm with a good portion of a market it wants to get into. It uses its massive cash reserves to buy UK firm.
We’ve seen it this year with Cisco paying £310m for Swindon-based Ubiquisys, and more recently IBM bought Milton Keynes-based Daeja and Irish firm The Now Factory. Perhaps the most (in)famous example is HP’s somewhat flawed buy of Autonomy. So, end of story. Or is it?
In a rare example of a UK firm buying a US venture, last autumn V3 reported on the acquisition of Workshare by UK firm SkyDox. A win for the Brits, even if the firm did decide to use the Workshare brand as it's the bigger name.
There is more to it than this, though. The founder of SkyDox, Barrie Hadfield (pictured), was also the founder of Workshare, and is now the chief technology officer of the new company. One year on from the deal, V3 caught up with Hadfield to ask how the deal had gone, and how such a unique situation came to pass.
Workshare started life as an on-premise provider of tools for comparing different versions of documents, so staff could track changes and propose alternatives. It has a strong emphasis on security, so only certain members of staff could access, edit or share sensitive documents and data. This has seen it become a popular provider in the legal market, with 4,000 customers to date worldwide.
SkyDox was set up along very similar lines but with an increased focus on collaboration and commenting, and the service was offered in the cloud for firms happy not to have applications or data residing on premise. Hadfield explained that the deal between the two last year was the result of a conversation between himself and the then-chief executive of SkyDox, now entrepreneurial CEO for Workshare, Anthony Foy.
Foy saw that a move to bring Workshare into Skydox’s offering would be complementary for both firms to combine their capabilities and offer both on-premise and cloud tools.
“He [Foy] suggested that we buy Workshare and bring it into SkyDox and we were able to find backers that supported the deal,” Hadfield said. The backing included a £20m investment from Scottish Equity Partners (SEP) towards the firm's growth.
The last 12 months have seen the firms work through the various cultural and professional challenges that come with any acquisition. Chief among these have been relocating the headquarters for Workshare from San Francisco to London.
“We felt it was more efficient to be in London so we could have everyone in one space. Working with management across time zones is very difficult and just not as efficient as all being in the same rooms discussing ideas,” Hadfield explained.
For US staff, suddenly facing the propsect of leaving the West Coast and moving to London, the change must have been tough. “I think it has been fine for most of them,” answers Hadfield, before adding that the success the company has seen since moving also justifies the decision.
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