In the time since the Community Brands deals were announced, I’ve spoken with senior executives at Abila, Aptify, YourMembership, and some of their competitors. I also attended the Abila Users & Developers Conference, speaking with their customers and consultants, and listened to a keynote presentation from JP Guilbault, Community Brands’ CEO.
I’ve been analyzing the implications of this deal from the standpoint of each company wrapped up in the transaction, based on the conversations I’ve had with my sources.
Today’s post is about YourMembership.
It’s safe to say that YourMembership (YM) is the lead company in the Community Brands consolidation. The CEO of YM, JP Guilbault, has ascended to the title of CEO of Community Brands and holds the title of CEO for both Aptify and Abila.
For background, in the past five years, YM has made a rapid rise to become a powerhouse AMS. In late 2012, YM (which stood with about 1,000 clients at the time) acquired Affiniscape, an Austin-based AMS with about 1,200 clients, making them one of the major AMS players in the small to mid-sized association market.
The Affiniscape acquisition was bumpy for customers, according to most accounts, and on ReviewMyAMS.com, you can see a pattern of customer dissatisfaction on YM right after the merger. Much like the Avectra/Abila merger, many of the Affiniscape staff departed shortly after the acquisition. Despite assurances made at the 2012 Affiniscape users conference that a best of breed AMS would come from the careful analysis of both products, clients were notified after the acquisition that their product would be deprecated, and a migration to YM would their only choice — unless they wanted to move to another AMS. Clearly, this angered many Affiniscape clients. Adding insult to injury, many Affiniscape clients felt their migrations to YM weren’t handled with care. Ultimately YM doubled down its investment on migrations and the experience improved. It took years for YM to undo the damage, but they eventually did, and now they enjoy a mostly happy clientele. JP Guilbault admits that he reflects on the Affiniscape acquisition as a learning experience, and one that he vows not to repeat.
But doubling their customer base with Affiniscape was only the beginning. YM acquired job board platform Job Target and learning management system platform Digital Ignite. Years after these acquisitions, the former CEOs of Job Target and Digital Ignite are still on staff with YM, their offices are still in place, as are many employees of those acquired companies. I believe this is evidence of a learning lesson from the Affiniscape acquisition, and is hopefully a foreshadowing of what should be expected for the Abila and Aptify deals, as well as future deals.
These acquisitions, combined with the development of an expertly executed marketing and sales strategy over the past five years resulted in YM being catapulted to one of the leading AMS and technology providers in the market, both in terms of customers and revenue. For this effort, YM was acquired by Ministry Brands in February 2017 for a hefty price tag of approximately $300 million, it’s rumored.
YM customers will be the least affected by this consolidation, according to the industry observers I’ve spoken to. They expect the inertia of JP Guilbault’s tenure with YM to continue for the foreseeable future. Because of this, we can predict that the products, office culture, pricing models, customer service practices, and staff from the legacy YM company to be more difficult to unseat going forward under Community Brands than those of Abila and Aptify.
Therefore, Abila and Aptify personnel and customers should expect aspects of YM’s business practices to be applied to them. That change may be painful at first, but in the long run, it will probably be for the best, as the personnel will be more efficient as duplicative processes are eliminated.
Most consultants and YM customers we’ve spoken to are taking a cautious, wait-and-see approach. Most customers seem to have gotten over the problems experienced during the Affiniscape merger. But like any AMS customer base, there is a contingent of unhappy YM customers, and this contingent sees the Community Brands consolidation as a distraction from the work that needs to be done to stabilize and enhance the products. And to be fair, there is a contingent of YM customers that is excited about the growth and innovation opportunities afforded by YM’s access to hundreds of millions of dollars to invest in their products.
Perhaps the greatest opportunity for YM in the short term is to expand its ancillary products and services into the new customer bases. I’m interested to see how aggressively YM Learning, YM Marketing, and YM Careers will be promoted to Abila and Aptify customers.
Industry insiders believe YM, as the lead company in this consolidation, will be challenged to balance profitability on the one hand, with guarantees of no forced migrations on the other. In particular, YM’s Digital Ignite is a direct competitor to Abila’s LMS, Freestone. And Abila’s netFORUM Pro is often considered head-to-head against YM’s AMS. In a typical consolidation, one product would be deprecated in favor of the preferred product. But as we’ve described in these analyses, this is not your typical consolidation.