OPINION: So far, it’s business as usual under Community Brands

The following is an opinion piece from Jim Gibson, Director of IT at the American Hospital Association, and a Community Brands customer. At AMS Fest (June 7-8, 2017 in Chicago) Jim will appear on a panel discussion about the M&A and investment activity in the NFP technology sector.

In an effort to stay somewhat on top of the recent Association Management System consolidation trend, I have been paying a bit more attention to some of the announcements and blog posts than I might have not otherwise. As an employee of perhaps a larger association with a long standing and heavily invested AMS system, I try to resist the “get off my lawn” mentality as I wonder what all the fuss is about the recent acquisitions that has spawned Community Brands.

What I mean by “fuss” is that I don’t feel like my day to day world has been affected. At least not yet. I am no stranger to change in organizations as I spent many years as a change management consultant. So while I understand there is change going on in the AMS market, I think it is more of a trial at the moment for the AMS vendors themselves and less so for their clients. After all there is still a lot of acquisitions, process improvements, and restructuring still going on not to mention how all the smaller vendors will compete that we must get through before we see much impact to the clients.

So where does that leave associations on the Community Brand platforms? In my opinion, in the same place as we were before. I am still worrying about keeping my AMS system upgraded properly while utilizing new features and functionality. I am still working with my team to keep integrations to our AMS running smoothly or add new ones. We still fret about data integrity, training and even more about data governance. One of our biggest concerns has always been how to get data out of our AMS system in an expeditious and user friendly manner so we can analyze member engagement and create data products for our members.

So while the AMS vendor world is changing around me, I don’t feel the impact in the near term. I would love for the things I worry about (see above) to magically be solved. One can dream can’t they? Perhaps the answer lies in shifting the center of our data universe from the AMS system to more of a data warehouse. Or perhaps new best of breed systems will emerge that can solve some of these challenges that many associations face. I eagerly await how the answer will emerge.

Peter Drucker said, “The best way to protect the future is to create it”. I for one hope the AMS vendors and their customers can create a future for our AMS systems that provide associations with easily integrated systems across multiple platforms that allow us to serve our members in the best way possible and with the ability to provide a great user experience and value added product offerings for our customers. Let’s see what happens next.

MemberClicks acquires event registration tech ePly

In May 2017, AMS platform MemberClicks acquired event registration technology company, ePly. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed.

MemberClicks accepted a round of growth equity funding in February 2017.

Moving on? Let’s talk!

I’ve spoken with several staff at association technology companies who have moved on, who are preparing to move on, or are otherwise “in transition.” If that sounds like you, I’d love to talk with you — subject to any non-disclosure agreements to which you’re bound, of course.

In return for any information you provide, I’m happy to make introductions to people in my network who are in a position to hire, or otherwise help in any way that I can as you search for a new opportunity. Click here to contact me.

ASI International (iMIS) acquires ISSI

In May 2017, ASI International, creators of the iMIS AMS platform, acquired Innovative Software Solutions Inc. (ISSI), as a wholly-owned subsidiary. ISSI is a 160-staff company offering “benefit administration software and services to multi-employer/union affiliated benefit funds in North America.” Read the press release.

ASI International accepted $26M in growth equity funding in July 2016.

OPINION: Can a boutique AMS compete with Community Brands?

The following is an opinion post from Matrix Group CEO, Founder & Chief Troublemaker Joanna Pineda, and originally appeared on the MatriXFiles blog:

Last month, some of the largest AMS (association management system) companies (YourMembership, Abila, Aptify and NimbleAMS) joined forces to create Community Brands, which they describe as “a powerful and unified family of brands and a connected eco-system of software and services to better serve associations, nonprofits and government entities.”

One can quibble over whether or not Community Brands will be a “family” of complementary or competing brands. But for a company like Matrix Group, with our web-based MatrixMaxx AMS, the big question is: In this age of mega-mergers, is there still room for a small, local player? Can we compete with the big guys for clients and talent?

I’m confident that the answer is a resounding “Yes!”

Many years ago, the book club at Matrix Group read Small Giants by Bo Burlingham, Editor-at-Large at Inc. magazine. In the book, Bo writes about 14 companies that are small and growing or small and choosing to stay small. In all cases, they have chosen excellence over growth.

Excellence over growth has always been my mantra. If growth made sense in any given year, we went for it, but never at the expense of technical excellence, customer service, customer intimacy and terrific user experience.

Sure, in many ways, being small, niche and custom is anti-trend. Aren’t we all shopping at Amazon and big box retailers? Aren’t we most impressed by the companies that have big, booming growth and huge total revenue numbers (often ignoring net income; we rarely hear about that). But on the other hand, there’s a movement to support small, local businesses. Think of the millennials who prefer independent coffee shops, bookstores and clothing shops.There’s a reason they prefer small and local and I’d wager it’s because they get a more personalized, friendly, and tailored experience.

I spoke with a few clients over the past few weeks and they told me that they like working with Matrix Group because:

  • We have an amazing staff
  • Our work is of very high quality
  • We offer superior technical solutions on the AMS and custom sides of the business
  • We are easy to work with, easy to reach
  • We listen and respond to their needs
  • They never feel like just another client among hundreds or thousands
  • We have a track record of success
  • They know we’ll do what it takes to help them be successful
  • They get customized, personal attention and ideas

While small companies don’t have a monopoly on the above characteristics, somehow, smaller companies are more likely to take the time to really get to know their customers.

As for the war on talent, I absolutely love this opinion piece by columnist Gene Marks in Inc. Magazine. He talks about why it’s better to work for a small company over a large company. In fact, I have refugees from large firms who tell me they enjoy have a large voice in the company, having an outsized impact on clients’ success, and easy access to senior leadership.

For sure, going up against a behemoth like Community Brands will be challenging. But I gotta stay true to my core belief that we can compete with any company and help our clients make the world a better place. I know that Matrix Group and the MatrixMaxx AMS can compete based on technical solutions, customer service, price and customer intimacy. No question about it.

CORRECTION: Recent history of association technology investments

Yesterday’s post summarizing the past year’s investments in not-for-profit association technology companies has been revised. The updates to rumored price tags for the companies were made based on information received from a reliable source. And the total investments made in association technology companies over the past year has risen to $700M based on this update.

A recent history of association technology investments

UPDATED May 17, 2017.

In preparing for my presentation at AMSFest, I went back and looked at all M&A and investment activity that has been reported so far on theNIRD.org.

Keeping in mind that what’s reported here is only what I’ve learned about (it’s likely there are more investments that haven’t been reported here), here’s what I’ve got since April 2016:

  • April 2016: Fonteva took $2M in crowdfunded venture capital growth funding
  • July 2016: Advanced Solutions International (iMIS) took $26M in private equity growth funding
  • September 2016: MemberSuite accepted $11M in venture capital growth funding
  • September 2016: Higher Logic accepted $55M in private equity growth funding
  • January 2017: Higher Logic acquired Socious. The size of the deal was not disclosed, but it was rumored to be in the $15-25M range.
  • February 2017: YourMembership was acquired by Ministry Brands. It is rumored that the sales price for YourMembership was around $230M.
  • February 2017: Higher Logic acquired Kavi. The size of the deal was not disclosed, but it was rumored to be in the $10-20M range.
  • February 2017: MemberClicks accepted a round of private equity growth funding. The investment was rumored to be between $15-20M.
  • April 2017: Abila was acquired by Community Brands. The deal was rumored to be around $290M.
  • April 2017: Aptify was acquired by Community Brands. The deal was rumored to be approximately $30-40M.
  • April 2017: Blue Sky eLearn accepted an investment from Freeman Digital Ventures. Terms were not disclosed.
  • April 2017: NimbleUser was acquired by Community Brands. The deal was estimated to be in the $15-25M range.

For those keeping score at home, that’s 12 deals for a minimum of about $700M invested in association technology companies in the past year. And those are only the deals we know about.

ANALYSIS: NimbleUser joins Community Brands family

A mere three weeks after Aptify and Abila got under the Community Brands umbrella, on April 26, 2017 it was announced that NimbleUser would be joining them.

NimbleUser is a Rochester, NY based company that has spent the last decade building a Salesforce-powered AMS called NimbleAMS. Prior to releasing the NimbleAMS product in late 2011, NimbleUser was an iMIS reseller and Solution Provider. A family owned business up until a few days ago, Sig VanDamme is the Founder, his wife, Dawn, serves as CEO, and Joe Klimek serves as President.

Industry observers had mixed reactions to the deal. Some were surprised, knowing that Sig and Dawn have a strong commitment to the city of Rochester, and their company culture —  a deal that could risk the product of their life’s work seemed out of alignment with their values.

Others saw the writing on the wall: NimbleUser was one of only a few enterprise AMS companies to have not taken any funding. NimbleUser needed growth capital to accelerate product development. A phone interview with Sig VanDamme confirmed it. He said the alternative, continuing to fund research and development out of their own revenues, would result in delayed time to market for a number of initiatives they had on their roadmap.

Interest among association technologists in Salesforce-based AMS products has been climbing along with Salesforce’s rise to become one of the world’s most innovative and largest companies. Hitching your AMS to a database core that receives almost a billion dollars of R&D annually is attractive. But all that R&D money comes at a cost: Salesforce-based platforms are among the most expensive solutions on the market, competitive with other enterprise-grade AMS platforms.

NimbleAMS competes head-to-head with Fonteva’s MemberNation platform, which is also Salesforce-powered. They also compete (less directly) against other enterprise-grade AMS platforms like Personify, iMIS, Abila’s netFORUM Enterprise, and Aptify.

That’s right! If you’re keeping score at home, Community Brands now has three enterprise-grade AMS platforms in its pen: NimbleAMS, Aptify, and netFORUM Enterprise. While it’s still very early in Community Brands’ history, this fact should serve as evidence that they intend to deliver on the promise to allow its companies to compete for business. After all, why would anyone add another competitor to the pen if you didn’t really expect them to fight it out?

At the same time, some industry insiders acknowledge that this deal reduces choice for enterprise-grade AMS products; three of the seven are now owned by the same parent company. In interviews I conducted with association technology consultants, some prospects now feel like they’re “negotiating with themselves.” How much leverage does a prospect really have when they press two companies owned by the same parent for better contract terms?

What does this deal mean for NimbleAMS customers? In my view, not much. A Salesforce-powered AMS should be expected to stand on its own for as long as Salesforce is in business. Any risk that Nimble might be merged with Aptify or netFORUM Enterprise is very remote. However, based on a pattern that I’ve witnessed with other family owned companies that become investor-backed, there is a higher risk that the business processes will be more substantially impacted than a company that passes from one investor to another. NimbleUser customers should be prepared for some adjustments in the transition.

RUMOR: Enterprise AMS has letter of intent to be acquired

I’m hearing rumors from several knowledgeable sources that an enterprise level AMS has been holding a letter of intent to be acquired for months.

Why don’t I name the companies in rumor posts? Check out theNIRD.org’s policies.

Does the Ministry Brands story foreshadow the Community Brands story?

This article on ChurchTechToday about the Ministry Brands consolidation could be viewed as a sign of things to come with Community Brands. If you really want to geek out on what Community Brands may have up their sleeve, read this article from October 2016 and the comments.