Propel Buys ThriveHive as Digital Marketing Firms Consolidate

HubSpot, Marketo, and Eloqua—now part of Oracle—represent a previous generation of marketing-tech companies. Now there’s a new crop, and it’s starting to make some noise around Boston.

Propel Marketing, based in Quincy, MA, says today it has acquired ThriveHive, a 25-person startup in Cambridge, MA, for $11.8 million in cash. Both companies focus on digital marketing for small and medium-size businesses.

ThriveHive was co-founded in 2011 by MIT Sloan School alums Max Faingezicht and Adam Blake. Their idea was to use data science and analytics software to help small business owners manage a bewildering array of online marketing options—e-mail, social media, search ads, digital promotions, and so forth.

It’s quite a crowded sector, but ThriveHive stuck with it and gained some traction. The company raised a total of $5.5 million from the likes of Founder Collective, Techstars, and angel investors. The team went through the Techstars Boston accelerator program last year. It was a Techstars mentor, in fact, who help connect the company to Propel.

Propel was originally spun out of GateHouse Media, a newspaper publisher, in 2012. After a restructuring, Propel’s parent company became New Media Investment Group (NYSE: NEWM). Propel has about 220 employees in Quincy, Boston, and a new center in Manchester, NH. ThriveHive will keep its office near Kendall Square, at least for now.

Propel’s CEO, Pete Cannone, says the ThriveHive acquisition is a “game changer” and that the startup’s software “will be a very compelling platform for a small business.”

He’s talking about the 28 million (or so) small businesses in the U.S., which range from restaurants and car dealers to cleaning services and dentist offices. All of which “are in dire need of digital marketing” but don’t have the time or tools to do it effectively, says Faingezicht, ThriveHive’s CEO. His goal is for customers to use his firm’s software a few times a week in a “snackable” way—sort of like Facebook—to help “turn a business owner into a one-minute marketer.”

ThriveHive will now integrate its “guided platform” technology with Propel’s services and take advantage of the latter’s reach and distribution. That will help the combined firm bring to bear “data from hundreds of thousands of companies,” Faingezicht says, on things like what kinds of marketing work best for which small businesses.

On the other end of the spectrum is sales and marketing for big brands and businesses—and consolidation of young companies is happening there as well, perhaps more so.

Toronto startup Influitive said today it has acquired Triggerfox, a mobile-sales tech company, less than a month after buying Ironark Software. Earlier this month, Influitive also topped off a Series B funding round that brought the company’s total venture haul to roughly $50 million.

Influitive is led by chief executive Mark Organ, who was the founding CEO of Eloqua. The five-year-old company has offices in Boston and the Bay Area, and its investors include Converge Venture Partners, Hummer Winblad, and New Enterprise Associates. It is focused on building “advocate” communities for its customers. (Sounds like it has some similarities to BzzAgent and Repsly.)

For now, there are still too many marketing-tech companies to keep track of. While Faingezicht and Propel’s Cannone talk about “market domination” and building “the biggest marketing company in the United States,” the truth is that they stand out in part because so many others have failed in their sector.

“The biggest barrier to entry is market access,” Faingezicht says. “Nobody has cracked the [small business] marketing problem.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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