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Marketing start-up co-founded by ex-Apple CEO raises $140 million, hints at potential IPO

Zeta Global, a marketing technology start-up that competes with the likes of Salesforce, has raised $140 million, the company announced Thursday, giving it a valuation of $1.3 billion, a source close to the company told CNBC.

The New York City-headquartered firm sells software to companies that allow them to obtain and keep customers. Zeta Global's solution relies on big data analysis, to help large companies profile what their best customers look like, market to new customers and then manage those users when they are on board.

"We would use our database of 350 million people. We could identify a cluster of 7 million people who look like your best customer. We would reach out to them via messaging, social media, and based on who interacts with messages and clicks stuff, the machine learning platform gets smarter and fine tunes who you are a looking for," CEO David Steinberg told CNBC by phone.

The $140 million raise is made up of $115 million in equity capital and $25 million in debt financing. The round of funding came from GPI Capital and funds sponsored by Franklin Square Capital Partners and sub-advised by GSO Capital Partners LP, the credit division of Blackstone.

John Sculley
Adam Jeffery | CNBC
John Sculley

It puts the company's valuation at $1.3 billion, a source familiar with the matter told CNBC. Since it was founded in 2007 by Steinberg and former Apple CEO John Sculley, the company has raised more than $250 million in capital. Its last raise was a $45 million funding round in September last year.

Steinberg said the money would be used to fund acquisitions.

"We have bought 9 companies in the last 9 years. We continue to be focused on human capital, we continue to be focused on technology we can wrap into our marketing cloud, and companies that have key customers that are in Fortune 1000 that we can cross pollinate our products to," Steinberg said.

Zeta's last acquisition came in August 2016 when it bought Acxiom Impact, a marketing solution.

The start-up has been profitable for 3 years, and in 2015 raked in $200 million in revenues. Steinberg said the company grew over 50% in 2016, which would put its revenues somewhere in the region of $300 million. In 2017, the company expects to grow 30 percent, which should put its revenue at around $390 million if the target is achieved.

"If our first quarter is indication of that we should hit that. We have a very strong first quarter. We usually shrink in first quarter versus fourth quarter as clients use the platform very heavily in the fourth quarter. For the first year I can remember, a first quarter was greater than a fourth quarter," Steinberg said.

Zeta competes with Salesforce, Orcale, Adobe and IBM.

IPO on the cards?

Funding to technology start-ups dipped towards the end of last year, but have rebounded in the first quarter of 2017. U.S. companies raised $21 billion in financing in the first quarter of this year, up from $18 billion in the last quarter of 2016, according to Crunchbase, a site which tracks investment into technology firms.

At the same time, the public markets have been performing strongly with the tech-heavy Nasdaq index hitting an all-time high of 6,000. A number of technology firms such as Snap Inc and Nutanix have gone public in recent months, but Steinberg is taking a more cautious approach. The Zeta CEO did not say if the company would definitely go public, but said it is a potential option.

"Certainly the public markets are a logical next step and with this round we are very well capitalized to do what we want to do. I can't say definitely this will be the last round, we are in a unique position in that we are growing rapidly and profitable so we can really take our time in going public," Steinberg told CNBC.

"We want to make sure the market is ready for IPOs. The market seems better than a year ago, but they are not frothy just yet. We added Jarrod Yahes as our CFO. We added Don Steele as our first chief revenue officer. We have been building up the team and putting in the processes and procedures as well as the financial metrics, so going forward if we want to go to that direction (IPO), we are well positioned."