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From a pipe dream to unicorn in a decade; Estonian-born Pipedrive receives majority investment at €1.27B valuation


Timo Rein and Urmas Purde sold everything from newspaper ads to insurance. They even trained numerous sales professionals for companies like Coca-Cola and Nissan. However, after spending years in the sales domain, the duo hadn’t come across a sales management tool that catered to the needs of people doing the actual selling. This instigated them to create their own. They teamed up with Martin Henk, Ragnar Sass and Martin Tajur to create Pipedrive. Now, almost a decade later, this company has reached the elusive unicorn status.

The deal

Pipedrive, the CRM platform for sales and marketing teams, has signed an agreement to receive a majority investment from Vista Equity Partners, a leading global investment firm focused on enterprise software, data and technology-enabled businesses.

This deal values the company at around $ 1.5B (nearly €1.27B). Pipedrive’s existing investors Bessemer Venture Partners, Insight Partners, Atomico, DTCP, and Rembrandt Venture Partners, will continue as minority investors in the company and will partner with Vista and the Pipedrive team to accelerate the company’s growth trajectory

“Reaching ‘unicorn’ status and partnering with Vista will enable us to accelerate our mission to support SMBs as they continue to digitise their businesses in order to grow. Our goal is to successfully deliver on the bold vision that Pipedrive set earlier this year – to provide our users with powerful tools that cover the whole customer journey,” says Raj Sabhlok, CEO at Pipedrive. 

“This means developing a holistic set of products for various customer-facing teams – from helping marketers find leads, supporting sales teams to close deals, to serving customers success professionals to upsell and nurture relationships,” he adds. 

According to his Linkedin page, Sabhlok joined the company earlier this year in June. Before Pipedrive, Sabhlok was the president of Zoho Corporation, a leading global SaaS business application provider. 

The company claims that Vista’s investment and partnership will further fuel Pipedrive’s expansion by helping the company grow and optimise its product portfolio, expand internationally and increase its customer base globally through continued investment in its Go-to-Market engine. 

The drive that converted a pipe dream to reality

Founded in 2010, Pipedrive claims to be the first CRM platform developed from the salesperson’s point of view. Pipedrive CRM uses artificial intelligence and automation to help sales teams manage leads and deals efficiently, track customer and prospect communications and ultimately, drive more revenue for their business. 

The platform has an Android and iOS app. It offers integration with over 150 apps including Xero, Trello, Asana, Slack, PandaDoc, Pipechimp, Plecto, Kixie, and Klenty. The software also allows calendar and contact sync with Google and Microsoft. 

In terms of security, the company offers a security dashboard to control security from one place. It claims to allow users to monitor how, where, when and by whom their company data is accessed and tackle suspect user and account activities in real-time. 

Pipedrive claims that it is fully committed to meeting GDPR requirements, safeguarding data subject rights and ensuring accountability at all levels. Since 2017, it also has had a dedicated data protection officer who spearheads data protection compliance and initiatives.

Last month, the company expanded in Asia by launching its product in Chinese, initially focusing on Taiwan. In July, this year, Pipedrive announced a redesigned user experience (UX), a major update released in conjunction with the company’s 10th anniversary this year. It also launched Insights, a new platform for tracking sales data and trends, and Sales Docs, a tool in beta that can help close deals faster.

During Pipedrive’s initial days, Rein had mentioned in a blog post that the company had only 26 customers. Currently, it is used by sales teams at more than 95,000 companies in nearly 170 countries. It has 600+ employees representing 48 nationalities, and 10 offices in 8 countries across Europe and in the US. Pipedrive is headquartered in New York.

The power of hackathons

According to Henk – one of the cofounders of Pipedrive –  hackathons played an integral part in the early stages of Pipedrive. “Estonia claimed its 5th unicorn when Pipedrive was valued at around $ 1.5 billion. For a country of only 1.3 million people, it’s quite an achievement. As one of the founders of Pipedrive, I might have some insight into why that is. Hackathons had a huge part in the early stages of Pipedrive. Which definitely influenced me when deciding to co-found an online hackathon platform next,” he says in a blog post

Henk is also the cofounder and CTO at Eventornado – an online hackathon platform. “Hackathons were transformative in the early days of Pipedrive. We would regularly gather for these intense weekend getaways to Peep’s summer house in the middle of a forest in Western Estonia. And we would work ourselves to the bone. Some planned out pricing and business strategy, others coded new features non-stop,” he mentions. 

“One of the best memories I have from these early days is one night at around 4 am when we were still up with Martin Tajur coding side by side and listening to Kings of Leon. He was creating a new features page for our marketing website. I was building the first super simple statistics page in the Pipedrive web app,” Henk reminisces. 

The Zennström touch

Skype is one of the key success stories that put Estonia on the global tech map. “Not many know where Estonia is, but everyone knows Skype. So now I say I’m the president of the country where Skype is,” former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves told Skype’s employees during a visit to Skype’s Palo Alto, Calif., office. 

Apart from Pipedrive, Skype, Playtech, Transferwise, and Bolt are the other unicorns produced by Estonia. A dozen home-grown startups are valued over $ 100M (approx €84.64M) each, according to Startup Estonia – a governmental initiative aimed to supercharge the Estonian startup ecosystem.

The success of Skype has had an immense impact on the Estonian tech startup ecosystem. “Hundreds of people that worked at Skype at one time or another got direct access to world-class operations and carried it with them to their next destination. We certainly benefited tremendously from a large number of ex-skypers on all levels of the organisation at Pipedrive. They brought the skills and knowledge of human resources, engineering and management in general,” says Henk. 

Skype launched in August 2003. It attracted a million users in the first month. “We watched as people started using it in more and more countries. It went viral. That’s when we knew – Skype was going to take off,” says Niklas Zennström, the cofounder of Skype. 

Zennström is a Swedish billionaire entrepreneur who has cofounded and managed globally successful technology companies including Skype, Kazaa and Joltid. He founded Atomico in 2006, which is a London based VC firm and one of Pipedrive’s investors. 

This has been a particularly successful year for Atomico, with three of its portfolio companies achieving unicorn status – Pipedrive, Lilium and MessageBird. The VC firm is also one of the backers of Klarna, which recently achieved ‘decacorn’ status after raising $ 650M (€552.6M) in an equity funding round, at a post-money valuation of $ 10.65B (€9.01B). It also closed its fifth fund, Atomico V, at $ 820M (approx €756M), in February 2020. The closure of the fund brings the firm’s total assets under management to $ 2.7B.

“Estonian-born Pipedrive is something of a special investment for Atomico. Many of our team experienced first-hand the outstanding talent and entrepreneurial spirit of Estonia while working at Skype, including Niklas Zennström, co-founder of both Skype and Atomico,” Atomico mentions in a blog post

“Pipedrive is now Europe and Estonia’s newest SaaS unicorn. While financially rewarding for long time Pipedrive founders, employees, and shareholders, it’s, more importantly, a strong re-affirmation – from one of the world’s leading SaaS PE firms – of the mission started by Timo, Urmas, Ragnar, Martin Henk and Martin Tajur to make sales people successful around the world,” says Zennström. 

“We are proud to have partnered with Pipedrive since we led their Series B in 2017, and believe the company is now well and truly on track to become Europe’s next global SaaS success story. That’s why we have doubled down as part of this latest investment and are excited to continue the Pipedrive journey with Vista at the helm. On a personal note, I am really proud to see another global leader emerge from Estonia with some ex-Skypers as key executives,” he adds. 

Image credits: Pipedrive

Startups – Silicon Canals

8 Tactics For Moving From A Startup Dream To Results

Startup companyAs an advisor to early-stage entrepreneurs, I see a lot of dreams, but not so many business results. I’m always excited by the dream, and disappointed by what I perceive as a lack of courage in many people to take the actions required to realize the dream. I’ve always wished I had a magic metaphor to motivate the best dreamers to become the best entrepreneurs.

That’s why I’m impressed with the classic book, “All Dreams on Deck: Charting the Course for Your Life and Work,” by Jeremy Cage. He is an experienced business executive, who now leads a consulting initiative which focuses on unleashing the full potential of businesses and people. In his book, he couches his guidance in a real-life metaphor of his sailing trip around the world.

I’m confident this will work for many of you, but since not all of us are sailors, I have tried to reframe his key points here into the business context that I can better relate to. Hopefully, between the two of us, more of you with big business dreams will follow the leads and generate more successful business results:

  1. Start by getting your hands dirty. All glory comes from daring to begin, and that seems to be the hardest part. You are destined to die full of potential if you do not have the courage to make your dream come alive with a prototype, a business plan, and an implementation team. A business entity has to be created and real resources applied.

  2. Venture where no business has gone before. There is no cookie-cutter route to success as an entrepreneur. The business world doesn’t thrive with yet another social media or dating site – it’s begging for paradigm shifts in the technology or business model. Innovative dreams, when implemented, are the ones that change the world.

  3. Never give up in the face of adversity. Turning dreams into reality is never easy. One of the biggest causes of startup failure is simply giving up too early. The best entrepreneurs relish the challenges, and get great satisfaction from overcoming and learning from adversity. They enjoy the journey, as well as the destination.

  4. Ask for help from advisors and mentor your team. People don’t usually need to ask for help with their dreams, but no entrepreneur I know has built a successful business alone. Don’t let your pride or fear keep you from seeking the help that you need. As you gather your team, recognize that they will need your help and coaching as well.

  5. Summon the courage stay optimistic, yet humble. Successful entrepreneurs aren’t just dreamers, they are doers. They wake up each day re-energized and positive, with the courage to take on the next challenge, and always committed to getting things done. In the business world, it is the humble leader that has the greatest influence on results.

  6. Trust yourself and your team in making decisions. As an aspiring entrepreneur, you can dream, but it takes a team to deliver. Yet running a new company cannot always be a consensus-driven process, so you need to trust yourself in making the hard decisions. Your team also has to trust you, or they won’t deliver the alternatives you need.

  7. Practice active listening, and accept reality quickly. In business and in life, you don’t learn much while you are talking. Dreams can be static, but the real world constantly changes. Thus you need to listen and learn the current reality from your customers, your team, advisors, and experts. Good listening leads to timely innovations and pivots.

  8. Make your dreams the shared dreams of everyone. In business, to get from dreams to reality, it takes effective communication with many others, including your team, customers, investors, and partners. Only with effective communication can your dreams become theirs, and theirs become a reality. You can’t impose your dream on anyone.

It’s true that dreams are always fraught with risk, but the ultimate risk is doing nothing at all. My goal is to make your dream come true, and you can’t do that without executing. The time to get started is now. Otherwise your dream will die, no matter what the potential.

Marty Zwilling

Startup Professionals Musings