ESG – The Next Chapter

GettyImages-9589240362020 was certainly a weird year for everyone – ESG included. Personally, I got COVID, gave it to my wife, stepdaughter, and sister, and was miserable for most of August. I highly recommend avoiding it if at all possible.

On the business front, ESG had the best year in our history. First, we actually already knew how to use Zoom, so we were light years ahead of many! Second, it didn’t take the industry long to figure out that even with all their events cancelled, they still needed to sell stuff. Selling stuff required a new (or very old) construct – content and intelligence to help customers make smart decisions around stuff they need to buy in order to get their own “digital transformation” activated.

For over 20 years ESG has focused on just that – using fact-based market research and hands-on testing to develop cutting edge, interactive content designed to help buyers move faster, and the industry to reach more of their potential market. Suffice it to say that our phones never stopped ringing.

2020 saw ESG explode growth-wise, taxing our magnificent people in the process.

During our boom, we learned a key lesson about hyper-growth – we liked it! It was both challenging and incredibly rewarding. We helped a huge industry move the needle – for the betterment of all. We published more research, developed more effective content, and provided more deep analysis than any other time in our history.

We also figured out that we had largely hit the limitations of a 45 person company. In order to continue on our growth trajectory, we needed a partner.

We have always “punched above our weight class” – we are a small company that plays against the big boys – and wins. But let’s face facts, while our presence is known, our reach is somewhat limited. We don’t control where our content ends up. We don’t know who is reading it and who is taking action on it. We only get that data anecdotally. We know our content is the most effective in the industry, because our customers vote with their pocket books – but we’re essentially blind otherwise.

We needed to find a partner with global reach, who shares our same value systems, in the tech industry, that would not only benefit from what ESG does – but can enhance the value that an ESG relationship brings to the market.

Oh, and we needed to be left alone, because it took 20 years to build this unique, fantastic culture of amazing people. We need help to grow, but not to change. A tall order for sure.

Well, as many of you know, my life is a bizarre series of events, mostly good, some awful – but always interesting. This chapter is no exception.

Every year I get pinged by PE firms looking to buy our company. Every year I say no or ignore them. Starting a few years ago I started to listen. I’m not 35 anymore! And most every year I’d go sit down with the founder of TechTarget Greg Strakosch, and CEO Mike Cotoia to talk about life and business.

You see, Greg was my first ever real boss when I finally graduated from college and went to a little company called EMC. That was 1986 (I knew they would never make it, so I quit in 1989). Ten years later, after founding and selling (poorly) a storage startup, I met with Greg to talk about the fact that for no known reason to me, companies in the storage industry were paying me to ask me questions. Seems I had acquired some intelligence about the space over 14 years, and by pure luck, the storage business was exploding and all of a sudden it was Wall St.’s hottest topic. After longtime ESG cybersecurity analyst rock star Jon Oltsik told me I should start a storage analyst firm, Greg specifically told me to name it Enterprise Storage Group, even though it was only me and my dog at the time. He then told me he was starting TechTarget – and that one of their properties was Storage Magazine, which he wanted me to write for. To provide content, as it were.

Fast-forward 20 years and ESG and TechTarget have been either directly or indirectly in each other’s lives doing very different things to a very similar set of tech companies and the customers that buy from them. So, this year when Tony and I went to chat with Greg and Mike about their thoughts on PE vs. SPAC vs. strategic buyers, they had different ideas. Of course, we didn’t know they were in the process of buying video/web platform player BrightTALK, but they did. And they knew that the combined TechTarget/BrightTALK entity had an OPT-IN audience of over 27 million subscribers – and all of them were looking for smart guidance in the form of research, analysis, and content.

24 hours later, they made us an unexpected offer we couldn’t refuse. They shared their plans, we shared ours, and it didn’t take long to see that we could fill some of their gaps, and they certainly could fill some of ours. Combined with the fact that there is no cultural risk – we know these people – it just made sense.

So, what’s going to change at ESG? Well, you are going to mail your check to a different address, but that’s about it. We will continue to cultivate and collect insanely brilliant people, maniacally focus on our customers' outcomes, and continue to be the company you want to do business with. That’s a promise.

Thank you for the last 21 years – and here’s to the next!