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Business

Joe Walsh is Building a Billion-Dollar SaaS Empire

The chairman and CEO of Thryv Holdings transformed a telephone directory business into a flourishing software-as-a-service enterprise.
By | |Photography by Jonathan Zizzio
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Joe Walsh has bought more than 100 companies in his career, but arguably his biggest success originated from a 2014 consulting gig for the struggling telephone directory company Dex Media. “The consensus about the company was ‘stale, old, and been around a long time,’” Walsh says. So, he turned it into Thryv Holdings, and now, the repositioned SaaS and marketing company serves more than 400,000 small and midsize businesses worldwide and trades on the NASDAQ. Within the decade, Walsh expects to reach $4 billion in SaaS revenue. 

As a kid coming of age in Maryland, Walsh desired to become one thing: rich. “The driver was I wanted to provide for my parents by the time they retired,” Walsh says. “And for me, the byproduct of helping people is cashflow.”

So, while he was a freshman in college, he launched directory company IYP Publishing, hoping to compete with local phone companies. “I made more money off of a single sale than my professors would in two or three weeks,” he says. Walsh left school and by 1985, revenue peaked in the “multimillions,” he says. When he tried to raise more capital, a buyer emerged instead; Walsh sold the 45-person company to DataNational, where he spent two years as VP of sales. 

He then joined Yellowbook as the 183rd employee, where he stayed for 24 years, eventually rising to become CEO in 1993. When Walsh left in 2011, global revenue ballooned to $4 billion—up from $38 million when he became CEO—and employee headcount reached 16,500. “Before there was Silicon Valley, we were the disruptors,” Walsh says.

Following the financial crisis in 2008, though, Yellowbook’s stock plummeted and Walsh moved on. A few years later, Dex Media, a publisher of white and yellow pages directories, recruited Walsh as a consultant to help the company scale. 

After studying the company’s strategy, Walsh walked into Dex’s boardroom and pulled his phone out of his pocket. “This little thing right here is screwing up your old strategy,” he said. “But this little thing right here is also your new strategy. Small businesses are following the big business computing strategy onto the cloud.” Dex’s board trusted Walsh to change the company’s approach himself. They handed the keys to Walsh and his hand-selected group of eight execs. 

Walsh and company started with a balance sheet that was “a mess—essentially insolvent,” he says. He refocused the company’s mission of connecting buyers and sellers through printed phone directories, rebuilding it into a marketing and SaaS company. He also took it private. In 2019, Dex officially rebranded as Thryv Holdings, and by 2020, it found its way back to the NASDAQ through a direct listing. 

Thryv’s signature product is a small business management platform that integrates a company’s customer resource management, automated marketing, payments, document management, and more onto one app. In 2021, SaaS revenue for Thryv reached $170.5 million. Still, its anchor in 2021 was its online marketing and directory businesses, which pulled in $797.5 million. 

In the next decade, however, Walsh expects the company’s SaaS arm to far outweigh the directory business, projecting that revenue from the segment will reach $4 billion. Shorter term, he forecasts SaaS hitting the $1 billion revenue marker in three years. “We’re building a skyscraper with this company,” Walsh says. “We have a roadmap of additional offerings we will be bolting out soon; I have a high sense of urgency for success.”   

Author

Ben Swanger

Ben Swanger

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Ben Swanger is the assistant editor for D CEO, the business title for D Magazine. Ben manages the Dallas 500

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