March 2021 - present
Services / Technology
Our relationship with MidEuropa worked because of our openness and the fact they share our values and we have the same vision for Symfonia’s future. To work with someone you respect is necessary; to like them is a luxury. We are lucky, we have both.
- Piotr Ciski, Symfonia CEO
Carefully carving success
A complex carve-out unleashed pent-up ambition which propelled Symfonia to double revenues in just 2.5 years before attracting a global technology investor
Taking a strong but underloved unit out of a corporate can really invigorate a team. The journey of premium software business Symfonia post-independence illustrates the positive impact a focused private equity backer can have: three bolt-on acquisitions completed and doubling of revenues.
The carve-out and subsequent success of Symfonia exemplifies the adage of fortune favouring the brave, with the Polish software specialist thriving under the stewardship of an experienced backer.
Established over 25 years ago, Symfonia is an important and longstanding part of the Polish IT landscape, providing around 50,000 Polish SMEs with FMS/ERP/payroll software. It had been part of Sage Group plc since 2005, but like many corporates post-pandemic, Sage was looking to focus on its core markets. As owners of Symfonia for so long, Sage was eager to secure a supportive steward for its growth, and so price was not the only consideration. Symfonia had been resilient during COVID, with strong recurring revenues driven largely by subscriptions and low churn, so there was a lot of interest in the business.
Symfonia CEO Piotr Ciski felt the MidEuropa team stood out. “They asked the right questions and we spent a lot of time building a relationship with them since it was important to me that they understood the real challenges and opportunities. I met with a lot of investors and had numerous discussions, but I really appreciated the clarity and mutual trust we developed with MidEuropa.”
Indeed this trust helped ensure the deal was seamless. “The relationship we built meant we could approach Sage with the ability to deliver a clean deal very swiftly,” explains Marek Rodak, Principal at MidEuropa involved in the transaction.
After acquiring Symfonia in March 2021, the team spent just over two years executing on an operational and digital transformation which allowed it to enhance its cloud and SaaS (Software as a Service) capabilities and to upgrade its organic growth profile. It was the opposite of a cost-cutting exercise – in fact a doubling of revenues (mostly organic) was achieved with prioritisation of platform and product investment by MidEuropa and the management team. This also led to a substantial increase in headcount, from c. 300 at the time of investment to c. 540 at the time of the majority stake sale in summer 2023.
“A private equity backer will make a previously non-core unit absolutely core to their vision,” stresses Kerim Turkmen, Partner at MidEuropa and deal lead on Symfonia. He explains the resources an investor can bring to bear go beyond the capital; there is also the network of relationships to attract talent into the organisation. “We make sure it’s a success by putting in place the right governance model with the right team; we create motivation with focus, inspiring people to take the right decisions to create value.”
“Our understanding of the sector as well as the local market dynamics allowed us to see Symfonia’s potential and help them to achieve it,” Kerim says.
The standout results within a compressed timeframe belie the hard work that made it happen. Typically in a carve-out, agreements are signed and attention swiftly shifts to establishing standalone systems and extricating IT, typically completed within a year during which systems and processes are transitioned and transformed.
Having started the process at the beginning of March 2021, Symfonia’s management embarked on a three-pronged approach to the journey ahead: the carve-out and separation from Sage, involving myriad systems and agreements; the day-to-day running of the business; and planning and investing for the future.
Each of these was a full-on role, with management drawing on MidEuropa’s support to drive the strategy for growth. Ultimately the collaboration led to a full transition from a corporate subsidiary to an independent premium software business with a resilient recurring revenue model. Crucially, customers were not impacted during the process, a testament to management’s ability to keep up the operations in spite of the demanding transition period.
As the separation was underway, MidEuropa and management set about progressing an ambitious M&A pipeline, with MidEuropa’s extensive pre-deal diligence into the sector affording it thorough understanding of the market drivers, as well as a list of numerous add-on targets.
The efforts led to three strategic add-on acquisitions during the partnership: HRTec, Reset2 and Cloud Planet. These enabled Symfonia to acquire new technology, consolidate existing market segments and also expand into new ones.
Investing in people
Symfonia and MidEuropa’s time together saw an experienced independent board created and the senior management team augmented, including the appointments of an experienced Chair and a CTO with global blue-chip technology experience. A robust finance function was organised headed up by a new world-class CFO, and Symfonia’s development team, which had previously been underprioritised, was substantially enhanced and improved. “Our new set-up and re-energised mission, as a private equity-backed business, allowed us to attract top-tier talent, and it really helped us to build the business,” Piotr recalls.
This fresh talent combined with the existing team worked together to drive success, and in summer 2023 Accel-KKR, a global technology investor focused on software and tech-enabled companies, agreed to acquire a majority stake in Symfonia. MidEuropa, convinced the business has further to go, retained a significant minority stake to continue contributing to and benefiting from future value creation.