Phase One is one of our best examples of the huge potential of a fundamental change in business model. We bought Phase One in 2014 as a renowned manufacturer of high-end camera equipment and transformed it into the world’s leading brand in cutting-edge image processing software and medium format digital cameras.
Phase One had two distinct business areas when we invested in the company; Image Capture Solutions, and Software Imaging Systems.
It was already well known for its technical expertise and innovation, having in 2004 been the first to commercially manufacture a fully portable medium format digital camera.
It had also just secured US giant Google as a significant customer for its hardware business - to use Phase One cameras to take aerial pictures for mapping purposes. We would build on this success with further large industrial customer wins during our ownership.
Driving this potential was a macro tailwind of use of high-resolution medium format images for industrial applications, almost entirely in the air - on aeroplanes, helicopters and drones - for mapping, inspection and homeland security.
However, we identified Phase One’s other business area, its high-growth and much smaller in-house software business - Software Imaging Systems - as the primary focus for the future.
Its product - Capture One - was an impressive image processing programme that enabled photographers to transfer very large images quickly from a camera to a computer - with much greater colour accuracy, functionality and speed than possible with rival software.
To build on this competitive advantage in software, we invested heavily in software research and development and engineers, and worked with management to improve the functionality of the software and the rollout of new products. We also invested significantly in Capture One sales and marketing, to secure new customers and grow market share.
The strong growth in Capture One sales was also supported by the huge surge in the number of high-quality images being edited and shared on social media, which fuelled demand among a growing customer base.
Furthermore, we changed the way Capture One sold its products; it previously sold through perpetual licences, but we moved to a subscription model, offering customers access to updates and increasing the likelihood of customer loyalty, improving stickiness, lifetime value per customer, and revenue visibility.
Our investment in technology helped drive a revenue compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of +38% in its Software Imaging Systems business unit between 2014 and 2018, and an increase in profits from the software business, from contributing 10% of group profits at acquisition to 70% of the whole of Phase One at exit.
Meanwhile, we carried out two add-on acquisitions, including of Phase One’s main supplier in Japan, the assets of Mamiya Digital Imaging Company.
Today, Phase One is a true world leader in image capture and processing, with operations in Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Japan and the US.
We sold our investment in June 2019 to funds managed by Axcel in a deal that valued the company at more than 15x earnings, a multiple uplift reflecting the business model transformation; generating a money multiple for our clients of 4.6x.
at exit from software business, up from 10% at acquisition
5 year CAGR of Software Imaging Systems
valuation at exit