Q&A platform Answers is announcing a big acquisition and fundraising tonight–the company is buying customer experience analytics company ForeSee, and just raised $300 million in new funding in equity from existing investors, including Summit Partners, TA Associates, AFCV and others; and in debt from SunTrust Robinson Humphrey and Silicon Valley Bank. We’ve heard that Answers paid north of $200 million for ForeSee, which raised around $20 million in funding.
It’s an interesting move for Answers, which has had a complete turnaround in the past five years. Answers originally only operated a community-generated Q&A site at Answers.com, and was a public company. In 2011, Answers was was acquired by AFCV Holdings, a portfolio company of Summit Partners, for $127 million in cash. AFCV subsequently delisted Answers and took the company private. At the time, shareholders were unhappy with the terms of the deal, claiming it undervalued Answers.com, and tried to block the sale, which eventually went through. Answers was also hit with a round of layoffs in June 2011. In 2012, the company took another minority investment, this time from private equity firm TA Associates.
With new leadership, Answers began evolving its approach and decided on a platform strategy, explains CEO David Karandish. Basically, Answers wants to be more than just a Q&A destination, and realized that its future lied in providing Q&A content on other sites, such as retail sites. In the quest to dominate this space, Karandish has been quietly acquiring a number of companies over the past year, including ResellerRatings, Easy2, and a few others. Last year, Answers attempted to buy About.com from the New York Times Co. for around $270 million but lost the bid to IAC.
Karandish tells us that this acquisition of ForeSee enables Answers to provide a full suite of solutions that span the customer life cycle, from optimizing customer acquisition via valid question and answer engagement to analyzing the customer experience to predicting future customer behavior. ForeSee helps businesses evaluate the success of their customer touch points. Its clients include half of the Fortune 100, half of the top 100 internet retailers, half of the top 10 banks, and nearly every US governmental organization. Since its inception, the company has captured more than 100 million customer experience responses (we frequently cover the company’s analysis).
Once Answers integrates ForeSee, Answers will be able to offer businesses the ability to embed question and answers relating to their products and experiences on their sites, and measure customer engagement and service. This is all available via a SaaS product.
As for Answers, Karandish says subscription revenue now accounts for 50 percent of the company’s revenue. The company is generating 8 million new answers per day and counts 180 million registered users. And sales are $160 million for 2013, up from $20 million a few years ago. 2014, adds Karandish, will be spent integrated ForeSee, and readying the company for an eventual IPO.
If Answers can be the go to Q&A, and customer experience management platform for retailers and other online sites, the company could indeed turn itself around and defy many of the challenges it has faced in the past. Static Q&A Sites (ie Yahoo Answers) have started to fade away in presence on the web, but Answers has a potentially interesting strategy to monetize and increase engagement. In this case, execution of this plan and continued growth will be key to the company’s success when (and if) it goes public and endures public investor scrutiny.