When your private equity firm focuses on a very niche market, building a portfolio of companies that could eventually have successful exits takes a lot of time and skill — and the right sourcing strategy.
Copley Equity Partners, which is based in Boston and Denver, focuses on lower middle market, B2B service-oriented businesses with between $2-20 million EBITDA. Its associates had relied on mostly manual proprietary sourcing methods to find the best deals. Though the firm had success with this approach in the highly competitive world of private equity, it decided to leverage technology to automate the search process and more quickly surface market intelligence.
Copley turned to Grata, a B2B search engine for proprietary deal sourcing, to accelerate its deal cycle and find potential targets faster.
Copley, which focuses on investments in the U.S. and Canada, generates the majority of its deals through proprietary sourcing.
“A lot of private equity firms get deals in the door. We definitely get a fair share of deals in the door, but what our bread and butter is — and where we really have success — is proprietary sourcing,” says Wills Hutras, an associate at Copley Equity Partners.
However, there was room for this process to be much more efficient. Copley used LinkedIn and Google searches, newspapers, magazines and other publicly available sources to find potential companies, but this meant the company was looking in the same places and likely emailing the same founders and executives as other private equity firms it was competing against for deals. With this approach, it also took longer for Copley to identify potential targets and key people within these companies.
“The challenges we were facing were two-fold. One was with the idea generation of siloing different sectors and thinking through areas where we want to spend time and where we don't want to spend time. Then, once you have that sorted out, another challenge was actually finding the people who are providing these goods, products, services and technologies,” says Zach Stein, an associate at Copley Equity Partners.
“There are definitely lists that can serve as an aid, but sometimes it takes quite a bit of digging around Google just to find those lists,” Stein adds. “The position we were in is that we would have a pretty good sense of where we wanted to look. We may have had a few examples of companies that we've spoken to in the past in certain spaces we thought were really attractive, but the issue was how do we build out pipelines around those companies and not spend hours and hours and hours just trying to find companies, when we really want to be spending as much time as possible trying to get in front of them.”
As Stein mentions, this largely manual, tedious process affected the amount of time Copley could spend on outreach and cultivating relationships with companies. Though
Copley used other marketing intelligence platforms and assessed other M&A deal origination and tracking software, these solutions didn’t provide the best sourcing capabilities or offer the same value as Grata.
The firm needed a dedicated solution that focused on proprietary sourcing in the middle market. With Grata, Copley Equity Partners found a modern B2B company search engine for proprietary deal sourcing it could use to conduct differentiated searches and discover new companies much faster than other PE firms focused on the middle market.
Copley chose Grata for several reasons.
First, the platform provides comprehensive data and market intelligence for private companies and is tailored to the middle market, whereas other approaches or solutions may just resurface the same 100 or so companies over and over again.
What differentiates Grata is its differentiated search capabilities — powered by artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation — and how it enables firms to perform highly targeted research and identification of undiscovered companies. PE firms can easily use Grata’s search engine to find potential targets based on specific investment criteria, whether it be by company size, industry, specific keywords or their own unique market parameters. This saves them hours, if not weeks, of time building lists, reading company websites, and aggregating and validating data sources.
Aside from its robust search capabilities, Grata’s platform provides deeper insights on private companies that can help with the valuation process. PE firms also can use Grata to launch customized business development campaigns, which lead to more high-touch, personalized interactions with potential targets.
“The biggest benefit is just how comprehensive all the data is for the individual companies, as well as the industry search capabilities,” Hutras says.
The Copley team also leverages Grata’s search features to find comparable companies to its target companies, as well as Grata’s contact search credits and unlocks to identify business owners once it has built targeted lists. Grata currently offers over 1 million verified emails for executive contacts, which firms can integrate into their CRM. Executive contacts include CEO, president, founder, owner, partner and various C-suite titles. When a user, like Hutras or Stein, exports an executive contact — including contact information for executives at the same company — it typically counts as one company export credit. So far, Copley has used more than 3,000 company exports since it began using Grata about a year ago.
Copley’s team also takes advantage of Grata’s Google Chrome extension to seamlessly integrate the platform into its existing workflow. This allows Hutras and Stein to see Grata-generated company profiles and access ownership, business model and funding information in one view while on a potential target’s website. They also can add companies to their targeted list and get verified contact information while they browse the internet — with one-click access to the full Grata platform if they need to use the product’s full capabilities.
For Copley Equity Partners, another characteristic that set Grata apart was that its team was really open to customer feedback and used these insights to improve the platform. For example, Grata introduced a DealCloud integration after hearing from customers, including Copley, that it would be really beneficial to have the ability to pull information directly from Grata into DealCloud.
“Grata listens to our feedback. You don't get that with a lot of other platforms,” Hutras says.
Along with the DealCloud integration, customer feedback has informed Grata’s product in other ways. The company plans to incorporate private company financial data in its next release — a response to ongoing requests from many of its customers.
Overall, Grata has dramatically increased the efficiency of Copley’s proprietary sourcing efforts.
Grata has streamlined the information-gathering process for Copley. The firm is able to source deals faster and more easily find comparable companies that mimic potential prospects, thereby expanding its investable universe. Using the technology also has given Copley’s team more time to focus on other areas of the deal lifecycle, especially outreach, financial analysis and due diligence.
In addition, Grata has allowed the Copley team to learn about new industries that may be future targets, since the firm’s sourcing efforts are industry-agnostic. In the future, Copley may use Grata for acquisition sourcing for its portfolio companies. The company is currently in the late stages of closing several deals it initially sourced on Grata.
“It’s just a very substantial increase in efficiency when it comes to our sourcing efforts. Instead of me spending however long trying to find the names of some of these players in different sectors, it’s been dramatically reduced because I can either search off of keywords from a services standpoint or I can search off a company we’ve had discussions with in a space,” Stein says. “If I'm looking for new ideas for areas to look in, having all of this information that is very clearly tailored to what we do and how our firm operates has just had a very noticeable impact on the amount of time we’ve freed up to focus on pushing deals across the finish line.”