citybiz+ JMI Equity Leads $120 Million Investment in SOCi

Baltimore’s JMI Equity has led a $120 million funding round for SOCi Inc., a San Diego, Calif., startup aiming to leverage AI tools such as ChatGPT to enhance its marketing platform for multi-location brands.

Other investors in the round included Palo Alto, Calif.-based Vertical Venture Partners; Dallas, Texas-based Blossom Street Ventures; strategic investor Renew Group Private Limited, of Singapore, and the owner of 5-hour Energy International.

“Multi-location brands face a unique challenge in their effort to scale marketing initiatives to multiple locations, not to mention optimizing performance for each of them,” said JMI Equity’s general partner, Suken Vakil, a former Googler. “SOCi is the category leader in multi-location marketing, and its new line of AI-driven ‘Genius’ products will only put more space between the company and its competition,” he added.

ChatGPT as Core

SOCi co-founder and CEO Afif Khoury told Forbes that he plans to make ChatGPT the foundation for its methods, and tap artificial intelligence to complement other techniques in solving unique problems confronting multi-location marketing.

“AI can look at the store level, figuring out how to optimize every field that Google gives you so that you’re now optimally showing up for any customer in any month,” he told Forbes in an interview.

With offices in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and San Diego, Calif., JMI is a growth equity firm with a sharp focus on software companies. In its 30-year history, it has raised over $7.5 billion — nearly a third of it in the past two years — and invested in over 175 businesses. It typically invests between $20 million and $200 million in portfolio firms. It has made 110 exits, and completed 19 initial public offerings. Of JMI’s 30 investment professionals, located in Baltimore and San Diego offices, 11 are general partners.

Landmark Deal

Vakil joined JMI in 2012 and oversees investments in enterprise software, besides managing the growth of portfolio companies. Currently, he holds board seats on Applied Systems, ButterflyMX, HackerRank, Huntress, Lytics, SOCi and Whistic. He is a board observer at Code42 and Seismic Software. In the past, he has overseen JMI’s investments in Adaptive Insights (acquired by Workday), Arena (acquired by PTC), Avecto (acquired by Bomgar) and Internet Brands (acquired by KKR).

When working at Morgan Stanley, Vakil worked on Google’s acquisition of DoubleClick. It was a game-changing deal for JMI Equity, as well as Vakil, who later worked for Google, serving as a product manager in the buildout of the Chrome platform. He has also previously worked at private equity firm Hellman & Friedman.

Vakil graduated from the University of California at Berkeley, with a bachelor of arts in computer science and a BS in business administration. He received an MBA from Harvard Business School.

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JMI was founded in 1992 by Harry Gruner, Charles Noell and John Moores, founder and former CEO of BMC Software. Previously, Gruner and Noell, who is now an avid racehorse owner, served at the investment bank Alex.Brown. Gruner has served on the boards of over 40 software and information businesses, including seven public companies. He and Peter Arrowsmith, who joined the firm in 1996, serve as joint managing partners.

The firm’s recent investments include Visiting Media, Eptura, Vantaca, Performio and Whistic. JMI Equity has set a hectic deal-making pace in recent years, in line with its fund-raising. Its portfolio investments included a $100 million deal in OnBoard, a cloud-based board management solution; Condeco, a maker of workspace scheduling software; Service Trade, a software platform for commercial service contractors.