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M&A in the expert network industry

Max Friberg
CEO at Inex One
- Market, Business
Expert networks are key data providers for M&A deals. But did you know there are deals among them, as well?

Expert networks have attracted investments from well-known buyout firms Silver Lake, IK Investment Partners, Permira and SFW Capital. The industry seems resilient to the current pandemic, and has kept growing even through 2020. Read our review of all material deal activity (M&A, fundraising) in the expert network industry.

2000's: The US-based industry gets organized

The first expert networks started out in the late 1990's, serving US buy-side firms. For the first decade, the deal activity focused on "where they'd fit". Both investment banks (GS, Bear Sterns, Leerink) and data providers (S&P, Evalueserve, Reuters) acquired or started their own expert networks.

2004

💵 GLG took $30m from Bessemer Venture Partners. At the time, the expert industry was nascent, with only a handful players. Full details on GLG’s funding history here.

2005

🤝 S&P bought Vista Research for $30m or perhaps $40m. At the time, Vista and GLG were the two leading networks. Goldman Sachs had considered buying the latter, but backed out due to pricing issues and potential compliance liability issues.

2007

💵 GLG took a $200m investment from Silver Lake, at a supposed $875m valuation.

🤝 Evalueserve acquired Nitron Circle of Experts.

🎂 Having passed on GLG, Goldman Sachs started its own network: Vantage Marketplace. Despite this not being an M&A deal - or that the firm never really got off the ground - the website is worth a mention. A blast from the past!

2009

🤝 Guidepoint bought Vista Research for $10-13m, or even $15m. S&P booked a $14m loss on the sale.

🤝 Primary Insight spun out through a management buy-out. The firm had started in 2005 as an in-house expert network at Bear Sterns.

2010's: The international landgrab

As the industry grew, new expert networks sprung up. A host of firms emerged in the late 00's, focusing on custom-recruiting on LinkedIn. Some of them (notably Third Bridge, Alphasights, Capvision and Atheneum) went on to become global players, others were acquired. The early years were overshadowed by the US insider-trading probes, and subsequent investments in and standardization of expert network compliance programs.

2010

🤝 Third Bridge (named Cognolink until 2015) acquired Epito, a Swedish expert network, for an undisclosed sum.

2011

🤝 Business Connect China (BCC) bought Circle of Experts from Evalueserve, and the small US-based Tribeca Insights. Sum unknown.

2012

💵 Third Bridge raised approx. $4.5m from Beringea at an implied valuation of $35m post-money.

2015

💵 GLG bought back the Silver Lake stake, and took $212m from SFW Capital "at an enterprise value in excess of $700m". Silicon Valley Bank provided a $250m credit line.

🤝 Guidepoint acquired Innosquared, a German expert network, for an undisclosed sum.

💵 Atheneum raised €10m at a €50m valuation from Vogel Business Media and business angels.

2017

💵 Third Bridge raised an undisclosed amount from IK Investment Partners, with support from Permira Debt Managers. IK also bought out Beringea’s stake from 2012. The reported share premium account increased by $45m, and long-term debt (>1 year) by $36m.

💵 Lynk (formerly The Straits Network) raised $4m to expand its APAC-focused network.

2018

💵 Atheneum raised €10m from Crosslantic Capital Management.

2019

💵 Lynk raised an undisclosed amount, having previously raised $4m in 2017.

2020

🤝 July – VisasQ (JP) invested $300k in DeepBench.

🤝 May – Uzabase (JP) invested $2m in GlobalWonks.

💵 February – Techspert.io (UK) raised $5m in a round led by Nauta Capital.

Both VisasQ and Uzabase are listed on the Tokyo stock exchange. Both firms cited a need for increased global reach and access to better technology as their investment theses.

The 2020's: Tech innovation and diversification

At the start of the new decade, a number of technical novelties have been introduced, while incumbents have diversified into new products. Will we see more M&A deals in this decade? Most likely. Want more insights? Contact us. Want to access the best experts? Sign up here. You might even find me on there. 😉

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