How the Gist Acquisition of Learn That Name Came About—Old-Fashioned Networking

Between social media, company blogs, and TechCrunch, there is less room for traditional journalism these days. By the time you hear a company’s announcement and actually think about it, talk to the people involved, and have time to write something with any depth, it’s on to the next thing. But I want to take a minute to discuss a local deal from yesterday.

Gist, a Seattle company backed by Paul Allen’s Vulcan Capital and Foundry Group in Colorado, has acquired Learn That Name, a locally-created mobile application that helps you associate names with photos in your LinkedIn contacts. It uses a fast-paced, quiz-style game to test your recognition of your contacts’ faces. The idea is to help people network more effectively face-to-face (how refreshing). Meanwhile, Gist makes online software to help business people keep up with news and information about their contacts, to make their professional networking more efficient. The company is led by CEO and founder T.A. McCann.

Learn That Name was created by a team of 14 entrepreneurs at Startup Weekend in Seattle last August. (There’s another Startup Weekend happening in Seattle this weekend, hosted by Adobe.) Shortly thereafter, the team was selling its software in the iPhone app store and working to get it on other mobile devices. They all had day jobs, and although the acquisition price hasn’t been leaked, it’s safe to say each member of the team got a nice payout but won’t be retiring anytime soon.

Eric Koester, an attorney at Cooley Godward Kronish who helped lead Learn That Name, related some thoughts about the deal via e-mail: “When we were picking the LTN tagline while at Startup Weekend (our tagline was ‘Know the People You Know’) someone said that we should pick another tag line because Gist’s tag line is ‘Know More About Who You Know.’ We ultimately decided not to change our name and then as luck would have it, six months later that company we were worried about asking us to change our tag line acquires us. I guess in hindsight it makes sense, but was the farthest thing from our minds.”

It sounds like Gist saw some real value in integrating Learn That Name’s software into its own iPhone app. “I give T.A. [McCann] and Steve Newman [Gist’s chief technology officer] all the credit for making this happen,” Koester says. “They really went out on a limb to work with us. Initially the goal was just to try and build an app that used Gist contacts rather than LinkedIn contacts. As we started that process, they figured that we actually were a good fit for their broader purpose and realized it was better to maintain the technology in-house rather than have us try and do it. So they really deserve the credit for working with a small startup (if you can even call it that).”

And, as with most deals in Seattle, there was some fortuitous face-to-face networking done over a cup of coffee. “As far as how this all transpired, it was actually totally by accident,” Koester says. “T.A. and I had coffee to talk about a panel presentation I wanted to run by him. So we met to talk about that. At the end of the conversation, T.A. asked me how sales were going or how our app was doing, then he said that we should really try and find a way to work together. From that suggestion, the idea was born to build a Gist version.”

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