As Leadpages Inc. hosted 600 people for its annual customer conference this week, the Minneapolis software developer also welcomed the founder of the first company it acquired, Rob Walling of Drip Inc.

The two firms closed the acquisition in July and Walling and several members of Drip's development team have since moved to Minneapolis from Fresno, Calif. The two firms have also moved quickly to integrate products.

Walling and his team at Drip created software that lets a company or website owner reach out to potential customers who visit its site. Drip maps out how people use a site and, by taking note of what they hovered on or clicked to, can trigger e-mails and other types of outreach.

Walling had bootstrapped the company and hadn't turned to outside investors for financing. As part of Leadpages, which has around $30 million in backing, he said product development has hit the gas. "We were growing quickly but not as quickly as a venture-funded company," Walling said. "Coming into Leadpages, they had 25 times the number of customers as we did."

The Leadpages user base is also more diverse, with many small businesses and solo enterpreneurs using the company's technology to automate sales processes on websites. To reach those small firms, Drip and Leadpages just created a free version of Drip's e-mail automation technology.

"The gist of it is, you can use Drip for free as long as you have less than 100 customers," Walling said. It's a time-tested strategy for all kinds of products and has been used a lot by software firms. Consumers can use Adobe's PDF readers and Dropbox's file-sharing service for free up to a point, for instance. "That way they see the value of the software before they have to pay," he said.

There are costs to the company providing the free good or service, of course, but the strategy is designed so that those costs are ultimately covered by customers who stay on in the long run. For Walling, the expansion with a free version of Drip's product is an early payoff to the acquisition by Leadpages. "I could not have done that when we were bootstrapping," he said.

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