From startup to surprise exit: the story of PieSync and HubSpot

This is an English translation of an article that originally appeared at Bloovi.be.

Mattias & Ewout PieSync-founders Mattias Putman and Ewout Meyns (Photo by Dieter Meyns)

Ghent-based startup PieSync has had a killer year, but it’s already fully focused on its sky-high ambitions for 2020. Ewout Meyns and Mattias Putman’s company was taken over by American software developer and marketer HubSpot in November 2019. “Actually, we were never really concerned with a potential exit, we were too focused on growth for that,” confesses Meyns.

American DNA

PieSync, originally a Ghent startup that synchronizes cloud applications, has come a long way. Co-founder and CEO Ewout Meyns vividly remembers how much blood, sweat and tears the first prototype cost. "Most startups initially iterate mainly in the Belgian market, and then go across the pond to the US," he says.

“But the problem we wanted to tackle, the defragmentation of the SaaS industry, was mainly present in the US. So we put all our eggs in one basket. Initially our customer base was 100% American, but we now also have customers in Europe, including Belgium. So we actually took a reverse route.”

But it wasn’t easy: PieSync had to get buy-in from its partners - in other words, the apps they synchronize with. The American CRM Nimble was the first player to bite. Even though Meyns and Putman didn’t get a reaction from CEO Jon Ferrara right away, they eventually managed to get his attention.

“At one point we just sent an email telling him we were going to launch a connection between Nimble CRM and Google Apps,” laughs Meyns. “When we got the chance to present our solution during a demo, he turned out to be really impressed. That’s how we got the ball rolling. It sounds amazing now, but in reality it cost an enormous amount of time. It’s not a done deal to get new companies on board when you’re starting out with 10 packages on your platform.”

From rapid growth to surprise exit

The team’s patience and hard work were rewarded, and the PieSync platform now synchronizes with over 200 business applications. In 2016, two years after the company was founded, they also synced with marketing specialist HubSpot.

“Normally we co-market with our partners, creating a snowball effect for both parties,” Meyns explains. “But with HubSpot it didn’t go as smoothly. They flat out told us that they only wanted to make joint marketing efforts once we had 50 shared customers.”

Shortly after that, PieSync achieved that milestone. They were immediately invited to the HubSpot offices in Dublin, where they gave a training session to sales engineers. The name of the Ghent startup was heard in the hallways, creating an increasingly close customer relationship with HubSpot.

Their collaboration accelerated when PieSync opened an office in the United States. “We had been in New York for just a few weeks when we were contacted to set up a strategic call,” said Meyns. “We happened to be getting ready for an investment round at that time, so we thought it was about that. Until we were told that HubSpot was interested in taking us over. Mattias and I could hardly grasp that a company like that was keen on acquiring us. At that moment you feel so validated, it really hits you: we’ve done good things.”

Shared interest, strategy and philosophy

PieSync’s founding duo have been big admirers of HubSpot since 2012, especially their product development and go-to-market strategy. “The HubSpot philosophy rests on three pillars, which PieSync definitely identifies with,” says the enthusiastic CEO. “First and foremost, it is aimed at the SME market. With a product-driven strategy, they mainly invest in inbound sales and marketing.

"But above all, HubSpot is extremely focused on customer centricity and satisfaction. And we’ve had that last point covered from day one. Mattias and I are very aware that PieSync’s success depends on that of our customers. If you take care of your customers from day one, you create a kind of kick-start for new customers.”

The high degree of customer focus at the heart of the company becomes obvious at first use of the PieSync platform. That’s another thing it has in common with HubSpot. “Our product is built to be as simple as possible,” says Meyns. “Friction-free and user-friendly. If there are still questions, our customer success team is standing by almost 24/7.”

It's not a simple task, if you know that PieSync now serves more than 3,000 customers in 50 countries, spanning different time zones. “That was also our main motive for opening an office in the US,” acknowledges Meyns.

“In Belgium every team had to clock evening shifts. That was tiring, but it paid off. On G2 Crowd, which is basically the TripAdvisor of software packages, we’re at the top of the integration solution rankings. We even do better than IBM and Zapier. I’m sure that was one of the decisive arguments for HubSpot to take us over.”

100% part of HubSpot, but also with 100% own identity

Today, PieSync is a full-blown division of HubSpot. The company, which raised almost five million dollars in venture capital over the last years, won’t reveal the takeover price. What is known is that the Ghent office will become a HubSpot branch. At the product level, PieSync will eventually become more tightly integrated with HubSpot.

"This is a significant transformation for the entire company," Meyns says. “But the interaction is fantastic. Here in Ghent we’ve already been able to receive several C-level HubSpot employees. It feels very natural, although I mainly attribute that to how similar our company culture is to HubSpot’s.

"Another important condition was keeping our own identity: the entire PieSync team is staying on board. Every team member has contributed to our success. Some employees have been there from the very beginning. As a startup you should never forget where you came from, as successful as you might become one day.”

About Magali de Reu

Freelance storyteller and copywriter. Writes stories for and about start-ups and corporations. Host YouTube series Techmag and Ctrl + Alt + Dialogue, in which they put the fire on technology to entrepreneurs and famous heads. Also has a super cool website.