Vision Critical sells its Research Consulting division, CEO addresses possible IPO this year

Vision Critical, which provides customer intelligence software and support, has sold its North American Research Consulting division to MARU Group, a company that provides research, insight, and advisory services to enterprises.

The new business, which will be called MARU/VCR&C, will operate as an independent research and consulting entity under MARU Group. For its part, Vision Critical said that it will work in close collaboration with MARU/VCR&C through a strategic partnership agreement.

“We will run this business with the same level of precision and growth that the public markets will expect.”

Speaking with BetaKit, Vision Critical CEO Scott Miller said that, until now, its SaaS platform and research and consulting arm have been operating as complementary, separate entities. But as the company grows, some of its customers want an organization to manage the entire research process including managing conversations with customers, designing activities, and analyzing results.

While this is what Vision Critical’s research arm does, Miller said that as a software-based business, they can’t invest in both software and research/consulting quickly enough to keep up with customer demand.

“Maru Group will be bringing investment to increase the research consulting capacity that complements the use of the platform for some customers,” Miller said. “We will take the proceeds from the sale, invest in expanding our SaaS capabilities and then we will also enable Maru to invest in research/consulting component of the same ecosystem. So it’s almost like getting two investments; one to the software side with the proceeds from the sale, and the second with Maru Group [in the research and consulting arm].”

scott miller

Vision Critical is using the funding from Maru Group to work on “high priority” areas as its customers look for more out of its platform. The company will work on integrating its platform with enterprises to analyze their big data, while also developing new solutions, and finding better ways to enable conversations between brands and customers.

Asked about whether this move was in preparation for Vision Critical’s IPO, Miller said that the company is “preparing for the public eye.”

“We’re finding more buyers outside of conventional market intelligence or the market research department; at the enterprise level, there are entire departments focused on customer experience on new products developed. There are chief customer officers, for example,” said Miller. “They’re looking for a tool that enables them to have a customer conversation, and they need entirely new solutions or adaptations of our solution.”

Miller called the sale a logical next step in Vision Critical’s evolution, which raises the question of whether this is a step in helping the company prepare for an IPO. In the past, Vision Critical had allegedly hired BMO to assist with IPO preparation, and OMERS Ventures CEO John Ruffolo said that he only expected one OMERS portfolio company to IPO in 2016 — most likely Vision Critical.

Asked about whether this move was in preparation for Vision Critical’s IPO, Miller said that the company is “preparing for the public eye.”

“We will run this business with the same level of precision and growth that the public markets will expect. And that gives us the flexibility to pursue the right investment at the right time in order to fuel our growth,” Miller said. “An IPO is definitely one way to do it and it’s a commitment we’ve made to our shareholders to be ready, but there are a number of ways to raise capital and to grow our business. We just want to be in a position to take advantage of the best one. Is this a step in that direction? Absolutely.”

Still, Miller said that the partnership was mainly driven by opportunity and the struggle to meet the growing demands of its customers; in his words, he’s not in a rush to pursue an IPO as the company has the capital it needs to grow — but in his words, he’s in a rush to be ready. Miller alluded to the possibility of an IPO this year if the time is right.

“If Vision Critical is operating right and the hypothesis is right, we will, by the time we get to the end of the year, see an awful lot of new opportunities that merit substantial new investment and that’s when that particular moment makes the most sense for our shareholders and business.”

All 160 employees of Vision Critical’s research and consulting division will join the new company under Maru Group. Vision Critical currently boasts clients across 700 leading global companies, including Adobe, DEWALT, and Univision Communications Inc.

Related: Vision Critical puts the Sparq in customer intelligence

Jessica Galang

Jessica Galang

Jessica Galang is BetaKit's News Editor. Follow her on Twitter @jessicagalangg or send her pitches to jessica.galang@betakit.com.