Exclusive – The founding team of LiveChat, which delivers real-time software and web analytics solutions for e-commerce sales and support teams, has completed a management buy-out to regain control over the company, TechCrunch has learned. The founders were looking to get back a controlling equity stake in the company, and teamed up with PE firm Tar Heel Capital to acquire a 60% stake, effectively buying out investor Naspers, a massive South Africa-based media and investment group.
LiveChat was initially founded in 2002 and claims to have been cash flow positive since last year. The company offers tools that helps website owners and publishers, primarily e-commerce companies, communicate with website visitors in real time (also see LivePerson, ClickDesk and others).
LiveChat is available on the Web, as well as multiple mobile platforms including Android, iOS, Blackberry, and Windows Phone. The company says it currently serves more than 1,600 businesses of all sizes, including Adobe, Orange Telecom, ING, Better Business Bureau and Air Asia.
A management buy-out (aka MBO) is a relatively uncommon financial transaction, so I asked the founders why they decided to take that route.
They explained to me that, as its founding team, LiveChat management owned 40 percent of the company at the beginning of the year, but craved a controlling equity to be able to accelerate growth now that the business is profitable, and exert more control over the overall strategy.
Naspers, which owned 60 percent of the entity, no longer owns any stake in the company today, as the founding team bought n additional 20 percent stake on top of their earlier stake. The transaction was funded by Polish PE firm Tar Heel Capital, which now owns 40 percent of LiveChat.
The MBO process was started in January 2011, and Naspers agreed to sell their stake last June.
Mariusz Cieply, CEO of LiveChat, tells me he was inspired by Richard Branson’s management buy-out of Virgin following the October 1987 stock market crash.