The three of them were among the key people behind one of the products of Telerik, the Bulgarian IT company that was acquired by the US Progress in 2014 and became the biggest Bulgarian exit. Leaving Progress two and a half years later, they built a consultancy business around the very same product – Sitefinity, and exited again last week.
This is the story of Athracian, a company that was founded by Georgi Chokov, Peter Marinov and Tihomir Petrov, in the beginning of 2017, and acquired by Illinois based 35-years-old digital agency Americaneagle.com, two years after that. Between these two events, the founders had rejected several investment and acquisition offers.
“We actually see this as the best next step for the company , not really as an exit. We’ve been working with Americaneagle.com for quite some time now, and will now have the opportunity to develop the European market and scale the business,” summarizes the deal Georgi Chokov. ”It would have been a ‘no brainer’ not to take this opportunity and grow on a completely different level together.”
When there are already 300 competitors
Being part of the very early team of Telerik, the three have seen a lot of different sides of the business – as product managers, engineering managers, taking professional service roles, etc. So, when their Telerik time was over, they knew what they are best in and what to focus on. “Being product guys, we decided to look for a product-market fit and identify where the demand is,” says Marinov. Having developed Sitefinity, a leading content management system used by tens of thousands of websites globally, made them the natural leader when it comes to integration and customization. Moreover, they had the contacts.
Indeed, there was a client from Latin America, even before Athracian was legally registered. But still, how to stand out in an ocean of competition (around this time of between 200 and 300 companies, according to their own calculation)? “On the one hand, we saw there was a demand for expert services in this domain. Then you call people you know, schedule meetings and hop on the plane,” says Tihomir Petrov.
Since then the company has been growing sustainable and organic. In 2018 Athracian had a turnover of around €750k with a team of five on average.
As the venture is completely funded with own capital, mostly with what they had earned as stock option holders from the Telerik exit, Chokov, Marinov, and Petrov, had to be very smart with marketing costs. “Within a year, we were already among the number one brands in our segment. How? With very focused spendings. For instance, we sponsored an annual event in the US that is specialized for the technology we work with. This year, we provided the certification trainings for this Progress technology during this same event,” explain the founders.
As of the acquisition, Europe is the best-developed market for the company and the typical client is an enterprise with a lot of traffic to its page, that needs solid infrastructure. “There are two categories – corporations and institutions. We work with both enterprises and governments all over the world, “ says Petrov.
When there’s too much business
“There’s this eternal separation between product and service companies. We don’t see it this way, we’ve never asked ourselves such question,” says Peter Marinov. Actually, one of the cornerstones of the partnership between Americaneagle.com and Athracian is a project that they decided to approach together. “We had a business challenge – we had to come up with a way to generate more business for both companies. Thanks to one of the internal products we’ve developed over time to accelerate and smoothen our own work, we managed to do so,” explains Marinov. This is also the solution that has allowed Athracian to grow with a team of very modest size.
This project was what showed the three co-founders, that Americaneagle.com had the reach they needed to accomplish what they wanted. And they had the technology to offer to the US company. “The problem for both companies has so far been that there’s too much business, and therefore it makes sense to work together,” smiles Marinov.
To the champion league
Now being part of a bigger company with a presence in 15 locations, things will change a bit for the two years old company. “We just opened 20 new offices,” laughs Marinov, “We knew that if we want to grow and continue to serve the type of clients we want to work with, we had to have the local presence in different countries at some point. We are in the champion league and this has some requirements.” One element will, however, still the same – the culture of autonomy, which Athracian values so much.
From here on, Athracian’s team will continue to penetrate the European market with the vision to become an R&D hub for Americaneagle.com, which is “the company we are trying to build just 35 years ahead.” In other words, Americaneagle.com works with more technologies and manages the whole digital presence of its clients, which was anyway a next milestone for Athracian.
“Let me put it this way: We had the brains, now we are sharper than ever, and we have the muscles too. To work with many of the clients in our target category, you need to have a team of hundreds to comply with their requirements,” says Marinov. And now they are a step closer to this, and more doors are opening to the Bulgarian team.