Mobile shopping firm Unbound Commerce acquires Apptive, based in Austin

Unbound employees, and dog, at their Newton headquarters. Co-founder Keith Lietzke is bottom row, second from left. Co-founder Srinivasarao Nandiwada is far right.
Unbound employees, and dog, at their Newton headquarters. Co-founder Keith Lietzke is bottom row, second from left. Co-founder Srinivasarao Nandiwada is far right.

Last Monday, it was Austin buying Boston, as Dell announced its $67 billion acquisition of EMC Corp.

This week, it’s Boston buying Austin, in a deal that will create a 25-employee megacorp focused on mobile commerce.

Unbound Commerce is a quiet little business in Newton Upper Falls that has never taken outside funding; instead, revenue from customers like Sears, Rockport, and Finish Line has helped the company grow. All those retailers have turned to Unbound for help making sure their websites work well on mobile phones and tablets. Unbound designs the site, hosts it to ensure the shopping experience is zippy, and also connects to partners like PayPal and Google Wallet to process payments. Since its founding in 2008, the company has worked with more than 400 companies, mostly what co-founder Keith Lietzke describes as “mid-market” retailers — those who prefer not to hire more staffers to render their website workable on mobile devices.

The company that Unbound is acquiring, Apptive, built a system to make it easier for merchants to launch “native apps” for iPhone and Android — that is, those you download from an app store to your phone. Apptive has about eight employees, and earlier this year showed up on a “50 Austin startups to watch” list. Apptive had raised roughly $1.3 million in funding.

Lietzke says that the acquisition will enable Unbound to more efficiently build native mobile apps for its customers, something it has been doing on a one-off, more custom basis. “For our first few years, creating an app was always a later priority for customers,” he says. “Now, it seems that it’s the right time.”

Unbound doesn’t plan to maintain a presence in Austin over the long-term. Employees willing to move to Boston will move, including Chris Belew, the company’s CEO. Approve chief technology officer Jason Jaynes isn’t joining Unbound. “There are some that don’t want to make the move,” Lietzke says, “and we’ve got six month contracts with them. Some may move later, but if not, Austin’s a good job market for them.”

Lietzke jokes that his company’s acquisition of Apptive, which was an all-stock transaction, will likely not require an antitrust review by the Department of Justice.

Scott Kirsner writes the Innovation Economy column every Sunday in the Boston Globe, in which he tracks entrepreneurship, investment, and big company activities around New England.
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