The Big Exit Show: From Pivot to Profit, Marc van Agteren’s Guide to Usabilla’s Successful Exit


marc van agteren

Marc van Agteren, the former CEO of Usabilla, to explore the transformative journey that culminated in the company’s acquisition by SurveyMonkey. Marc shares invaluable insights into Usabilla’s strategic pivot in 2012, the intricate process of aligning shareholder interests for the acquisition, and his personal reflections on leadership and post-acquisition challenges. This conversation offers a comprehensive look at the inner workings of a successful tech exit, making it a must-listen for aspiring entrepreneurs and business leaders alike.

This is what we discuss during this episode:

  • Strategic Pivots & Growth: We discussed Usabilla’s pivotal shift in 2012 that led us to target enterprise clients and achieve breakeven within nine months without external funding. 📈
  • Exit Strategy & Decision-Making: I outlined the process of aligning shareholder interests, evaluating multiple exit options, and ultimately deciding to sell to SurveyMonkey due to their people-centric approach and strong valuation. 💡
  • Smooth Post-Acquisition Transition: The integration phase post-acquisition was also a key focus, where maintaining operational focus and implementing minimal initial changes ensured a seamless transition for our team. 🤝

As always – hosted by Peak’s very own co-founder and managing partner Johan van Mil and Anke Huiskes founder & managing partner of NP-Hard Ventures 🕺🏻🕺🏼

You can find the episode on your favorite podcast platform, linked below. And, if you are really interested in listening to the big exit of specific founders – reach out to us so we can invite them for the next episode!

Spotify Podcasts

Apple Podcasts


You can find the transcribed version of the episode below:

Anke Huiskes (00:33)

Hey, Johan. So we just hang up the phone with Marc, who told us about the beginnings of Usabilla, selling his company to SurveyMonkey. And then this process of how you pick the acquirer. New learnings from me again and again, especially because he shared a lot of details. How was it for you? Because you’ve done more of these types of podcast interviews.

Johan van Mil (00:58)

Yeah, it was, it was for me, it was, I think, a little bit more recognition about how we ran the process. I think also what different was, and I think what’s fascinating to hear was the cap table because he had a really, let’s say, screwed cap table on the end. So a lot of different smaller parties and then to get everybody, let’s say, in the same alignment. I think that was a big learning for me. And what I liked a lot is, especially in this podcast, because this guy joined the company as a late founder, right?

And I know that a lot of companies tried to get in the late founder and also try to maneuver a deal here. And also he took over the company from the founders to run it, sorry, from his co -founder. So it was also, it gave a bigger insight, how do you work together with a founding team? How do you get the food in the door, but also how you work together. And I think in this case, it was also looking at the exit level. And also I think it’s a success that they brought. What’s fascinating to hear.

What was really funny for me Anke is that we as Peak, we looked at this company before, right? That’s always great to hear a company how it’s developed over time. So I think big insight for me. Yeah.

Anke Huiskes (01:59)

Good. So with that, let’s dive in.

Johan van Mil (02:02)

Let’s do that.

Anke Huiskes (02:10)

And today we will speak with Marc van Agteren from Usabilla. Marc is a dynamic leader known for his pragmatic approach and passion for building great software products. With a track record as the CEO of Usabilla, which was acquired by SurveyMonkey back in 2019, which is the reason why we invited him to the show today. He was VP of product at SurveyMonkey afterwards, and he has a background in information security at EY. And he’s committed to delivering value to customers outside of work.

And we’re going to talk about that as well. Marc today, he’s a marathon runner, a musician and a technology enthusiast. So lots to discuss today. So welcome to the show, Marc.

Marc van Agteren (02:51)

Thank you Anke, thank you Johan, happy to be here!

Anke Huiskes (02:55)

Yeah, we have been waiting to get you in the show for a long time, so it’s good to get going. So maybe, and we quickly discuss it right before we end on press play, can you tell us a little bit about the beginnings of you and Usabilla? For the listeners who don’t know the backstory yet.

Marc van Agteren (03:02)


Yeah, of course.

Yeah, no, of course. So Usabilla was originally founded by a very good friend of mine, Paul Veugen. Paul and I know each other since our student time. We were part of the same student rowing club. And I saw Paul starting the company early 2009, although he was already working on it in like…

2008. And but it was around that time as well when I met my back then girlfriend, now wife, and she is from, she is from like, from like, from like Tallinn, Estonia, so far away. And it was around that like 2010 when she came live here in the Netherlands. And it was around that time that Paul, talking to me, hey Marc, you had to join, join the company, but I…

I held it off a little bit just because I had a very secure job at Ernst & Young around that time. Although I wasn’t really enjoying myself and I was really experimenting myself with a lot of tools, a lot of web development as well. But it wasn’t until 2011 when I actually joined the company and Paul…

Paul had just raised 750k seed round and that was the time when I felt more comfortable to join the company. My wife was already working. She was working at the company Nike, who has its European headquarters here in the Netherlands. So we were more secure in that sense. Although joining a startup with barely any revenue is never secure, but it was for me the right time to join the company. So.

Johan van Mil (05:01)


Marc van Agteren (05:03)

Although I wasn’t really part of the first two years of the company, I actually on the sidelines saw Paul building the organization.

Johan van Mil (05:14)

Marc, what did Paul, because we see that a lot of founders want to get in talent, especially early on it’s hard because you don’t have any money, not a lot of proof, and it’s hard to convince people with a well -earned job like you were at EY. What was convincing that Paul did? What was the decision? Why did you take the decision to join Usabil at that time?

Marc van Agteren (05:28)

Mm -hmm.

For me, it was always a dream to be actually part of a smaller startup company. And it was actually my dream to actually own my own company, which also later became actually reality. But yeah, it was always a dream. But I was stuck Ernst and the Young. I learned a lot there. Also learned a lot about what I…

didn’t really like and being part of a larger organization and didn’t feel that I was actually delivering value to a lot of my companies, to my customers around that time. So for me, it was always like, I want to join something and create something big out of it. And yeah, that’s why Paul and I, we always talk, we always saw each other at parties, we were always, yeah.

talking about what we could do, but that was just the right time to join the organization.

Anke Huiskes (06:33)

And maybe to jump into that, I’ve talked to a lot of other, like, I don’t want to call them like wannabe founders, but people are working at big corporates. They want to take the lead, but I keep having these conversations for years and they never do it. You did it. So I think a lot of people maybe listen to this. Like, I wish I was like, Marc, what would be the advice? Like, did you, what would be the advice for you to be, to those listeners?

Marc van Agteren (07:00)

Yeah, well it’s…

Anke Huiskes (07:01)

Because instead of like starting a company, you joined a company really early on and then became the CEO. So that’s like another alternative, how you can run your own company.

Marc van Agteren (07:05)

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I think first of all, you need to determine for yourself. Are you a zero to one founder or are you a one to…

100 founders, so to say. And to me, if I’m honest, I don’t think I’m 100 % 0 to 1 founder, but it just took time to actually find that out. I think Paul is the 0 to 1 founder, right? Like he already proven that with this company, did it later on with Human and he’s now doing with Detail. Starting a company from scratch is so freaking hard. And I think for us, for me at least, there was already some basis. Although the

actual Usabilla that well me and the team and of course my later joint business partner who is not the Usabilla anymore that Paul initially started. It was still the actual foundation that Paul put there and without Paul we wouldn’t be here. That is very very very very simple. Yeah, so the advice…

Johan van Mil (08:11)

Yeah, perfect. Sorry.

Marc van Agteren (08:13)

The advice is yeah, I think in the end is doing something that you really like and for me that was building products and really really delivering value to my customers and if you then you should just go for it. But I also understand that there needs to be some financial support and that’s not there for everyone. Like I just explained to you, I also joined a little bit later because I didn’t feel comfortable and…

And I think in this you have this like risk spectrum where you have people are very like they want to take every risk out there and you have a very risk averse person and I’m maybe in the middle a little bit I can actually take some risk but I also know when to when to not do do things for example.

Anke Huiskes (09:01)

You know, I think this is such a valid point. I don’t think as a community or an ecosystem, we talk about this exact thing enough where you’ve got like the zero to one founders and the one to hundred founders. And also like, it’s a shame we don’t have Paul in the show. Like that would have been nice as well. Like when do you think like I’m handing this over? I guess, through the lifetime of a company, there are so many different phases where there’s this exact the opportunity for a lot of people to be there at the right time.

Marc van Agteren (09:24)


Anke Huiskes (09:27)

not from the day zero, but day one when the company actually has kind of like found some product market fit and then has to scale forward. Johan sorry, you were…

Marc van Agteren (09:35)

Yeah, yeah.

Johan van Mil (09:38)

The good news we had Paul also on the podcast, but mainly about his other company, about Human but also he touched there also on Usabilla. I think he dove also into the topic why he asked you also to join the company there and what it brought. I think good for our listeners to listen to that episode with Paul Veugen Hey, I had a question for you, Marc, because I recall that I think pretty soon I read when I was reading and of course I know Usabilla, because it’s really a known company.

Marc van Agteren (09:51)


Johan van Mil (10:04)

also given the exit that you did, but especially the time and the effort that you put in, I think, during 10 years to pivot that company. And I want to dive into that pivotal phase because I recall we also had peak, we had Usabilla pitching us at that time. So we looked also at Seedround, decided not to do it. And that’s, I think, also on our, let’s say, a mislist, so to say, because I think it has been really a successful company. But at that time, we had also had doubts, let’s say, about the sustainability of the product. Is this not a one time off?

that people start using it and then of course cancel their subscription, right? And I think also you ran into that phase. I think it was more or less the time that you joined, if I understood correctly, or shortly before you joined already, right? So then you pivoted. Can you take us a little bit, let’s say through that moment and also how you handled that pivot from that moment onwards?

Marc van Agteren (10:37)


Yeah, no, definitely. Definitely. So I joined in 2011, first of June 2011, actually. And Usabilla was an actual…

remote Usabilla testing software, hence the name Usabilla. And you’re actually right, Johan. It was a little bit seen as more a one -off product. So it was a great visionary product that Paul put there. But we also saw that it was used by smaller agencies, and they had a kind of…

an actual project, used our software and then two months later turned. And that’s what we also really saw. So we saw our revenue and our revenue that time wasn’t a lot, right? I can actually tell you. I think when I joined, maybe two, 3000 euros per month revenue only. And…

then you start changing things in the software and you start like, but the things didn’t really move the needle there. We did an accidental side step. We created a B2C product. It was around that time when the, well, now big company Pinterest was in this early stage, especially here in the Netherlands. And we came up with a B2C product where you could actually pin.

design elements on websites. But there was no real business model around that. So we were starting thinking, okay, how can we actually monetize this? But we created technology which could actually grab.

screenshots from websites and and we’re talking Internet Explorer 8 and Explorer 9 times, right? So it’s different than everybody nowadays uses Chrome or Safari where you have all these features baked in. Around that time we created a very nifty functionality where you could hover with your mouse over elements on the screen and can actually tag those and

it would send to our servers and on the server side we actually recreated the entire page and we could strip the design elements. So the idea behind that was that people could tag or pin design elements. So we have a very big library of design elements, which was a great idea, but there was no actually business model around that. And I think this was, we actually…

did at South by Southwest and that was always I think it’s it’s always in March or April Paul and I went there 2012 it was and after that we got some traction with the software but again no actually business business model and we yeah we had the 750k seed round but I think around that time like let’s say May June 2012 we I think we only had about 100k left of those 750k so then it was the

Anke Huiskes (13:35)

Nope, march.

Marc van Agteren (13:57)

Okay, we need to take it somewhere. And it was around that time when Paul started the idea around human already, I think with another business partner around that time. And I think he was already on to his next thing. And I can still remember when we actually sat together and he asked me, hey Marc, do you wanna take over the company? And for me, this was a big opportunity, but.

to be actually frank with you, it was also a little bit scary. So I had to think about it. Okay, hey, what is happening here? And that was the actual pivot time when Paul left the day -to -day business. We scaled down the company. So we went from, I think we had 11 people there. We went to engineers, somebody for UX and marketing, and it was me as the…

Johan van Mil (14:44)


Marc van Agteren (14:48)

Jack of all trades basically, I was doing grocery shopping, customer support, doing some programming as well. Basically everything what had to be done in order for the others to be successful. And later that year, Roel Jansen, my, yeah, the entire, the rest of the company’s time business partner, joined the company, Paul also helped him hire him. And it was also the time when we did,

an entire product pivot. So we had these screenshot technology, but we thought, how can we use this screenshot technology to enable companies to get on a day -to -day value out of it? So our customers don’t churn. And we thought of there were around the time you had a Kempao opinion lab, these were these feedback tabs on the side of the.

of the websites. When you click the feedback tab, you could provide feedback. And they basically, I’m not sure if it was Opinion Lab or Kempa who actually started with that. But we thought, hey, let’s take that principle of the feedback button, but add the actual screenshot technology into it. And we were the first there doing it. I think later on, all these companies copied it. Like you have Hotjar, for example. They all copied it. But we were the first ones to actually put it in there.

Johan van Mil (15:54)

Thank you.

Marc van Agteren (16:07)

We were also the first ones that had, when you click the feedback tab, it actually would start in a nice model window and not in a separate pop -up. Our design looked really well. And so we started doing that, but we also went where Usabilla was first very much, okay, you wanna sign up, create a quick demo account, you can take out your credit card.

And we were charging 49 up to $199 per month on the original user biller product. But with the cool Janssen on board, who had a really commercial focus, we thought like, OK, we are providing value on a day to day basis here with our new software solution. How can we get more from our customers? We’re delivering more value to our customers. How can we step away from this month to month subscription model and go more to annual contracts?

And that’s why you always have to hustle, of course, right? This is the early stage of changing your business model. And we just put a number on it, 850 euros per month, but it was 10 ,200 euros, 850 times 12, that we charged our customers. And I still really remember, I think it was November 2012, when we signed our first enterprise customer, which was Dela, a very well -known insurance company here in the Netherlands. And they…

For them, it was peanuts. We were like 10K per year. It’s a lot of money. But for them, they had the entire Adobe Suite, Adobe Analytics, and they were paying hundreds of thousands of euros for that. So 10K for software solutions like ours, it was peanuts to them. And I’m still very grateful for Dela and the team there for actually believing in us and taking the actual chance with us. And…

I think they have remained the customer for like 10 years. And that was basically the 2012 pivot story where really a lot of things changed. And you also see we kept the original Usabilla product until it was less than 10 % of our overall revenue. And then we phased it out. So I think in early 2016 or late 2015, if I recall correctly, we phased out the original Usabilla product, which we rebranded early on to Usabilla Visual Survey.

Johan van Mil (18:15)

Mm -hmm.

Marc van Agteren (18:28)

And we still had customers on it, but we yeah after a while you just need to focus and pick your pick your battles and we like okay we we phased out an entire product and yeah, that’s when we Yeah, around that time. We were already making a Significant more revenue with the with the new user villa feedback solution. Yeah

Johan van Mil (18:46)

Probably because you still had 100k left in the bank, right? So probably also your clients would have to pay beforehand, right? And you’ll see, so that’s how you finance the company. Yeah.

Marc van Agteren (18:58)

100%. 100%, yeah. We basically charged our customers upfront. We also reduced, I think our burn rate before this pivot was about 45K per month. After we reorganized the organization and we stripped it down fully, I think we were on like 20K per month. So we only had to assign two customers for 10K per month and we were out of our…

out of our la cost. And it was also that year where I made an actual business plan. Okay, I want to be breakeven within 12 months. Eventually we became breakeven within nine months. And we haven’t raced anymore after that. We’ve grown a company purely on our own cashflow. Had some challenges here and there as well. I can maybe talk about it later, but yeah, that is how the pivot story went.

Anke Huiskes (19:52)

And maybe after that moment that you sign on, Deila, that you figured out like 850 sounds like a good idea. I’m still curious how you ended up with that number. But was it that moment that you basically got the growth machine going on and how did you then go to get all these enterprise clients in?

Marc van Agteren (20:09)

I think think around that time had found a product market fit yet because it was still very early on and the Usabilla software what it was later, it was a full voice of customer platform that early day. It was purely just a feedback tab on the side of the website and it was a small dashboard where customers would get that feedback in so they could analyze it. I think it was for us a moment where we thought, okay, we can actually get something out of it. Like we did our…

Yeah, the 10K.

perfectly feels fine for customers with a significant online presence. And yeah, we started getting more intro calls as well. And it was also around a time when initially with the initial Usabilla product, we were very US focused and our website wasn’t English. We had dollar prices on our website. If you looked at the website, it looked like a US company.

After the pivot, we decided that I think there are a lot of companies here in this country that actually benefit of our solution. So we started just cold emailing, cold calling companies like, well, we had Vodafone, the telecom operator.

T-Mobile,, and we were all able to get appointments there because they saw something cool in our software. They saw, hey, we need to gather feedback on our website and we don’t really know how to get feedback. And then there was this new solution that we created. And it was a very easy to understand solution as well, right? Like it’s just like you’re installing Google Analytics on your website with a small JavaScript snippet. It was our solution as well. Just…

below your Google Analytics tag, you just paste the Usability tag, and you would get a nice feedback tab on the side of the website. So it wasn’t, I think, until the spring of 2013, so like six months later, when we really got on, OK, we’re really onto something. And that’s also when we found.

breakeven. We went, well for your information, we went from around 100k revenue in 2012, we went to 500k in 2013. So that gives you an indication of how our growth was.

Johan van Mil (22:31)

What was the decision mark because you found your product market fit right get a new product with a real clear need you also as we I think always Work with founders and advice found you did really do the founder sales on that end, right? So really got the first clients in made them happy and then it’s a certain point you scale right and you’re already profitable What made you decide at that time mark to go let’s say for the from that moment on bootstrap mode, right? So not race VC funding

a lot of founders do because that’s always a lot of debate between founders. Should you raise or should we not? I think you can imagine that Anke and I have a particular, let’s say, view on that, but I would love to hear your view on it.

Marc van Agteren (23:03)


Yeah, I think it was partially because I just didn’t know. And I think on the other side, we had quite a segmented cap table already. So there was no majority shareholder anymore. Yeah, everybody held between five and.

20 % in the company and nobody had a majority in that anymore. But we also saw that we, by invoicing our customers up like front, we were able to run the company pretty well. And yeah, so for us, it didn’t really feel as a need, especially when the numbers were still low. I think later on, when the numbers are getting really big, well, in 2018, we got every month about…

about 1 million euro went out and also had to come in. And when you then have a couple of big customers who decide, I’m not going to pay you this month, I’m going to pay you next month, then you can get cashflow issues. While you can be a very healthy organization, you have a lot of, well, and this actually happened, right? So we had a lot of debtors, we had about two and a half, three million in debtors lined up. But just some big companies decided, we’re not going to pay you this month, we’re going to pay you next month. And that’s what, when we also thought,

Okay, now I understand why some companies need to still race, even though you have a very valid business model. But in that moment, we were already thinking about, okay, how can we exit this company? So for us, it was already a ship that was sealed away.

Johan van Mil (24:39)


Anke Huiskes (24:42)

Maybe that’s a good bridge too, like you’re now talking about 2018 and I believe that the acquisition to SurveyMonkey happened in like a year later in 2019. What you’re now talking about maybe it wasn’t already up in your head like there might be an exit at some point. Can you tell us about that journey? And really details do matter often when this happens so we’d love to learn more.

Marc van Agteren (24:52)



Johan van Mil (25:08)

We won’t tell any further so you can fully share everything you know that right?

Marc van Agteren (25:09)

No, of course.

Anke Huiskes (25:12)


Marc van Agteren (25:12)

No, no, no. No, I think these are very, well, normal. I can give you a lot of detail, actually. I think, first of all, you need to start with getting all your shareholders aligned, right? And that’s, it happened on the shareholder meeting. We had a yearly shareholder meeting late 2017 where the…

early angel investors that invested in Paul in early 2009. Marc Joosten, Marijn Peijneberg, they were.

They already had like, okay, they were eight, nine years in and they were a little bit okay. Hey, maybe you want to get out. Yeah. And it didn’t really pressure us at all. Like I think we were, it was great. We had a very good understanding with our shareholders. And that’s also something that I have to say. Also, Ruh and I were not a majority shareholder in the company. Nobody was, but I think…

Even though we didn’t have formally a lot of say in the company, we had 100 % say in the company because they just let us run the company. They saw from early on, okay, Roel and Marc, you can perfectly run the organization. And next to just our annual shareholder meetings and a couple of calls here and there, we just ran the company. But it was just that shareholder meeting where they brought it up. And it…

and we decided to just have a good talk about it. And we had about a 50 -50, like some of the shareholders said, well, I think we’re fine, we can still stay on a couple of years. And there were others like, hey, maybe we need to explore the opportunity, right? And we were already on a significant revenue and we didn’t raise anymore, so everybody knew their share in the organization. So we were like, okay, we need to start…

excellent exploring it. And we did it just by getting an actual banker, an advisor. Luckily, we had some investors on board who had already did an exit before. They did multiple exits so they know how this entire game worked. For me, it was completely new, of course. I got new terms and shared purchase agreement that I’m

I don’t know what a shared purchase agreement is, but I later on learned of course. And we decided that was an actual funny, funny, funny, was a good thing to do. One of our shareholders was London based and we decided to share a teaser with a couple of bankers. But because selecting a banker is also very, very crucial in this stage. And we already knew that we probably, if we would sell, we would probably do that to an American organization because yeah, that’s where.

Johan van Mil (27:49)

Thank you.

Marc van Agteren (27:56)

all our type of business was. So we wanted to have a banker that understood the US market, but also was small enough to actually want to do business with us. So we were very modest guys around that time, and still are, to be honest. But we did the banker selection. So we invited on one day, we invited four bankers to that London office.

and we got the pitch. So we had two in the morning, two in the afternoon. And based on the teaser that we sent them upfront, they created a lot of info, gave us an overview about the market. And I was already really blown away about how much such banker could actually get out of the market and a lot of the knowledge that they had. But it’s so important that you do business with a banker that

understands you that you can actually work with as well for about a year and somebody that really understands the market. And in the end we went for a small boutique firm which was London based but they had also the HQ in Sweden so they understood the European market but they also had somebody in the US and that really understood the market there. And yes that’s

when the process started. But yeah, that process is also not an ordinary process, right? Like, it’s, they really want to, such banker wants to do a deal and they want to de -risk. So they are going to look, okay, can we, is there another software company where we can sell to? Is there maybe private equity that can buy out some of the shareholders and then you can invest some more in the company and then take it further? Or is there a VC that wants to step in? So we actually had,

all these opportunities lined up until the end. And in the end, we decided to go for server monkey. So that is the short version.

Johan van Mil (29:48)

Hey, Marc, and taking one step back, right, because that the shareholder meeting, right, where the early shareholders, the early angels were eager to sell and not the rest was eager to sell. You had a very dispersed cap table, right? So not anybody owning the majority of the shares are not easy to take decisions. How did, let’s say, the convincing of the remaining shareholders?

Anke Huiskes (29:48)

That’s a really like quick and then we saw the surf market

Marc van Agteren (29:56)


Johan van Mil (30:13)

How did that happen? Because people have to get out, right? Especially in a cap table like that. You have to agree also on that end. How did you deal with that?

Marc van Agteren (30:19)

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

To be honest, it was just very simple. I think in the end, everybody felt aligned. Everybody saw the valuations around that time, which weren’t what not that crazy yet as in 21 and early 2022 times, but it was still a very solid valuation for us. So they also saw they stepped in, everybody stepped in fairly very early. So the 750k was five informal investors. They all put in 150k.

And yeah, you know the exit in the end, it was all public information. So they really made a very nice return there. So it was also a little bit of de -risking. We saw the market where there were a couple of big players in the market, Qualtrics, of course, Medaglia. And even though we were able to get business from them, we were still seen as the smaller European player.

and we didn’t know how that market was gonna turn out. And I think in hindsight, we just made the right decision there to just go for the exit. So yeah, to answer your question, I think it was, everybody was pretty well aligned, but I think everybody was also pretty much aligned because we kept every option open.

So it was still if half way to the process of maybe the process it turned out there was not a real strategic party that want to take us, acquire us, then we might have gone for the private equity option or we might have gone for the actual VC option. They were still open and because we had all those options it was very easy to convince our shareholders.

Johan van Mil (32:03)

sorry, so you had an investment banker running the process for let’s say a buyer, but also at the same time also looking at a VC to further further company, right? So you had a dual trajectory from the stack rate. Yeah.

Anke Huiskes (32:03)

And you s –

Marc van Agteren (32:11)

Well, triple track actually with the private equity option in the middle.

Johan van Mil (32:17)

private equity angle also. Yeah, okay, wow. Okay.

Anke Huiskes (32:19)

And how does that work? Because previously you said it was like a process of about a year?

Marc van Agteren (32:25)

Yeah, approximately. From the start when we signed with that advisory firm to the 1st of April 2019 when it was approximately a year.

Anke Huiskes (32:36)

And before you decided to sell to SurveyMonkey, were there other opportunities on the table that made you doubt if SurveyMonkey was the right bet or was it very clear when they made the business case? And also, related to that, how did you end up with the final number that you agree on?

Marc van Agteren (32:55)

Yeah, let me see. Sometimes I need to think back as well because it’s been a couple of years, so I need to dig in my memory. Yeah, I think until the end we kept the VC option open. And there is a VC here.

that I still, Roel and I are very, in like very good contact with them still, because we really enjoy them, working with them, but we still found it was a better opportunity with Server Monkey. I think for the company in general, Server Monkey is a very people -focused organization and we felt like, okay, if we want to get acquired, we would never get our company acquired by a…

by a big organization like Microsoft or Oracle because you then know your company gets split up within a couple of months and it’s all gone. And we really wanted to have a new home for the organization and an organization that also want to put some more money in it. And we just found that with the SurveyMonkey when the funny thing is SurveyMonkey didn’t their IPO in September 2018. So we…

We contacted them in the summer of 2018. They said basically, no, no, this is too early for us. We’re working on our IPO right now. So it was quite late when ServerMonkey joined the party, so to say. And it was after the IPO when they, I think it was November or December even, when they reached out to us again, like, hey, we maybe want to take up the entire conversation again. And.

When a couple of their executives came to Amsterdam, walked in the Usabilla office, for them it felt like being in a survey monkey office. And that was something for a click. And to be honest, when Roel and I visited the survey monkey office for the same, around that time in the US, for us it felt like, hey, this could be a hit. It could be the…

Anke Huiskes (34:47)


Marc van Agteren (35:02)

our office. So that was for us, it was a very natural feeling. And also the numbers were right. I think they gave us a very solid valuation upfront. And that’s also a funny thing with this banker selection, because for the banker selection period that we did in around April 2018, they need to give you some kind of an valuation range, right? And we had some…

bankers that gave us the valuation raise of like 30 million. And there was another, when we did the entire, the process, there was another strategic party that gave also 30, 35. And while there were bankers, also the one where we did our deal with that already gave us high 60s, maybe 70s could be, could be possible here. And ServerMonkey just maybe there was, it was also a great opportunity for them because it was the first

acquisition after their IPO. So they were really playing with the public market there as well. And in the end, well, after they acquired us, the market understood the message a lot and their stock price went up. So it was a very good deal for them as well.

Anke Huiskes (36:10)


No, it sounds like a great match where like I think in one of the other interviews you said it was such a great culture fit where you walked into their office. It felt like you said they love it and 10 times as big. And then that in combination with that number, now that I better understand the context, it seems like, yeah, where can we sign? This is, yeah.

Marc van Agteren (36:24)

Yeah. Yeah.


Johan van Mil (36:37)

And how did you, Marc, how did you work with a banker together, right? Because your shareholders requested to look for a potential sale, right? Then you invite the bankers over to pitch in your London office, you selected out of the four, you selected one. How did you as a CEO work together with investment bankers? Because I know a lot of, let’s say, CEOs struggle to, let’s say, run the business, but also at the same time, sell the business. And in this case, you’re also trying to fund the business, right? So…

You have three jobs to take as a CEO, which is not, let’s say, the most easy job as we all know. So how did you work together with a banker?

Marc van Agteren (37:11)

Yeah, no, I think that was the thing I was thinking about as well. Like how do you run two separate businesses? And I was very fortunate to have to have a solid business partner there. Like Roel was my solid guy next to me. And while he was focusing on the more business side, I was focusing on this entire process.

So because another thing is when you in this process, you need to give some future numbers, but you need to give future numbers that are high enough that they think like, hey, this is a great opportunity, but are also solid enough that you actually make them because you need to give your numbers. Well, you never gonna close your deal within or often you’re not gonna close your deal within a couple of months.

So it’s often going to take 6 to 12 months. So we had to really run and really hit our numbers there. And that’s what Groo really did well. And next to that, I was most of the time working with the banker, traveling to London, or they would come to us. Another thing that we had a very good CFO next to us as well in our management team who…

who was really running all the numbers there. Although, and to be honest there, our management team didn’t really know that we were in this process. A lot of people knew that we were trying to raise money, but a lot of people didn’t really know that we were also maybe wanna sell the company. And we also wanna keep people focused. And we didn’t wanna people think like, okay, what is gonna happen? What is gonna happen to my job? Because these are…

things that people are going to think about, right? Like, okay, hey, you’re going to sell what is going to happen to my job. And that’s the reason as well why we found it so important to sell to a company that had a great cultural fit. But we also knew it was a great new home for everybody working within the company.

Anke Huiskes (39:06)

And during that time you had about 150 employees, is that correct?

Marc van Agteren (39:09)

I think when we signed the deal, 135 I think, top of my head.

Anke Huiskes (39:14)

Yeah. And then the day, let’s go into that exit and a live effort, the exit with let’s say 10 minutes that we still have. The day that you signed the deal, I remember from Paul, he was like, he went into the office at this new job during that time, almost like nothing happened. How was that for you? Because you were the CEO, like after the whole process, it was like a big, big milestone.

Marc van Agteren (39:41)


Anke Huiskes (39:41)

Can you take us through that day and maybe the weeks afterwards?

Marc van Agteren (39:45)

Yeah, I remember because when prepping for this call, I actually going through some pictures from that time. And I know that I think Roel signed it in the office and I was at home. I had my table laid out all the different versions of the paper that I had to sign. But again, props for SurveyMonkey, they sent over a team of execs.

to actually tell Whitney to the team, explain what’s gonna happen. So it was just not me alone having to explain to the team, hey, we’re being acquired by SurveyMonkey, let’s cheer and have some drinks, and that’s it. No, it was a solid team of SurveyMonkey execs that actually came over and really gave a great presentation in front of other people. But we also had, we had an office in…

New York, we had a Sydney office, Berlin, a London office. So we had a lot of people around the globe. And I think the Sydney people were asleep around that time. So they heard it a little bit later. But the other people, we of course dialed them in. And yeah, that is how things went. And because SurveyMonkey was a public listed company, there was a one month period where things could still go wrong.

So they announced the acquisition on early, early March, and the official acquisition happened on the 1st of April. And it wasn’t April Fool’s, luckily.

Anke Huiskes (41:16)

Hmm. Yeah.

Johan van Mil (41:19)

And how did you spend the weeks after? Because then your company has been taking over, you’ve been 8 years busy running the company, 10 years old the company. What had changed, especially that first week, and also the period afterwards?

Marc van Agteren (41:35)

Yeah, to be honest, not a lot changed because we also had to stay on for like three years with the company. So for us, it was not an entire book that we closed. It was an actual new chapter. And of course, there were a lot of formal things within the SurveyMonkey. So Ruh and I flew to the San Mateo office. We did a town hall being on stage there. I think SurveyMonkey had about

800 -900 people around that time, including the 135 from us. And we had an executive offsite, also on the US West Coast, that it wasn’t a great opportunity for who myself to get to know a lot of people within the SurveyMonkey executive team. And it was VPN up, basically. And Usabilla also is initial state Usabilla. So it wasn’t…

quickly rebranded and that happened later. But initially just it was Usabilla by SurveyMonkey. So we changed some logos here and there, but everything remained the same. And that was, like I said, we wanted to really have a soft landing for everyone. And also for Roo and myself, of course, we built it up until there was a lot of stress when you’re running the company and running this process. But yeah, it was a very lovely…

a very soft landing. And I think that’s always in the first year. And after that, things start to get more complicated and more hard. Yeah.

Anke Huiskes (43:07)

But was there a moment for you and Roel where you were like sitting together in a room like holy shit what just happened?

Marc van Agteren (43:14)

Yeah, I think but we were also too like, after a while we knew that we’re gonna close the deal. We know SurveyMonkey was eager, we were eager, everybody wanted to have this deal happen. So it was just really putting some more details into place, but we really wanted to have this deal happen. So yeah, we did champagne with the team.

Anke Huiskes (43:16)

Too busy.

Marc van Agteren (43:39)

And like I said, Roel and I, we went to San Mateo. I think, and what I also recall, after that management outing that we had with the SurveyMonkey team, that Friday evening, we met Paul, because Paul, around that time, was of course living in San Francisco. He bought us dinner, and we had dinner there, and we cheered. And then, funny enough,

Paul went home and Roel and I went to some club, to some house club and we had a party there and then we flew back home the day after. But like Roel and I are very modest guys as well. So we just wanted to have the best for our team. And that’s also why, yeah, I actually stayed on for three more years with SurveyMonkey. Roel left after about one and a half years. I stayed on for three years, a little bit.

Anke Huiskes (44:15)


Marc van Agteren (44:36)

too long if I now look in hindsight, but it was just the way it was. Yeah.

Johan van Mil (44:42)

What was the reason that you stayed then too long, Marc? If I may ask you the last question before we dive, if you are really modest on the valuation, right? But let’s answer this question first.

Marc van Agteren (44:51)


I think, let me see, like I think for me, we also, we went into COVID time, right? And that changed everything. For me, it felt like although I actually live…

in the south of the Netherlands in a nice town called Zetterhoornbosch. And I travel by train to the Amsterdam office almost on a daily basis. And for me, that really, that is really me. I’m on the spectrum of extrovert, introvert. I’m really in the middle. It’s called an ambivert. So I sometimes need my own safe space, but I also need people around me to get some energy. And that was suddenly lost.

And when you then, I was managing a team on the West coast. I was managing teams in Amsterdam, but we all had to stay just like we’re doing right now, right? And that was for me, really.

it was really a hard time and I had a personal hard time. I think if I would, if there is something that I’ve learned from this, I would never agree to three years. I think it’s not good for both parties. I think after maximum two years, it’s good to just separate. Like it’s then you’ve done the integration of the company, it’s good. And I think maybe sometimes even a year or year and a half, you hardly ever see,

members of the management team or CEOs or founders still within the company after two, three years. Everybody just moves on. And it wasn’t that I, because I knew when we signed for the acquisition, we knew that we were part of another company and that we had basically nothing to say anymore. But it was still like after three years, especially with COVID in combination, it was for me, it was just, yeah, it was the end of the…

Anke Huiskes (46:40)


Marc van Agteren (46:44)

of the entire book. I could finally close this book and just move on.

Johan van Mil (46:49)

One question to understand it from your perspective, because you see often that if you sell a company, there’s some earn out connected to it or some down payment if you say, you had something in place like that. So you had to stay on financially or was it your personal decision to stay on?

Marc van Agteren (47:07)

Yeah, it was stock -festing. So it was nested, so we had server monkey stock and that was that was fasting. And yeah, server monkey all raised that really well.

Johan van Mil (47:14)

And it, yeah.

Thanks for sharing also that insight, especially to stay on so long because I know it’s a debate that a lot of founders have and I think very rightly that you rarely see that people stay on for the whole period. I’ve never seen it happen.

Marc van Agteren (47:22)


No, exactly. And I think it’s not only for the founder or the CEO, but it’s also for the other party. Like after two years, you just need to move

Johan van Mil (47:38)

Also for the other party. Yeah.

Marc van Agteren (47:44)


Johan van Mil (47:45)

yeah, I fully agree. Let’s go into the valuation, right? In the guesstimation,

Marc van Agteren (50:00)

No, you’re not.

I can’t give you exact numbers, to be honest, I think. But the revenue was quite above 10 million and the multiple was lower. So that’s, yeah. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And also…

Johan van Mil (50:11)

Okay, yeah, and it’s still a great deal, right?

Anke Huiskes (50:14)

Good to know.

Marc van Agteren (50:18)

To give you an indication on the ACV, I think it was between 20, 25 and 30. So the average contract value, we started off with the 10K, but we later on learned on to really shape deals. We of course broadened our entire platform, right? So we had a product for websites, product for apps, product for emails. So yeah, we sold quite some bigger deals.

later on in our journey. 100 % international. Yeah. Yeah. Initially it was the Netherlands, but we quite soon we started to expand abroad. Yeah.

Johan van Mil (50:46)


Anke Huiskes (50:47)

And also international, I guess, like with Dela starting in the Netherlands. Yeah, that’s why I think the effort already fell in. Yeah.

Good. Maybe one last question, if I may, because we have to wrap up. One last question for me, because your point about being like a zero to one versus like one to hundred founder triggered me. Now that you’re done with this adventure, I’m curious to learn about what’s next in store for you. If you’re…

Johan van Mil (51:00)

Hey Marc, yeah, sure.

Anke Huiskes (51:24)

The whole experience make you think of becoming a zero to one, maybe joining another one to a hundred or maybe, I don’t know how you’re spending your days right now. I think we’re investing, advising the next generation founders, bring them to the next level. Yeah. So I’m really curious about what’s next in store for you.

Marc van Agteren (51:28)


Yeah. Do you want to get the commercial answer or do you want to get the honest answer? No, to give you the honest answer, I’m…

Anke Huiskes (51:45)

They’re real. Be honest. Yeah.

Johan van Mil (51:47)


Marc van Agteren (51:53)

I’m actually still figuring that out. So I’m actually doing quite some things. So I recently became chairman of the board of a Belgium software company called Moby Train. I became part of the advisory board of a Swiss Netherlands company called Serverlizer. It’s not on my LinkedIn yet, but I’m also advising them.

Well, you said I’m running marathons now. So early I was more focused on business goals, but there next to business, there’s also a private life, of course, and spending way more time with my two lovely daughters and my wife. And yeah, I ran the Amsterdam Marathon about…

a little bit over a year and a half ago. And I did the Rotterdam Marathon last April. So spending my time on that. And I’ve also started a new company with my father and another business partner in Belgium. It’s not on LinkedIn yet and it’s a consultancy company around the Odoo ecosystem. Not sure if you’re familiar with Odoo, one of Belgium’s unicorns.

and an ERP system and doing that as well. So I’m quite busy there, but I’m still also figuring things out. I just see how things go. Yeah.

Anke Huiskes (53:18)

Yeah, great. Like lots of opportunities.

Johan van Mil (53:21)

Good. Yeah, I probably get a lot of reach out also after sharing that on this podcast, Marc. But that’s a last question for me. If you if you you you if you could, especially if you look now right back on usability Usabilla and I think we all know that I think the biggest learning is what we have afterwards, right? Realization, what we should have done differently or could improve, etc. What would what is the number one, the same thing what you with all the knowledge that you have right now, right and all the things that you’ve done.

Marc van Agteren (53:21)


Anke Huiskes (53:27)


Johan van Mil (53:49)

would do differently, especially as a CEO of Usabilla.

Marc van Agteren (53:52)

Shall I give a very cliche answer? Nothing, nothing. For me, this was the perfect journey. I made the right decision to join Paul in 2011.

Johan van Mil (53:55)

And please… cool!

Marc van Agteren (54:03)

took it over a year after and together with my new business partner, Ruhl, we just made this journey. And it’s, of course, that journey never goes all the way up. You always have these ups and downs, but we, if I look back in hindsight now, and also the company that we created, the culture that we created, we had one of the most beautiful offices here in Amsterdam as well. We all made right moves there. So I think that the one that I…

that I, yeah, it’s what we already spoke about. I would not think stayed for three years, but that’s just in hindsight and you learn from that. And that’s, if I would ever be in another thing like this, I would probably negotiate one and a half, maximum two years, but maybe even one year. And apart from that, I think we’ve made a perfect right. So I’m very happy about that. Yeah.

Anke Huiskes (54:38)


Johan van Mil (54:38)


Next. Yeah.

Yeah, and something you really can be proud of. Great story, Marc. Thanks for sharing that.

Marc van Agteren (55:00)

Yeah, I am, I am, yeah. Yeah, welcome. You’re welcome.

Anke Huiskes (55:05)

And for founders being in a similar situation than you were, can they reach you? Are you open to taking founder calls? Yeah. How can they best reach you? Is that a…

Johan van Mil (55:06)


Marc van Agteren (55:14)

Of course, people that know me, they know that I’m always open to have a coffee or have a chat. I’m doing it on a regular basis. So yeah, just send me a note on LinkedIn and we’ll rate something.

Anke Huiskes (55:25)


Awesome. Thank you for sharing your story, all the insights, the details. And yeah, thank you for being on our show. See.

Johan van Mil (55:32)

Okay, Marc. Thank you.

Marc van Agteren (55:35)

Yeah, you’re welcome. Thank you for having me on the show. Great. Okay. See you. Bye bye.

Johan van Mil (55:41)

Okay, Marc, bye bye. Bye bye. Thanks.