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Challenges shaped OrderUp, Millennial Media deals, founders tell Baltimore Innovation Week attendees

Challenges shaped OrderUp, Millennial Media deals, founders tell Baltimore Innovation Week attendees
Chris Brandenburg, left, and Chris Jeffery, center, speak to entrepreneurs at a Baltimore Innovation Week event Wednesday. Brandenburg co-founded Millennial Media and Jeffery is CEO of OrderUp, both successful local startups. (Scott Dance)

There was some "disagreement" in the boardroom at Baltimore-based OrderUp in the months leading up to its sale to Groupon, CEO Chris Jeffery told a crowd of entrepreneurs Wednesday morning.

At Millennial Media, another Baltimore company, the high of ringing the opening bell on Wall Street soon became overshadowed by the challenges of being a public company and competing against Google and Facebook, said Chris Brandenburg, one of its co-founders.

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But both men said that despite the challenges — and because of them — their companies have promising futures under new owners, OrderUp with Groupon and Millennial as part of AOL and Verizon. They offered their stories as advice for other startups as part of Baltimore Innovation Week, a series of events organized by the website Technically Baltimore.

"I can sleep well at night," Jeffery said of his company's $69 million sale to Groupon in July. "I think this was a good win for Baltimore."

Jeffery said it took some convincing to win support from OrderUp's board of directors to send him to Silicon Valley for networking. But he saw opportunity there — companies like OrderUp, an app-based food delivery service, were getting significant attention and investment.

The exploration led to an unsolicited offer from Groupon, Jeffery said. Some of the company's backers were unsure whether to take it, or to continue to grow as an independent company in anticipation of a better offer down the road.

Jeffery said it was too good to pass up.

"We just thought for what was going on in the space, it was the right move for the team," he said. He emphasized that so far OrderUp has retained all of its employees.

Millennial, the mobile advertising technology firm that went public in 2012, saw a bumpier road to its sale to AOL, a $248 million deal announced earlier this month.

The company's initial public offering was an exciting time, said Brandenburg, who left the company not long after the stock sale. But Millennial struggled to compete with Google and Facebook, which used their massive audiences to usurp large swaths of the mobile advertising market, and faced a slumping stock price.

"It's a lot more fun going public than being public," Brandenburg said.

Coupled with AOL, and its new corporate parent Verizon, he said, he expects Millennial to be successful.

"If they do a good job integrating the two companies, they'll do well," he said.

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