When Relias CEO Jim Triandiflou and his executive team decided where to move their headquarters to in 2012, Cary was the perfect option.
Its location at the heart of the Research Triangle and in the middle of three major research universities made it a prime candidate because of the level of talent it attracted, especially for new hires. That worked just as Relias hoped, and the healthcare analytics and e-learning platform now employs roughly 800 people, more than half of them in Cary. However, Triandiflou did not anticipate how hard it would be to attract senior-level management compared to larger cities like his native Boston.
The Research Triangle has a thriving, growing environment for tech startups, but it lacks the historic, more developed ecosystems found in some of the biggest cities on the coasts where there are more unicorns, more very large companies overall, and thus more senior-level executives to choose from.
“It’s harder here,” he said. “I get together with a group of CEOs, we talk about… attracting talent (at the executive level). I think it’s the number one problem we have. Marketing and product talent is particularly hard to find.”
Those were just the kinds of issues that leading tech executives and investors gathered to address on Tuesday at the Rizzo Conference Center in Chapel Hill at the Inaugural Software Growth and Investment Symposium. The event was hosted by Austin-based Vista Equity Partners and the Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, based out of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School. The speakers and participants discussed ways to scale their businesses from $10M to $100M ARR, uniquely regional challenges to growth and potential exit options.
The featured speakers included Principal and Fund Co-Head Alan Cline of Vista Equity Partners; CEO Joe Colopy of Durham’s Colopy Ventures (Editor’s Note: Joe is also the GrepBeat Godfather, of course); CEO David Spitz of Morrisville’s ChannelAdvisor; CEO Chris Elmore of Charlotte’s AvidXChange; CEO Carl Ryden of Charlotte-based PrecisionLender; Executive Director of the Kenan-Flagler Entrepreneurship Center Vickie Gibbs; and Professor of Finance and Director of the Kenan Institute Gregory Brown.
“This event is an initiative we have for promoting North Carolina-based companies,” Brown said. “The tech sector is a huge sector here, and Vista is a big investor in software, so it seemed like a great way to understand how we can hook up capital providers with companies.”
For some startups like Relias, opportunities for growth or exit—or both—can come from partnerships with private equity firms like Vista. Vista purchased a significant stake in Relias in 2012 and helped run the startup so impressively that German media giant Bertelsmann SE & Co. swooped in to buy Relias from Vista a little over two years later. Now with Bertelsmann’s backing, Relias’ products have spread still further across the United States, Germany and China while still keeping its HQ in Cary.
The Kenan Institute’s goal in the symposium was to help other North Carolina tech businesses follow in the footsteps of companies like Relias and continue to expand their reach, putting the Triangle on the map even more as a promising home for growth-stage tech startups, said Mark Little, a Managing Director of the Kenan Institute.
“While there are a couple of large firms that have done really well,” Little said, “in the tech space, there are not dozens… So what the Institute can do is try to provide the connectivity that doesn’t always exist, try to bring folks from outside who operate in these bigger markets, provide expertise and feedback and knowledge with the goal of supporting that kind of ecosystem developing here.”