In 2004, Kevin Chin led a consortium that privatised SoftLaw Corporation Limited (later renamed RuleBurst) from being listed on the Australian Securities Exchange at an enterprise value of A$12m.
At the time, following the spectacular blow-up of the Dot Com bubble in 2001, software was the most unpopular sector on the stock market. The Canberra-headquartered SoftLaw had floated on the ASX in 2000 and was a classic “tech boom baby”. By 2004, however, its share price was languishing at all-time lows and our due diligence indicated it had only six weeks of cash to survive.
Yet the core middleware, which was a business rules engine (BRE), focused on natural language inferencing (an early form of what is now called “artificial intelligence”) and was a strong product, ranked on Gartner’s Magic Quadrant. Furthermore, Australian government departments were already purchasing RuleBurst’s enterprise software solution, and the company had revenues, albeit declining.
Kevin saw the opportunity to really change the modus operandi in order to save the company and scale it up not only in Australia but also globally. Following the complex and difficult process of privatising a business with two classes of equity securities listed on the ASX, in late 2004, Kevin became the joint-largest shareholder and the hands-on CFO of the business.
The first nine months was a salvage and rescue operation to save the business from demise. This was an extremely challenging period with many difficult decisions executed by the CEO and CFO, including letting go more than 50% of the staff base and cutting unprofitable customers.
By July 2005, however, the business was safe and had in fact built up a small cash war chest. The satellite offices in the UK and the US were beefed up to be fully fledged offices with resident team members, and the company was renamed RuleBurst Corporation. To complement its BRE capability, the business undertook a small bolt-on acquisition in Australia, in late 2005, in the GRC (governance, risk and compliance) software space. During the 2005 and 2006 financial years, the business grew revenues at 100% per annum, with strong profitability, reflecting the changes that had been made to culture and sales architecture as well as a leaner cost base. Importantly, RuleBurst secured a number of new marquee customers in both the United Kingdom and United States markets.
In July 2006, the business showed classic growing-pains symptoms and over the ensuing nine months, systems and processes broke down. RuleBurst’s business consequently plateaued, and was unable to grow revenues in the 2007 financial year. To overcome this problem, a change of leadership, upgrades to IT, accounting and ERP systems, and the introduction of new systems and processes were implemented. Additionally, and crucially, a cultural reboot was instigated with more urgency instilled into the sales team in particular.
By the middle of 2007, the business was back on track and secured more marquee customers in North America and opened an office in Singapore to target Asian customers. In Australia, the company made the very small bolt-on acquisition of financial-crime specialist Fraudsight, to expand its product platform.
An opportunity also emerged in late 2007 to acquire a distressed North American peer, Haley Corporation. The new CEO led a deal that proved to be a strategic game changer for the company, cementing the strong presence and stature of RuleBurst in the North American market. The name of the company was thus changed to RuleBurst Haley.
In June 2008, RuleBurst Haley agreed to be acquired by Oracle Corporation Limited, with deferred settlement in November 2008. Being in the eye of the global financial crisis storm, this was a very difficult time to close a transaction, but the Chairman, Board and leadership team were persistent and a deal was finally consummated at an enterprise value of A$150m.
In the space of four years, the company was transformed from being an Australian-centred business, on its deathbed, to being a successful global software company with operations in Australia, the United Kingdom, Europe, Asia and North America. Value was created primarily from operational engineering and re-engineering. The sale to Oracle delivered returns in excess of 10.4x to investors in the original consortium.