What Does Acquia Getting Acquired Mean?

  • 24-Sep-2019

Today comes news that private equity (PE) firm Vista Equity Partners is purchasing a majority stake in longtime WCM vendor Acquia, purveyor of high-end Drupal hosting and add-ons.

After long toying with an IPO and accumulating $175m in venture funding over the course of a decade, Acquia joins WCM competitors Sitecore and Episerver as "unicorns," purchased by PE firms at valuations north of $1B.  Like Sitecore, Acquia has been trying to broaden well beyond its WCM roots by building/acquiring/OEMing other adjacent digital technologies and cross-selling them as a suite.

Impact on Customers?

When a PE firm takes a majority stake or acquires outright, there's typically a couple ways it plays out:

  1. Pump-and-Exit.
    Heavily expand sales and marketing, fix lingering operational problems, and sell to another vendor or take public at a big premium. Vista did this most famously with Marketo.
  2. Extract Income.
    Improve efficiency, grow the business, take profits, and potentially sell to another investment firm, vendor, or perhaps take public down the road.

I don't know what will happen here, but am leaning towards option #2, and this will likely have lesser impact on customers. Acquia is already a very aggressive marketer and I don't see a huge bump in revenue from more funding.  Customers will likely see staff changes, and some longtime Acquia employees and even leaders may now have the chance to exit.

I also down't know what other vendor would want to acquire Acquia down the road, but this could take years to play out. 

I suspect partners will feel the brunt more going forward, as new owners look to diversify sources of revenue and may prove less queasy about raiding services work. Then again, Acquia has always been aggressive here, too, so perhaps any change will come more in degree than kind.

The Future

More generally I'm not sure what Acquia's upside is. The WCM market appears to have plateaued, especially at the high end of the market, and Acquia's core business model of building proprietary extensions to Drupal never felt particularly sustainable to me, even if investors love the customer lock-in angle.  Like Sitecore, Acquia wants to assemble a lot of different solutions under a single umbrella in a way that might not make sense for the larger enterprises they target -- enterprises seeking a more vendor-agnostic, omnichannel stack.

Ideally customers would see a more robust set of modules emerge out of the Drupal community for personalization, search, multisite management, and cloud deployment tools of the kind Acquia sells.  If Acquia disconnects from its major integration partners, perhaps those firms could build them on their own. I never cheer for tech suppliers, but this sort of competition would be great for enterprise customers...

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