As part of a broader data-management strategy, Truist will acquire a proprietary data platform and a number of key employees of the RTP-headquartered startup Zaloni, the companies announced on Monday.
Charlotte-based Truist—which was formed in the 2019 merger of BB&T and SunTrust—will absorb Zaloni’s Zaloni Arena platform as well as 20 staff members.
Ben Sharma, Zaloni’s original founder and now Chief Product Officer, as well as Chief Technology Officer Ashwin Nayak are joining the Truist team led by the bank’s Chief Data Officer Tracy Daniels. The team will be based in Raleigh.
Over its 15 years of existence, Zaloni has raised $25 million in outside funding, grown to 160 employees and consistently proven the power of data, according to Zaloni CEO Susan Cook, who is staying with Zaloni.
“I know a lot of people say data’s the new oil,” Cook said. “I like to say it’s the new gold. You look at any industry right now, data is a key enabler to how companies are doing digital transformation, how they’re gaining competitive advantage, how they’re better serving their customers. Data is at the core of all of that.”
Sharma founded Zaloni initially as a consulting firm after his time working at NetApp, where he was constantly dealing with clients facing overwhelming data challenges. It was then he recognized there was an opportunity to fill the void of skills and expertise in handling huge amounts of data. (We profiled Zaloni in a previous feature story in October, 2019.)
As more and more large companies were showing a demand for the consultancy to catalog and govern the data, Zaloni’s software platform was born.
“Data is a pretty strategic asset, and it requires its own set of skills,” Cook said. “It requires its own supply chain. It requires its own governance and discipline. We’ve just reaffirmed why Ben founded the company in the first place.”
While Zaloni wasn’t necessarily looking to be acquired when discussions began with Truist, Cook said the opportunity was too great not to jump on it.
Previously, the team had been open-minded, believing they would either go for a Series B round or welcome a strong acquisition proposition.
Truist was the perfect option. Initially, the bank was interested in being an investor. When Bank of America became a client for Zaloni, the tides turned and Truist sought out a customer relationship.
But upon doing due diligence into Zaloni’s product as a prospective customer, they knew Zaloni’s streamlined data pipeline would enable them to fulfill their own goals even more if acquired.
The partial acquisition is a good outcome as well for Zaloni’s investors, including Topmark Partners, which is based in Tampa but has a Triangle office as well. Topmark invested in Zaloni in 2019, impressed by Sharma’s domain expertise and the progress made by his team to that point.
“Zaloni has done a tremendous job continuing to develop and improve its core Arena platform,” said Steve Lux, the Topmark managing partner who oversaw the investment. “It’s another example of a founder building a highly impressive business in the Triangle that brought exciting opportunities to its employees.”
Only a portion of those employees are going to Truist. Cook said that it was important that Zaloni retain some employees to continue serving their large enterprise clients.
“As a CEO, you feel this incredible, personal obligation to take good care of the employees, to take good care of the founders’ legacy,” Cook said.
Sharma is beloved, Cook added. If you asked anyone around the Triangle, you will never find anyone who has anything negative to say about the founder, she said.
“He’s just universally loved and respected,” Cook said. “So I came in as CEO two and a half years ago and recognized my job is to take care of the shareholders and to take care of the customers and the employees. But I also felt a really strong obligation to protect Ben’s legacy.”
Zaloni’s strategic relationship with Truist now is a strong testament to Sharma’s legacy, according to Cook.
“This is a validation of his vision, that data is a strategic asset and a key enabler to a huge bank, fulfilling its strategy of making communities and people’s lives better,” Cook said.