In March PerformanceIN revealed that product feed company FusePump was acquired by digital network Wunderman – a subsidiary of multinational advertising and PR firm WPP.
FusePump’s CEO Rob Durkin described the move as a “perfect strategic fit”, so a month on we catch up with Durkin and press him for more details about the acquisition, its initial effects and the future of FusePump as part of Wunderman.
After getting snapped up by WPP just a month ago, what notable changes have occurred at FusePump?
Rob Durkin: Nothing that you’d notice from the outside. We are developing the business into 3 key areas, reflecting our strengths. These are BuyNow, Feed Management, and FusePump Digital. FusePump Digital will become our creative arm, producing creative assets with our amazing data.
What are the top three benefits that this acquisition brings to FusePump?
RD: Well there’s great synergy between us and Wunderman, and also the wider WPP group. We specialise in product data and Wunderman are experts in data insights and analytics, so there are countless opportunities for us to work together. The exposure to big brands and new clients that we get is amazing. This will help us develop global reach, and we’re currently looking at a number of new markets too.
Why do you think Wunderman saw FusePump as a suitable fit?
RD: Our growth rate and profitability would have been attractive to any agency, but the relationship with WPP was particularly strong given the great work we have done with a number of group companies. Wunderman are actively strengthening their Data and Insights division, so this was a natural fit.
How long had the deal been in the pipeline for and how did it come about?
RD: We have had frequent approaches during our lifetime about investment and acquisition from companies (including Wunderman), but we didn’t decide until the middle of last year that it was the right time to start looking seriously. Our corporate advisors (Livingstone Partners) helped us identify potential buyers and ran the process, which really helped us achieve the outcome we wanted.
Were you in talks with any other companies about a takeover?
RD: Yes, we spoke to several possible buyers but in the end it was the strategic fit with Wunderman that really appealed. It’s wise to create a competitive process when selling a business, but we always knew that WPP was where we wanted to end up.
Once it was decided that the acquisition was on, what were the next major milestones to reach before completing the deal?
There’s usually a few iterations before the deal structure is agreed in principle then it’s on to due diligence, which was relatively painless for us as we’d done the necessary preparation in advance. Legal negotiations take slightly longer, to make sure everyone is happy and things will work as expected after the sale happens, then it’s signing and completion if all goes well.
Were there any big challenges or hurdles?
RD: There were no major challenges to note – WPP are extremely polished, practical and fair when it comes to acquisitions. There are not many issues they haven’t seen before, having completed so many of these purchases in the past. The biggest issue was keeping up momentum over the Christmas holiday period!
Did interim CEO Mike Johns play a part in the acquisition?
RD: Yes, Mike helped hugely – he continued to ensure the business was running effectively whilst I was engaged in this extremely time-consuming process. He also helped advise on alternative growth strategies (such as raising funds through venture capital or private equity). It’s important to make sure you consider all the options and look in detail at alternative business plans before you commit to one particular route for developing the business.
How has/will your role as CEO change following the acquisition?
RD: The main change is that I have resumed my responsibilities as CEO full-time, now that the process is complete. We have big plans for growth, so I am spending a lot of time developing new opportunities. Lee Cash continues to run the BuyNow division of the business, and Sean McAuley is running the Feed Management division, whilst Marta Xufre and I are developing a number of new business areas together. It’s hugely exciting being part of a bigger organisation and having a new depth of opportunity, as well as support from some amazing experienced brains!
Did you always have an exit strategy for FusePump and why was now the best time?
RD: Yes, we always hoped to sell within three to five years, and the deal completed shortly after our fifth birthday. It was the ideal time, because we were at the size where we needed a more strategic approach in order to continue growing the business rapidly. WPP brings a wealth of opportunities and provides access to global resources we simply wouldn’t have been able to create ourselves. It is very exciting.
Will FusePump continue to run 'independently'? How will you achieve this and why is this important to you?
RD: It is normal for WPP, when acquiring growing businesses, to allow them to keep doing what they are good at – something that makes sense for both parties. This is basically achieved through me continuing to run the business and remain on the board. We had a clear plan for how we wanted to grow over the next few years before we went to market, so WPP were always bought into this. The hope is that now, with their support, we can exceed expectations further, and I believe we will.
From the early day acquisition talks to signing the final agreement, how do you summarise the takeover experience?
RD: It’s been relatively smooth because we are a straightforward and profitable business in an exciting sector. The learning curve was steep when it came to the corporate and legal aspects of the deal, but I had the right advisors in place to support me every step of the way – and I can’t thank them enough for making it happen.
Do you have any advice for other companies which are about to head down a similar acquisition route?
RD: Make sure you have the best possible support around you (corporate advisors, lawyers, tax advisors, and so on) if you are selling to a large public company. You need to work as a team to get the deal done, because there will inevitably be challenges that test you all during the process.
When the deal was done, how did you personally celebrate the good news?
RD: I took everyone from the team who had worked on the transaction to a nice wine bar and we drank the place dry of champagne. There was a really great spirit within the team because we had all worked so hard together, and I wanted to let each and every one of them know that I appreciated it. Too often lawyers and advisors are the ones working the late nights to get a deal done but they go unpraised. They are the real heroes when the signing is done.
How are FusePump's different regions of operation performing in comparison to each other?
RD: We have clients in Europe, Australia and the US. However, our main market continues to be the retail, travel and entertainment verticals in the UK.