Fast-growing Notion hit an eye-popping $2 billion valuation in 2020 – but they had a problem. Customers kept asking the San Francisco productivity tool company to integrate with numerous other SaaS products.
Meanwhile, second-time founder and Automate.io CEO Ashok Gudibandla faced a different issue in Hyderabad, India. The entrepreneur was confident he could build a great product, but he knew how hard it was to stand out in a crowded marketplace.
“Although I was a technology person, I’ve learned from my past experience that tech is not what you need to really win. You need to really know how to drag customers onto your product and then sell it,” he told podcast Upekkha.
Gudibandla’s solution: Build an integration tool. He knew larger companies were hungry for tools connecting their products with other software. For some founders, it’s a built-in lead generation machine.
To do so, he raised $300,000 of seed capital in 2017, according to Pitchbook.
Over 6 years, he built Automate.io into a profitable company with about 40 employees, TechCrunch reported.
In 2021, with Automate.io hungry for visibility and Notion seeking integration tech, an acquisition turned out to be a good solution for both.
The culmination of an extended courtship
When Notion reached out in 2021 to begin acquisition discussions, it wasn’t the first contact between the companies. Notion had released its API earlier that year, and Automate.io was one of its first partners.
“We had been very aggressive in working in parallel with their teams, giving them feedback on their APIs and then building our integrations along with them as they rolled out their beta,” Gudibandla explained on Upekkha. “We were their launch integration partners when they launched their APIs. That’s how we built a strategic relationship.”
Automate.io’s proactive approach got Notion’s attention. “I hadn’t heard of them. But because they were one of our first partners, I looked into who they are,” Akshay Kothari, chief operating officer of Notion, told TechCrunch. He contacted Gudibandla through a cold LinkedIn email, he told YourStory.
Kothari opened discussions on an acquisition. Gudibandla said in the Upekkha podcast that Notion’s rocketship growth and commitment to product excellence impressed him, so he agreed to sell the business for an undisclosed sum in October 2021.
Gudibandla declined to comment for this story.
Life after Automate.io
As part of the acquisition, Notion opened an office in India, its fifth worldwide and first engineering center outside the US. Gudibandla is running the center post-acquisition and helping to build technology that allows Notion to support its customers more seamlessly.
“Notion offers building blocks that one can put together to create their own custom software. And Automate.io is a tool that connects 200+ popular apps seamlessly,” Gudibandla said in a statement at the time of the acquisition. “Together, we believe we can do really magical things — we can enable users to build custom applications that can be in sync with other business applications. We believe this unlocks tremendous new capabilities that further empower our customers and strengthen our position in the market.”
In mid-2022, Automate.io shut down as an independent product so Gudibandla and his team could focus on building Notion’s capabilities. Meanwhile, Gudibandla continues to enjoy his role as a post-acquisition founder and mentor for other Indian entrepreneurs.
“Suddenly, people see Automate as a success story and me as somebody who they can approach for advice and just have a casual chat to discuss their plans and seek inputs, or even from an investment angle. So that’s definitely a change that I’m seeing, and really liking,” he told Uppekha.