The news that US-based digital employee experience software firm Nexthink had bought Manchester-based Digital Adoption Platform (DAP) vendor AppLearn this week caught everyone by surprise.

Dual headquartered in Lausanne in Switzerland and Boston in Massachusetts and with nine offices worldwide, Nexthink’s technology enables its 1,200+ customers to provide better digital experiences to more than 15 million employees.

AppLearn, by comparison, was co-founded in 2011 by serial entrepreneur and former professional footballer Mark Barlow and his son Andrew after recognising that the biggest problem for companies implementing new software was getting staff to use it.

The idea was brilliant in its simplicity – embedding personalised training videos and how-to guides into company workflows.

Fast forward to 2024 and the business that was sold was unrecognisable from the one that the father and son pair had founded and subsequently left three years earlier.

By then Andrew Avanessian, the former COO of another successful Manchester tech firm, Avecto, was at the helm of AppLearn, which had pivoted into a software-first business.

He’d been the fourth employee at security software company Avecto when he joined in 2009 and helped oversee its sale to American firm Bomgar for just under £200m in 2018.

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“I specialise in the art of building tech businesses, with a knack for navigating highly complex situations to deliver successful outcomes,” he said.

“My skillset is finely tuned to address the intricacies and challenges inherent in the technology sector, ensuring strategic growth and positive results.”

Given his background it was hardly surprising then that a sale was one of the options quickly considered.

“In the realm of scaling a tech business, the ultimate objective often involves an ‘exit’ strategy rather than indefinite expansion,” he told BusinessCloud.

Continuing as they were was also an option but Avanessian took the view that the Digital Adoption Platform (DAP) market was likely to undergo so much consolidation in the next three-five years that a strategic partnership was preferable.

Eventually Nexthink was identified as a potential suitor and preliminary discussions began a year ago.

Avanessian explained: “Nexthink emerged as an ideal fit, ticking all the requisite boxes in terms of alignment with our goals and values.

“Nexthink focuses on ensuring the optimal performance and functionality of an organisation’s digital infrastructure, including networks, laptops, desktops, and servers.

“They provide solutions that help monitor and manage the digital experience of employees, ensuring that IT systems are running smoothly and efficiently.

“This can involve real-time monitoring, analysis of end-user interactions, and proactive identification and resolution of issues to enhance overall performance and user satisfaction.”

AppLearn’s appeal was that it offered Nexthink the missing piece of the jigsaw.

“AppLearn and Nexthink together offer a comprehensive solution for enhancing the Digital Employee Experience (DEX),” said Avanessian.

“While AppLearn specialises in providing personalised support to ensure employees understand how to use applications seamlessly within their workflow, Nexthink contributes by ensuring the overall health and efficiency of the digital infrastructure.

“The analogy of ‘sat-nav for software’ is particularly effective in conveying the idea that AppLearn guides employees through the software landscape, making their journey more intuitive and efficient.

“By combining these capabilities, the partnership aims to provide organisations with a complete end-to-end Digital Employee Experience, covering both user guidance and the underlying IT infrastructure’s performance.”

During the latter stages of the sales process, and with a concrete offer on the table, GP Bullhound was brought to oversee the process.

“While we received several offers, it became evident that Nexthink stood out as the ideal fit, aligning seamlessly with our vision and objectives,” said Avanessian. “Quality rather than quantity ultimately guided our decision-making.

“Nexthink falls into the category of a trade buyer. Their strategic alignment with our industry and business goals made them a compelling fit for a partnership that extends beyond a traditional transaction.”

Negotiations with Nexthink spanned around six months and although the deal size was not disclosed it’s been described as ‘significant’.

Today AppLearn employs about 70 people out of Manchester and Slovakia, as well as having a presence in the US and Nordics.

Asked about AppLearn’s future, Avanessian said: “We’re on the brink of an exhilarating journey, marking a significant disruption in the Digital Adoption Platform (DAP) and Digital Employee Experience (DEX) arenas.

“Stay tuned for the evolution of a ground-breaking chapter in AppLearn’s story.”

Avanessian said his personal priority now is ensuring a ‘seamless integration’ and contribute to the growth of the combined venture.

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He also praised the contribution of founders Mark and Andrew Barlow. “While I may not be the type to wake up at 3am with 10 ideas, I have a knack for recognising a good one when I see it,” he said. “Mark and Andy certainly had a brilliant concept, and it’s a testament to their vision and innovation.

“I’d also like to say a massive thanks to everyone past and present that made AppLearn possible.”