On May 3rd, we shared that we sold Postmark and DMARC Digests to ActiveCampaign. For some of you reading, this will come as quite the surprise. As you can imagine, this decision was incredibly important and personal, taking nearly a year of soul searching and questioning.
First, a few important points:
- The entire team at Wildbit was offered a position with ActiveCampaign, regardless of whether they worked directly on Postmark or DMARC Digests. And every person (with the exception of Lisa Hebert, our incredible EA) has joined ActiveCampaign.
- Postmark and DMARC Digests will remain available as standalone products, and the team will continue to support them as they did pre-acquisition.
- Beanstalk will remain with Wildbit and continue to run under the leadership of Ilya Sabanin, who built Beanstalk from the ground up 14 years ago!
- People-First Jobs is in need of a plan. We’re working internally to decide how to ensure that it lives on, though long-term not within Wildbit.
- Together, Wildbit (Chris and Natalie) and ActiveCampaign are committed to demonstrating an acquisition that intentionally considers the impact it has on all people involved.
There are so many reasons that brought us to this decision, but they boil down to a painful yet ultimately liberating realization: we are both ready to move on—and we can’t faithfully support our team’s fulfillment and our customers’ needs if our heart is no longer in it.
It’s a wild moment when you realize that the business you’ve built and run for over 21 years isn’t your passion anymore. It took us, separately and together, nearly a year of deep introspection to find our way to the truth.
For both of us, Wildbit has defined who we are for our entire adult lives. Chris started the company when he was 19, and Natalie joined shortly after we first met fresh out of high school. When you do something for this long, it’s hard to imagine doing anything else. The team knows we’ve always joked about opening a hotel one day. But that, like any other wild ideas, always felt like a distant fantasy. Over the last year, we realized that we’re ready to explore a world outside of software. We’re ready to slow down a bit, be more present with our kids, and discover ourselves again.
Meanwhile, Wildbit and our products have seen incredible growth over the last couple of years. Postmark, the primary revenue driver, has continued to evolve into the best of the best in our space. It’s beloved by customers, and it’s growing faster than any Wildbit product has ever grown. DMARC Digests, our newest product, has also seen tremendous growth.
And the humans behind these products are the best in the business. They support and drive all the incredible successes we’ve seen. This team cares deeply about the customers and are passionate about building the best tools to deliver emails reliably and solve authentication issues. They have shared and advocated a vision for the products and a team that is unstoppable.
And so we realized it was time. We can no longer provide what our customers and our team needs. We don’t have the drive in us to scale the product or the team in the ways the products now require. We’ve realized that we’re holding back the people we work so hard to support, and that’s not very people first.
In the spring of 2021, ActiveCampaign reached out to our team to discuss a possible integration with Postmark. ActiveCampaign is focused on giving small businesses the email marketing, marketing automation, and CRM tools they need to create incredible customer experiences. While the product is extremely robust, their customers were asking for functionality to send transactional email. Our team was excited to think through how we could partner with ActiveCampaign.
While an integration would be awesome, the ActiveCampaign team really wanted to bring the two products tightly together. So they asked if we’d be willing to sell. Over the years we’ve been asked to sell Postmark quite a lot, and we’ve always politely declined. This was, at first, a similar story. But this conversation aligned around the same time that both of us had begun to explore our own motivations. So we decided to take an exploratory call with the ActiveCampaign team.
What we discovered, through countless conversations, debates, and discoveries, was a team with great empathy and values, and a true desire to make this an acquisition that served all the human constituents as best as possible.
They’re committed to keeping Postmark and DMARC Digests as standalone products, and nothing will change for our existing customers. There is deep respect for the customers, and an understanding that our audiences overlap but are also different. Over the coming months, an integration between Postmark and ActiveCampaign will give the small businesses who need transactional messaging, marketing automation, CRM, and sales engagement a powerful platform to build relationships with their customers.
But what ultimately sold us on ActiveCampaign was their commitment to supporting our team. Once we decided we were ready for something new, we immediately transitioned to figuring out how you could exit a business without hurting the team that supported building it all along.
We spent the majority of our time in discussions with ActiveCampaign focused on understanding how their company would integrate our team. The good thing is that their leadership team already knew Wildbit and our culture, and addressed that issue from the very beginning. It can’t be a people-first transaction if the team isn’t at the forefront.
In the end, the team at ActiveCampaign really showed up. The majority of our team will continue 4-day work weeks through the end of the year. They gave our leadership team a single champion to report to, ensuring that they can continue to work independently within ActiveCampaign. They are determined to preserve what made the Wildbit culture special, and learn from our commitment to deep, focused work.
Sure, it’s not Wildbit, but that doesn’t make it worse—it’s just different. In a lot of ways, we see it as better for the team. There are more robust employee benefits, like coaching and 401(k) matches for the US-based team. They have more resources to support the Wildbit team in doing work that is fulfilling, from hiring more people to spread the workload to providing access to functional experts and specialized roles. The team will be able to do more of what they want to do. And as a larger organization, ActiveCampaign will have career opportunities that would not be available at Wildbit, both lateral moves and opportunities to grow into management roles.
We’re both fully aware that this was a decision we were making for ourselves, and one that would result in a significant change for the team. We have a deep respect and care for each person, so before we committed to this decision we spent a lot of time thinking about acquisitions in general, and how they can impact the team both positively and negatively. One key theme really stood out that mimics how we’ve always run Wildbit: How can a business be used as a tool to support human beings?
As a private, bootstrapped company, we’ve never had stock options or any kind of employee ownership. Yet at the same time we’ve been privileged to work with people who have committed their careers and their lives to us and Wildbit. In selling Postmark and DMARC Digests, we found a way to share that success together and to do something financially that would not be possible without a transaction like an acquisition. So as part of the transaction we are sharing 10% of the proceeds with the whole team, divided by tenure and contribution. We hope it provides folks with their own chance to have a life-changing moment and maybe even help facilitate taking a break in the future.
What’s the future hold?
We’re thinking of this as the first step in figuring out what’s next. In the immediate future, we’ll both be around to support the Wildbit folks and the ActiveCampaign leadership team to make this acquisition a success story.
And then we’re going to take a real break. We’ll take a bit of time to regroup and figure out what excites us. We’re not sure if that will be in this industry. We’re not sure if that would even be starting another product business. The uncertainty feels scary but invigorating. We’re going to do terrifying things like turning off the ringer on our cell phones at night, stopping checking email every day, and deleting Twitter.
It’s been an incredible 21+ years. We’re so honored to have worked with some of the best folks in this business, presently and in the past. For most of our career at Wildbit, we’d jump out of bed in the morning, energized to prove to the world that you can build a meaningful, profitable, super successful business while prioritizing people above all else. We can’t have asked for anything more in our careers to this point.
And we’ve done it. We did SaaS in 2004! We did remote work and company retreats before they were a thing. We designed a company that allowed folks to change jobs without leaving, building so many products with wonderful, loyal customers. We got to champion a 4-day workweek, inspiring lots of companies to do the same. We’ve made slow, thoughtful growth cool (for some people, lol). We designed and delivered principles and values that mean something. We created an equitable compensation strategy for team members around the globe and defined what our promise of leadership looked like, regardless of whether or not you managed people. And we got to build a safe place to find fulfillment in your work. We are so damn proud of it.
And we take all of it with us, as does the team. This is the end of a chapter, maybe the end of a volume, but the passion and commitment will always continue on. Every person that has had their Wildbit journey can share their experience more broadly. They can advocate for shorter work weeks, for more deep work, for compassion and patience and fulfillment. We both take with us those joys, and also the pains. That includes the poor decisions and the folks that didn’t have positive experiences at Wildbit. We take them all into the future as we decide what we do next to leave the campground better than we found it.
It’s often the most difficult, scary, and painful decisions that are the right ones. This is right for the two of us, right for Postmark’s customers, and right for our team. In 2011 Derek Sivers wrote a book called Anything You Want. And he shared an anecdote about when he realized the business wasn’t his passion anymore. That his heart wasn’t in it. And he got advice from Seth Godin that seems so simple, but so hard. “If you care, sell”. We care more about Postmark and our team than we can summon in words. We care so deeply, that despite the pain, we know it’s right.
With all of our love and tremendous gratitude,
Chris and Natalie
P.S. We wouldn’t have been able to get through this process without an amazing team of advisors behind us. Our investment bankers, Founders Advisors, supported us every step of the way. They prepared us, guided us, and made sure we never felt alone. They made this life-changing outcome possible. Alongside was our legal team at Growth Counsel. They were practical, dedicated, and always had our back. And they made sure that by the time we signed on the dotted line, everyone was still friends. Thank you to both teams.