SmartGroups sells to Freeserve for £60m

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SmartGroups, the brainchild of Net technology visionary Richard Prout, has been acquired by Freeserve for £60 million, in a deal which will involve shares in Freeserve for the founders.

The founding partners of the company are software engineers who share common interests in extreme sports such as hangliding, paragliding, diving and climbing.

The idea for SmartGroups came at 4,500 feet above the English countryside whilst paragliding. The founders were looking for a better way of co-ordinating their social interests and hobbies, in particular when organising events, deciding on issues, sharing information and communicating with each other.

The company behind SmartGroups is Intracus, an Intranet and Internet consultancy founded in 1996 by a group of document management and Java experts. The company has successfully developed and implemented Intranet-based applications for more than 12,000 users in blue-chip and public sector organisations.

SmartGroups was launched in November of last year and was an instant success, attracting over 800,000 hits in its first month of trading. The total number of registrations has continued to grow each month.

The service allows group leaders and organisers to co-ordinate events and activities online – for free. By setting up their own group, leaders can send e-mail bulletins, hold online votes, circulate information and centrally update and store calendars, diaries, notice boards or club archive documents.

SmartGroups enables advertisers to reach target audiences through group sites and e-mail bulletins. In addition, SmartGroups generates revenue from affinity deals allowing major organisations to use its technology and, in the future, will collect group commerce revenues such as event payment and annual subscriptions.

Freeserve chief executive officer, John Pluthero, commented, “The acquisition of SmartGroups enables Freeserve exclusively to offer Internet users this outstanding set of community tools. The technical excellence of SmartGroups combined with Freeserve’s distribution and marketing will enable us to build up a tremendous collection of online communities both in the UK and throughout Europe.”

Richard Prout, managing director of SmartGroups, commented, “By utilising Freeserve’s phenomenal marketing and distribution capability we have the opportunity to ensure that SmartGroups.com quickly becomes the largest provider of community tools and services in the UK. The scale and strength we gain by becoming part of Freeserve will provide us with the launch pad for SmartGroups.com throughout Europe.”

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