RI tech firm Upserve plans to expand after major new investment

Upserve CEO Angus Davis in 2014.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Restaurant software firm Upserve Inc. announced Thursday it has received a major new investment from Vista Equity Partners, a leading private-equity firm, that the company says will help fund continued growth.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Upserve CEO Angus Davis told Eyewitness News he’s confident it is the “largest equity investment in Rhode Island tech ever.”

“We couldn’t be more excited about this commitment,” he said.

Austin, Texas-based Vista boasts a portfolio of more than $30 billion, with additional offices in San Francisco, Chicago and Oakland, California. The Wall Street Journal reported in May that the firm had raised more than $11 billion for its latest buyout fund.

“One of the best-performing private equity firms of the last 15 years doesn’t have a big name like K.K.R., Blackstone or TPG,” The New York Times wrote in 2014. “But Vista Equity Partners … has managed to beat the titans of private equity at their own game.”

Providence-based Upserve – founded in 2009, and known until last year as Swipely – is one of Rhode Island’s most high-profile tech startups. The company’s software aims to help restaurants and bars increase sales by harnessing customer data.

“Upserve’s market leadership, culture of innovation, and passion to help their customers succeed all combine to create a unique opportunity,” Alan Cline, a principal at Vista and co-head of the Vista Foundation Fund, said in a statement. “We look forward to helping the Upserve team continue its exciting growth and expansion in the years to come.”

The infusion of capital from Vista could allow Upserve to pursue additional acquisitions. The company already purchased a point-of-sale business, Breadcrumb, from Groupon last year, and Davis said integrating it has “gone really well.”

“Future potential acquisitions are definitely something we’ll be considering, and now that we have Vista by our side we’re in a position, from a financial-strength standpoint, to be able to capitalize on those opportunities much more than before,” Davis said.

“We don’t believe restaurants want to have to integrate lots of different technology,” he said. “We think they want more of a one-stop-shop seamless system to run their restaurants.” He cited staff scheduling, online reservations and inventory management as examples of areas where Upserve could expand.

Davis said Upserve has grown to nearly 200 employees at three offices, with most at its Providence headquarters and the others at outposts in San Francisco and New York City. The company says it’s now processing more than $11 billion in transactions a year – or more than 23 million meals per month, up from about 11 million in early 2016 – for roughly 10,000 restaurants.

The company will use the new capital to help fund additional hiring, and Davis said he expects “to increase our commitment to Rhode Island,” adding: “We remain very committed to Providence.”

Noting recent reports that last year Americans spent more dining out than dining in for the first time ever, Davis argued that Upserve is still “just scratching the surface of a very large market opportunity.” He noted there are about 1 million restaurants in the country, including about 250,000 of the full-service eateries Upserve focuses on.

Davis, 39, made a name for himself as a teenager when he left Rhode Island to become one of the first employees at Netscape, the company behind the iconic 1990s Web browser. He later helped co-found TellMe Networks, a software company later purchased by Microsoft for an amount reported at more than $800 million. He also served on the state’s education board from 2007 to 2011.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) covers politics and the economy for WPRI.com. He writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook