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Exclusive-Sprout Social's founders in bid to take social media tools provider private, sources say

By Milana Vinn and Anirban Sen

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The founders of Sprout Social are in talks to take the provider of social media tools to businesses private, changing course after listing the company in the stock market five years ago, people familiar with the matter said on Monday.

Founders including Justyn Howard, Gil Lara, Aaron Rankin and Peter Soung control Sprout through a special class of shares. They have held talks with private equity firms that could partner with them on a deal, the sources said.

The Chicago, Illinois-based company's board has formed a special committee of independent directors to consider a deal and has hired investment bank Morgan Stanley as its adviser, the sources added.

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The sources cautioned that no deal is certain and requested anonymity because the matter is confidential. Sprout Social and Morgan Stanley did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Sprout Social makes cloud-based software and technology tools that helps companies manage their social media strategy. Prominent customers include enterprise software maker Salesforce, writing tools maker Grammarly, and financial services firm Plaid.

The company's shares, which have risen about 87% since its initial public offering in 2019, have lost a third of their value since May 2, when Sprout forecast full-year revenue below market expectations. The company now has a market value of $1.7 billion.

Last month, Sprout Social said the company's president, Ryan Barretto, would succeed Howard as CEO starting in October.

(Reporting by Milana Vinn and Anirban Sen in New York; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)