It's hard to separate fact from fiction in the continuing saga of Nashua, N.H.-based Ektron.
But we wanted to share the newest rumor this morning — namely, that the company that just bought Ektron is also buying EPiServer and has plans to combine the technologies.
Plot thickens! @accelkkr buys @episerver and @Ektron to combine technology and brand to target @Sitecore. @episerver shareholders confirm.— David Maffei (@BostonMaff) December 6, 2014
Company President Tim McKinnon, the guy who runs the day-to-day operations at the web content management firm, told CMSWire today that he doesn't know anything about the alleged merger.
But McKinnon also told us yesterday that Ektron's minority investor — a private equity firm called Accel-KKR was not buying the company — just before a document that refutes that statement surfaced online. You can view it in the story here.
A Little Background
It's been an interesting week for Ektron watchers. TechCrunch first reported rumors of a sale on Thursday. CMSWire quickly followed with a story of our own, then advanced the story yesterday.
We reached out to both McKinnon and Greg Williams, managing director at Accel-KKR and a member of the Ektron board. In phone calls with our own Virginia Backaitis and Dom Nicastro yesterday, McKinnon denied rumors about the sale of Ektron to Accel-KKR. McKinnon claimed there was no sale, but only a second round of equity funding.
In a press release the company issued about the same time as those phone calls — apparently to buttress his story — McKinnon claimed the Accel-KKR investment "provides strong support for Ektron as it delivers upon its vision and mission to provide solutions to customers," and added that the company is "well positioned for continued growth in 2015."
About two hours later. TechCrunch published a story, which alleged that McKinnon acknowledged the sale in a late afternoon conversation. McKinnon claims his quotes were fabricated. Who knows? The only thing clear is that this Ektron story is muddy as a shallow creek.
Why does any of this matter to anyone outside of Ektron? Largely because plenty of companies have made significant investments in Ektron software, and continue to pay annual subscription fees, reportedly of some $12 million. They want to know that their investments are safe – and that the software will continue to be supported. This is not to mention current employees and stockholders.
We've already established that it's all but impossible to get the real story from this crowd. So we're not putting much faith in those statements, nor are we taking at face value claims that the company is "profitable and growing."
Note to both Ektron's public relations company, SHIFT, and Ektron (and Accel-KKR, which probably played a role): There are mergers and acquisitions, big and small, in the tech world almost every day. There are plenty of ways to address rumors about such pending deals without violating any type of non-disclosure agreement or pledge of confidentiality. Next time, rather than spin a tale, try just saying "No comment."
What's Happening Now?
So where does that leave us? Basically, to do what we have already been doing: ferreting out the truth for ourselves and reporting back on what we're finding.
Early Saturday, rumors about the Ektron/EpiServer merger started to surface. UPDATE: On Sunday, when asked if she could provide more information on Accel-KKR's plans for EPiServer, Maria Wasing, the company's vice president of global marketing, told CMSWire she has no comments at this time.
Accel-KKR isn't talking, and, as we already told you, McKinnon said he knows nothing.
So all we can tell you is this: The rumors are flying.
Stockholm, Sweden-based EPiServer was founded in 1994, making it five years older than Ektron. After an acquisition in 2010 it is presently controlled by a fund owned by IK Investment Partners, a European private equity firm with Nordic roots that manages more than $7 billion in fund commitments.
What would a merger bring? For one, a significant European customer base.
Matt Mullen and Alan Pelz-Sharpe at 451 Research reported last summer that it is a time of transition in the web content management market.
Market shifts and technology trends — the somewhat surprising strength of mobile, the stampede to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), a growing infatuation with digital marketing — were missed by many players, leaving the field "fragmented" and "troubled," they explained.
In the past decade, VCs and corporate investors shoveled $118.6 million into Acquia alone and pushed tens of millions more into CrownPeak, DNN (formerly DotNetNuke), CoreMedia, Telerik (recently acquired by Progress Software), Ektron, TerminalFour, eZ Systems and others.
Maybe investors at Accel-KKR view this market — which Mullen and Pelz-Sharpe predict will not grow significantly over the coming years — a bit differently. Since they aren't talking, it's hard to know.
Scott Liewehr, president and principal analyst at the Digital Clarity Group, said if Accel-KKR"indeed invested in EPi, that information alone wouldn't necessarily mean the companies are combining. That said, EPi has struggled to get an established presence in the US, while Ektron has only minimal penetration in Europe (outside of the UK where they've seen good growth recently). So the two would complement each other well from that perspective."
Liewehr also challenged the notion that Ektron is struggling, close to bankrupt — or that the investment by Accel-KKR is a "bad thing." Rather, he said, the investment "should make Ektron stronger."
The question now: Could combining with EPiServer make it even more formidable?