Founders return to lead G2 Crowd into what could be Chicago’s version of an IPO unicorn

BY SANDRA GUY

Godard Abel is un-retiring again.

Abel, 47, is returning as CEO of G2 Crowd – a platform known as the Yelp of business-to-business software for its insider tech-product and services reviews — to oversee the company’s going public.

Abel had been serving as executive chairman of the company, headquartered in the Civic Opera Building, since last summer.

In the past year, G2 Crowd’s five original co-founders have all returned to their founding roles. Three of them announcing the news today.

The leadership convergence coincides with G2 Crowd’s more than tripling its revenue since February 2016; more than doubling its workforce, to 180 employees from 51 during that same period, and a surge by a 2.3 multiple in site reviews, to 435,000.

The reviews are free to the public; G2 Crowd only charges vendors to use the reviews in marketing campaigns or for premium site profiles.

G2 Crowd is backed by $45 million in capital, including Series A backers led by Pritzker Group venture capital and a Series B round led by Accel Ventures, which included Dropbox, Slack, Groupon and Braintree.

G2 Crowd, which expanded from its Lyric Opera building headquarters to San Francisco, and on from there to open offices in Dublin, Ireland, or in London.

Though an IPO may be two to four years away, Abel says the timing is right because G2 Crowd’s Yelp-like reviews, written by people who’ve actually used the software, are helping businesses undergo digital transformation at an unprecedented rate. The reviews website gets 1.5 million visitors each month.

“It’s hard for businesses to figure out which technologies can best drive their growth,” he said. “We’ve brought the same kind of peer advice as Yelp, Amazon or GlassDoor into the realm of buying business technology.”

That’s especially important when industries ranging from commercial to industrial are terrified of being “Amazon-ed.”

A novice can find 50,000 business software products online, but he or she needs to sift through the noise with a review from a trustworthy source, Abel said. Since a G2 Crowd ties in with LinkedIn, a construction company leader can find reviews that his or her peers in the industry have written about software that’s unique to the business.

Indeed, LinkedIn is an investor; G2 Crowd is believed to be only the third company that LinkedIn has invested in. [The other two were STAND Technologies and Confluent; LinkedIn has since then invested in two more companies — Cornerstone OnDemand and SalesLoft.]

“It’s really helping businesses discover just the right software,” Abel said.

Co-founder Tim Handorf, 46, the company’s CEO for the past four years, will hold dual roles: As president and returning to his former role leading product development, as well as engineering, design, research, and people and culture functions.

Co-founder Matt Gorniak, 43, is returning to G2 Crowd as the chief revenue officer.

For the past two years, Gorniak served as senior vice president of Global Quote-to-Cash sales at Salesforce and turned SteelBrick into one of Salesforce’s fastest-growing acquisitions ever.

Gorniak was Abel’s business partner on building their prior ventures SteelBrick and BigMachines.

Oracle bought BigMachines for $400 million in 2013 to gain an edge in enterprise cloud-based technology that helps companies write bids, quotes and proposals. In 2016, Salesforce acquired Steelbrick for $360 million to gain an edge in software that helps salespeople decide the right price quotes for customers.

For Chicago-area residents wanting a piece of G2 Crowd’s action, the company will hire more than 100 people in the next two years, including researchers, finance experts, software engineers, and sales and marketing reps.

“It’s truly across the board,” Abel said.