Achieving the Exit with Reggie Bradford & Vitrue

Shareholder Representative Services’ latest Q&A features Reggie Bradford.  Bradford is a successful serial entrepreneur, who led Vitrue, a software company that helps marketers build relationships with consumers, to an acquisition by Oracle. With the Vitrue Social Relationship Management (SRM) Platform, Bradford envisioned the next generation of CRM for marketing organizations in the same way that created innovative software for sales organizations.

Q: What customer need did you identify and address with Vitrue?

A good example of a customer with an obvious need is McDonalds. McDonalds is fundamentally a local company that sells in every region in the world, and they have franchisees that set up their own pages. They needed a system to be able to roll out content localized around cities in the U.S., so their franchisees could have a place to distribute offers and promotions. Corporate needed a way to say, “I can bless this and be comfortable that we can maintain our look and feel, user experience and have comfort at that level.” So they had a strong need, and we had a terrific relationship with them.

P&G is another great example. They are a major sponsor of the Olympics, and the CMO of P&G has talked about the fact that P&G is shifting to a company that builds relationships. They’ve been aggressively using our software to build relationships with followers and fans across the world with Pampers and Gillette–different audiences with different needs, but a lot of passion. P&G is also focused on big data and analytics, and they were instrumental in helping us develop requirements and teach us how to use analytics from Facebook and harmonize those into information that P&G could use for their brands to make better decisions.

A third example is Intel, which is a global tech company that had distributed Facebook pages all over the world that they wanted to unify. They needed a system of navigation and a consistent look and feel for localized content. We helped them deploy that software in 35 countries.

Q: Did you stick to the original vision that you had when you founded the company?

The vision we had is consistent with where we ended up, but we pivoted dramatically in the way we implemented that vision. We originally constructed the company as a way to capture video and photo ratings and reviews on dot coms. We learned the hard way that marketers had a lot of potential money to spend to build content and relationships, but they didn’t have traffic on their dot coms, and publishers had traffic but no money to spend. So, in 2008 we pivoted the company to address that. Social networks like Facebook had the distribution we were missing. So our partnership with Facebook and our software-as-a-service platform on top of Facebook and other social networks like Twitter, YouTube, and Google+ was a prophetic and timely move.

Q: What do companies need to know about social media management?

Gary Vaynerchuk recently described social media as “the Internet”. That’s a good description. It’s often defined as a separate category, but really it’s how consumers use digital content, period. In terms of social media management, there has been a shift in how consumers communicate with each other. Brands and marketers using technology have a global opportunity to set up and develop relationships today. The value is enormous for companies that engage in that conversation. It’s not the case that the only way for a company to get around a mass audience is through advertising at the Super Bowl, World Cup or Olympics, which happen every year, two years, four years. Programs like that are often inaccessible because they are on a global scale, and that takes tremendous resources and effort.

Q: Is social media equally important for B2B companies?

B2C has taken the lead, but I think there is applicability for B2B. It will become more entrenched over time, and we will start to see the same sort of approaches and philosophies that B2Cs are currently using in B2B. Vitrue is a B2B company, and we have a vibrant and active Facebook community, an active twitter handle, and a blog where we distribute updates. We leverage social media to drive a more efficient way to market our own products and communicate with fans, followers and customers. So we are a good example of a B2B company that uses social as our primary communications channel.

In many big companies, whether B2B or B2C, the concern is that they are opening themselves up to criticism and losing control. My personal opinion is that there is more upside in having those conversations. In many respects, a blog is more important than a press release. I think there is a certain authenticity there.

Q: As a CEO how do you determine when it’s the right time to cash out?

We didn’t have a timetable or a gun to our head. We felt like the timing in the market was right, and the opportunity for us to take our vision and what we built to an even better place and get that scale was something we couldn’t pass up.

If you build a great business, good things will happen. Our goal was to create a fair amount of leadership capability in our space, and because of that we got on the radar screens of companies that saw what we had built.

Q: How did the deal with Oracle come together?

Oracle and a number of other companies in that category recognized that social is becoming an important area of focus, not just for marketers, but across the whole enterprise. This category was going to mature fast, and I felt marketers around the world were making decisions on what platforms and tools they were going to use to manage social media. So, we needed the value prop of an Oracle–they invented enterprise software and they have 380,000 customers in 185 countries. The scale that they bring to the table is unmatched in the industry, and that was a terrific opportunity to take the technology we built and get it scaled around the world much faster than we’d be able to as a standalone company.

The other fascinating part is that the assets that Oracle has assembled in database and web content management, including companies they own, such as ATG, Endeca, and Taleo, which is human capital software, present a unique and compelling opportunity inside the enterprise. They really have the ability to bring together the entire C-Suite, and that’s where you are going to see this category quickly end up. It’s going to be a partnership between the CMO, the CIO and the CFO. I think it’s an incredible opportunity for us to be part of that bigger picture across the enterprise.

Q: You’ve been through a few acquisitions. What have you learned about the integration process?

From being part of selling companies, I’ve learned that you have to quickly come in and get the integration done. Identify who is leading and give them the authority. Treat your people like part of the family, so they understand what you are trying to accomplish and they feel like they are part of the future. I’ve been fortunate in that most of the M&A I’ve been involved with has gone well. It’s change. People don’t always like change, but it’s part of life. Those that embrace it get ahead and those that don’t fall by the wayside.

Q: Did the Facebook IPO and the fallout afterwards have any impact on the business?

I don’t think the Facebook IPO had any positive or negative impact. There were probably some that thought it would have a positive payload for the whole industry, but we haven’t seen that yet. I do think it has raised the awareness levels for social for the C-Suite globally because it’s been such a talked about event and social is so important for companies. I think, if anything, the Facebook IPO has just been a distraction for many in the media and Facebook’s PR department, but day-to-day business has not seen an impact. We are not seeing that type of activity.

Q: What do you see happening with social media management as more consumers gravitate towards accessing social networks on their mobile devices?

I think it’s a huge untapped opportunity. If you look at our own internal stats that we published a year ago in July, 14 percent of all likes came from a mobile device, by December of last year it jumped to 40 and now it will be 60 percent from mobile. It presents opportunities and challenges, and we’ve been at the forefront of prioritizing mobile. We are the first company to have mobile enabled apps optimized for an iPhone and iPad.

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