A local “overnight success” (17 years in the making!) is being acquired for $1.65 billion by a leading private equity investor and its story is chock full of lessons for business in this region.
The best time to sell a business is when you are not looking to sell, and that was definitely the case for Cvent. The price per share offered in this deal — a 69 percent premium on the trading price immediately prior to the deal announcement — demonstrates just how much the buyer wanted Cvent. First lesson for entrepreneurs to remember: The best time to sell a business is not when you say it is, but when the market says it is.
Cvent is also a story of individual entrepreneurial success. The company was born during the Internet wave of the late 90s and managed to survive the subsequent downturn in the venture capital markets and engage in a long-term strategic growth plan. This is a lesson in the power of sticking to a plan and grinding it out as an entrepreneur.
Chief executive Reggie Aggarwal is a terrific example of how the entrepreneurial characteristics of commitment, optimism and failing upward combined to help him lead his business to this point. Aggarwal was resourceful, irrepressible and willing to be accountable — and he still talks candidly today about devastating failures that didn’t keep him down. These are all attributes to be admired and looked for in other entrepreneurs.
The Cvent transaction is also significant because of the amount being paid. Truth is, over the last 20 years, the greater Washington region has actually seen more than 100 of its businesses purchased for more than $1 billion apiece.
Most of these deals involved out-of-region purchasers. For the Cvent deal, the buyer is not an out-of-region company, but a financial purchaser. This is an important point.
When a company is bought by an out-of-region buyer, the critical mass of the purchased company often shifts to the home town of the buyer. At the minimum, the independence of the acquired company disappears, and our business community loses an engaged member, as its “home” is elsewhere. And some of the best employees relocate to headquarters. This creates a brain drain as our region loses experienced people who could start new businesses.
When those brains stay put, it has an amazing effect. Consider the positive effects of AOL going public here and the wealth and talent it created. Or witness the accomplishments of the progeny of CapitalOne and the cybersecurity firm SourceFire — all healthy parts of our ecosystem of entrepreneurs.
The Cvent deal is also a reminder of how proximity is important; its software-as-a-service model that specializes in meetings management technology benefited from being in the same neighborhood as our large and growing concentration of hospitality companies, associations, networking groups and an engaged community. We tend to define proximity to the federal government as the sole benefit of location in the greater Washington region, but Cvent shows us that there are broader benefits to this proximity.
Perhaps the most important lesson of this impressive deal what I like to call “D.C’.s Model of Entrepreneurship.”
D.C.’s Model of Entrepreneurship is tied to technology innovation, where the founder is creative, makes do with less venture capital, stays focused and uses the company’s location in the greater Washington region as a defining strategic benefit.
The best part? Cvent got a financial boost that will allow it to drive new opportunities to — and benefit from — our region for years to come.
Jonathan Aberman is a business owner, entrepreneur and founder of Tandem NSI, an Arlington-based organization that seeks to connect innovators to government agencies. He is host of “Forward Thinking Radio” on SiriusXM, a business and policy program, and lectures at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.