Spotify sounds out the street

Contact: Scott Denne

Despite Wall Street’s demonstrated distaste for pricey consumer tech offerings, Spotify intends to go public in the riskiest possible way. The streaming music service has unveiled its registration documents to begin trading its shares directly on the NYSE, bypassing an initial public offering. Spotify posts growth that makes it the envy of many consumer internet businesses, yet its low-margin business model limits its ability to staunch its losses.

The Sweden-based company’s top line jumped 39% last year to €4.1bn ($5bn), although its net loss more than doubled to €1.2bn. Renegotiating of its licensing agreements improved Spotify’s gross margin in 2017, but it still sits at just 21%. Given that it’s facing off against deep-pocketed tech vendors, including Apple and Amazon, it will be challenging for Spotify to negotiate lower rates and as it stands, the company has already had to lower the price of its service to bolster user growth.

Matching its private market valuation will be tough. New consumer tech debuts haven’t received a warm welcome on Wall Street. Snap trades just ahead of its IPO price a year after its debut, while Blue Apron has been decimated amid customer declines. Eschewing a traditional IPO to set a price could make its stock more volatile than it has been in the private markets – in private trades this year, Spotify’s market cap has swung between $15.9bn and $23.5bn.

It’s tough to find a perfect comp that aligns with Spotify. In some ways, it looks like Netflix. Both provide streaming entertainment and post enviable growth. Netflix, however, offers exclusive content to its subscribers, whereas Spotify has largely the same music that its competitors do. Moreover, Netflix, which is twice the size, has a higher gross margin and generated more than $500m in profit last year. Those differences will make it difficult for Spotify to fetch anything close to the 11x trailing revenue where Netflix trades. Still, its growth rate and low churn will likely keep it well above the 0.8x where Pandora trades. When Spotify enters the NYSE, we anticipate that it will be priced on the low end of its private market valuation, around 3x trailing revenue.

For more real-time information on tech M&A, follow us on Twitter @451TechMnA.

What to look for in tech M&A in 2018

Contact: Brenon Daly

As we look back on 2017 and ahead to 2018, 451 Research has published its annual forecast for tech M&A, highlighting the trends that we expect to shape deal flow and the markets that we think will see much of the activity. The 2018 Tech M&A Outlook – Introduction serves as an overview of the broad M&A market, setting the stage for the upcoming publication of our comprehensive report that features analysis and predictions for eight specific IT markets on what deals are likely in 2018.

The full report, which we think of as an ‘M&A playbook’ for the enterprise IT market, has insightful forecasts for activity in application software, information security, mobility and other key sectors. The 80-plus-page 2018 Tech M&A Outlook report will be published at the end of January. It will be available at no additional cost for subscribers to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase Professional and Premium products, and will be available for purchase for 451 Research clients and others that don’t subscribe to our M&A KnowledgeBase products. (If you’re interested in purchasing the full 80-plus-page report, contact your account manager or click here.)

In the meantime, our introduction provides insights on some of the overall dealmaking trends that are also likely to shape activity and valuations in sector-specific transactions. Key highlights in our overview of the broader M&A market include:

  • After tech M&A spending in both 2015 and 2016 topped a half-trillion dollars, what happened that knocked the value of deals in 2017 down to just $325bn?
  • Many of the tech industry’s biggest buyers printed only half as many deals as they have in recent years. Is that the new pace of M&A at these serial acquirers, or will they rev up again in 2018?
  • The pending tax overhaul will likely add billions of dollars to the treasuries at major tech vendors. Why don’t we think that will necessarily lead to more M&A? If they don’t spend it on deals, what are tech companies going to do with the windfall?
  • Which tech markets are expected to see the biggest flow of M&A dollars in the coming year? Enterprise security tops the forecast once again, but what about emerging cross-sector themes such as machine learning and the Internet of Things?
  • How did private equity (PE) move from operating on the fringes of the tech industry to become the buyer of record? PE firms accounted for an unprecedented one out of every four tech transactions last year. Why do we think their share of the market will only increase?
  • VC portfolios are stuffed, as the number of exits in 2017 slumped to its lowest level since the recession. What challenges loom for startups and the broader entrepreneurial community without the return of billions of dollars from those investments?
  • For startups, will venture capital be flowing freely in 2018? Or will the polarized VC market (fewer rounds, but bigger rounds) continue this year?
  • Despite nearly ideal stock market conditions, why don’t we expect much acceleration in the tech IPO market in 2018? What needs to happen – to both supply and demand – for the number of new offerings to take off?

For answers to these questions – as well as other factors that will influence dealmaking in 2018 – see our just-published 2018 Tech M&A Outlook – Introduction.

Bull market bypasses tech IPOs

Contact: Brenon Daly

Although there’s still a month remaining in 2017, most startups thinking about an IPO – even those already on file ‘confidentially’ – have already turned the calendar to 2018. The would-be debutants want to have results from the seasonally strong Q4 to boast about during their roadshow with investors, as well as toss around a bigger ‘this year’ sales figure to hang their valuation on. There’s no compelling reason to rush out an offering right now.

That’s true even though the tech IPO market has been pretty active recently. By our count, a half-dozen enterprise-focused tech vendors have come public in just the past two months. (To be clear, that tally includes only tech providers that sell to businesses, and leaves out recent consumer tech companies such as Stich Fix and CarGurus.) The total of six enterprise tech IPOs since October is already higher than the full Q4 2016 total of four offerings.

While there has been an uptick in IPO activity, shares of the newly public companies haven’t necessarily been ticking higher, at least not dramatically so. There hasn’t been a breakout offering. Based on the first trades of their freshly printed shares, not one of the recent debutants has returned more than 20%. Half of the companies are trading lower now than when they debuted. Meanwhile, investors who aren’t interested in these new issues can’t seem to get enough of stocks that have been around a while, bidding the broad market indexes to record high after record high this year. The much-desired IPO ‘pop’ has gone a little flat here at the end of 2017, which might have some startups slowing their march to Wall Street in early 2018.

 

SailPoint sets sail for land of unicorns

Contact: Brenon Daly

In what would be one of the few private equity-backed tech companies to go public, SailPoint Technologies has put in its paperwork for a $100m IPO. The identity and access management (IAM) vendor, which has been owned by buyout shop Thoma Bravo for three years, should debut on Wall Street with a valuation north of $1bn. That is, unless SailPoint gets caught up in the current M&A wave that has seen a number of big buyers pick up identity-related security firms.

SailPoint reported $75m in revenue for the first half of 2017, an increase of 32% over the same period last year. Assuming that pace holds, the Austin, Texas-based company would finish this year with about $175m in sales. Depending on the product, SailPoint sells both licenses and subscriptions to its software. Subscriptions to its cloud-based offering, IdentityNow, are outpacing on-premises software sales, and currently account for some 42% of total revenue. License sales generate 34% of overall revenue, with the remaining 24% coming from services.

Transitioning to more subscription sales will undoubtedly boost SailPoint’s valuation. (Wall Street tends to appreciate the predictability that comes with multiyear subscriptions. In the case of IdentityNow, SailPoint indicated in its prospectus that the standard contract lasts three years.) That’s not to suggest that SailPoint will get the same platinum valuation as a pure SaaS provider such as Okta. That cloud-based IAM vendor, which went public in April, currently commands a $2.75bn market cap, or 11x this year’s sales. Of course, Okta is larger than SailPoint and growing at twice the pace.

Instead, we would look to some of the recent M&A pricing in the active IAM market to inform SailPoint’s valuation. For example, we understand that SecureAuth traded at more than 6x revenue in its sale in September to buyout firm K1 Investment Management. Ping Identity – which, like SailPoint, was in transition from license sales to subscriptions – also sold for about 6x sales last year. SailPoint is substantially larger than either of these fellow IAM firms, and is growing solidly. That should garner it a premium. But even using a conservative valuation multiple of 6x sales gets SailPoint into the land of the unicorns.

For more real-time information on tech M&A, follow us on Twitter @451TechMnA.

An autumn chill on Wall Street

Contact: Brenon Daly

This time of year has always been a bit unnerving for investors, and for good reason. Late October has seen some of the most dramatic declines on Wall Street, including the granddaddy of them all, the Great Crash of 1929. Additionally, earlier this week marked the 30th anniversary of Black Monday, when the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped an almost-unimaginable 23% in a single session. To put that into today’s money, that would equal the Dow dropping more than 5,000 points in one day.

Of course, both of those crashes came before the multibillion-dollar tech market had found its current standing. Nonetheless, even in the nascent industry, there were impacts. For instance, Microsoft, which had only come public a year and a half earlier, got caught in the market’s vicious downdraft in October 1987. Microsoft shares spent the next two years trying to get back to their pre-crash level.

But these days, the equity market in general – and tech stocks specifically – appears to only trade higher. Microsoft shares, which changed hands for less than $1 back in 1987 (on a split-adjusted basis), are currently at an all-time high. Investors value the Redmond, Washington-based company at $600bn, having added more than $100bn to its market cap since the start of the year. Shares of Apple have tacked on 40% so far in 2017. Facebook has posted even more of a gain.

The recent run has left the stock market expensive, with the price-to-earnings multiple for the S&P 500 Index approaching 20, a historically high level. That has made investors increasingly nervous, at least according to 451 Research surveys. Virtually every month so far in 2017, the number of respondents to 451 Research’s Voice of the Connected User Landscape (VoCUL) that tell us they are ‘less confident’ in Wall Street has ticked higher. The latest VoCUL survey shows more than twice as many bears as bulls when it comes to confidence in the stock market.

 

MongoDB maintains in its IPO

Contact: Brenon Daly

Despite a well-received IPO, MongoDB’s valuation basically flatlined from the private market to the public market. The open source NoSQL database provider priced shares at $24 each and jumped in mid-Thursday trading to about $30. The 25% pop on the Nasdaq basically brought MongoDB shares back to the price where the company sold them to crossover investors in late 2014.

MongoDB has slightly more than 50 million shares outstanding, on an undiluted basis. With investors paying about $30 for shares in the company’s public debut, that gives MongoDB a market cap of more than $1.5bn. It raised $192m in the public offering, on top of the $300m it raised as a private company.

That means Wall Street is valuing MongoDB, which will put up about $150m in the current fiscal year, at 10x current revenue. That’s a rather rich premium compared with the most-recent big-data IPO, Cloudera. The Hadoop pioneer, which went public six months ago, currently trades at about 6x current revenue. For more on MongoDB’s IPO, 451 Research subscribers can see our full report, including our sizing of the NoSQL database market, as well as an in-depth look at the evolution of the 10-year-old company’s technology and its competitors.

For more real-time information on tech M&A, follow us on Twitter @451TechMnA.

Startups stuck in a billion-dollar backlog

Contact: Brenon Daly

Startups are increasingly stuck. The well-worn path to riches – selling to an established tech giant – isn’t providing nearly as many exits as it once did. In fact, based on 451 Research calculations, 2017 will see roughly 100 fewer exits for VC-backed companies than any year over the past half-decade. This current crimp in startup deal flow, which is costing billions of dollars in VC distributions, could have implications well beyond Silicon Valley.

First, the numbers. So far this year, 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase reports just 439 VC-backed companies have been acquired, putting full-year 2017 on pace for roughly 570 exits. That’s 16% fewer deals than the average number of VC exits realized from 2012-16, and the lowest number of prints since the recession year of 2009, when startups were mostly focused on survival rather than a sale.

The reason for the current slowdown in the prototypical startup-sells-to-brand-name-buyer transaction that has generated hundreds of billions of dollars in investment returns over the years is that the buyers aren’t buying. (We would note that’s only the case for the bellwether tech vendors, the so-called strategic acquirers. Rival financial buyers – both through direct investment and acquisitions made by their portfolio companies – have never purchased more VC-backed firms in history than they have in 2017, even as the overall number of venture exits declines. Private equity now accounts for 17% of all VC-backed exits, twice the percentage the buying group held at the start of the decade, according to the M&A KnowledgeBase.)

Parked in VC portfolios, startups can, of course, build their businesses, along with the accompanying value. What they can’t do as long as they are still owned by venture investors is realize that value, at least not tangibly or completely. That takes either a sale of the company outright or an IPO. (Wall Street hasn’t provided many exits at all for VC-backed companies since 2000, and isn’t ever likely to be a primary destination for startups.)

And although we’re talking about small companies, there’s already been a pretty big impact. Even if we take a conservative average exit price of $50m for startups, multiplying that across the 100 exits that won’t happen this year means a staggering $5bn won’t get distributed in 2017 that would have in previous years. Without capital once again flowing from corporate acquirers back to startups and VCs, the entire ecosystem runs the risk of stagnation.

ForeScout looks ahead to Wall Street

Contact: Brenon Daly

For all the ‘next generation’ hype throughout much of the information security (infosec) market, 17-year-old ForeScout represents a bit of a throwback. For instance, ForeScout has been around twice as long as the other infosec company to make it public this year, Okta. Further, its business is primarily tied to old-line boxes, while Okta and other startups of a more-recent vintage have pushed their businesses to the cloud.

That comes through in the numbers. At ForeScout, sales of products (physical appliances, mostly) still accounts for about half of the company’s revenue. The remaining half comes from maintenance fees, with just a sliver of professional services revenue. There’s no mention in ForeScout’s IPO paperwork of ‘bookings’ or ‘billings’ or any other business metric favored by companies delivering their offering through a newer subscription model

While not flashy, ForeScout’s business model works. (There aren’t too many startups that are generating a quarter-billion dollars of revenue and increasing that by one-third every year.) ForeScout posted $167m in sales in 2016, and $91m in the first half of 2017. (Growth over that period has been consistent at roughly 33%.) Assuming that pace holds through the end of 2017, ForeScout would put up about $220m in revenue, or roughly triple the amount of sales it generated in 2014.

However, in our view, much of that performance has been more than priced into the company, which secured a $1bn valuation in the private market. That said, we also don’t imagine that ForeScout will be one of those unicorns that stumbles when it steps onto Wall Street. (Post-IPO valuations for recent offerings from Snap, Blue Apron, Cloudera and Tintri are all lingering below the level they secured from VCs.)

ForeScout likely won’t enjoy anywhere near the platinum valuation that Okta commands. (The cloud-based identity vendor currently trades at a market valuation of $2.7bn, or 11x this year’s forecast revenue of $245m.) Instead, to value ForeScout, Wall Street might look to another product-based infosec provider, Fortinet.

The two companies don’t exactly line up, either in terms of strategic focus or scale. (Fortinet generates far more revenue each quarter than ForeScout will all year, while ForeScout is growing about twice as fast as Fortinet.) Nonetheless, Wall Street currently values Fortinet at roughly 4.3x current year’s revenue. Slapping that valuation on ForeScout would get the company to a $1bn valuation, but not much higher.

451 Research subscribers can look for a full report on ForeScout’s filing later today.

A private equity play in the public market

Contact: Brenon Daly

In a roundabout way, private equity’s influence on the technology landscape has also spilled over to Wall Street. So far this year, one of the highest-returning tech stocks is Upland Software, a software vendor that has borrowed a page directly out of the buyout playbook. Shares of Upland – a rollup that has done a half-dozen acquisitions since the start of last year – have soared an astounding 150% already in 2017.

Investors haven’t always been bullish on Upland. Following the Austin, Texas-based company’s small-cap IPO in late 2014, shares broke issue and spent all of 2015 and 2016 in the single digits. For the past four months, however, shares have changed hands above $20 each.

Upland’s rise on Wall Street this year essentially parallels the recent rise of financial acquirers in the broader tech market – 2017 marks the first year in history that PE firms will announce more tech transactions than US public companies. As recently as 2014, companies listed on the Nasdaq and NYSE announced twice as many tech deals as their rival PE shops. (For more on the stunning reversal between the two buying groups, which has swung billions of dollars on spending between them, see part 1 and part 2 of our special report on PE and tech M&A.)

Although Upland is clearly a strategic acquirer in both its origins and its strategy, it is probably more accurately viewed as a publicly traded PE-style consolidator. The company has its roots in ESW Capital, a longtime software buyer known for its platforms such as Versata, GFI and, most recently, Jive Software. Upland was formed in 2012 and, according to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase, has inked 15 acquisitions to support its three main businesses: project management, workflow automation and digital engagement.

Selling into those relatively well-established IT markets means that Upland, which is on pace to put up about $100m in revenue in 2017, bumps into some of the largest software providers, notably Microsoft and Oracle. To help it compete with those giants, Upland has gone after small companies, with purchase sizes ranging from $6-26m.

However, the company has given itself much more currency to go out shopping. Early this summer – with its stock riding high – it raised $43m in a secondary sale, along with setting up a $200m credit facility. Given Upland’s focus on quickly integrating its targets, it’s unlikely that it would look to consolidate a sprawling software vendor. But it certainly has the financial means to maintain or even accelerate its rollup of small pieces of the very fragmented enterprise software market.

For more real-time information on tech M&A, follow us on Twitter @451TechMnA.

Roku’s next episode will stream on smart TV 

Contact: Scott Denne

Roku has withstood an onslaught of competition from the world’s largest tech companies, yet it faces challenges on a new front as it readies its initial public offering. The maker of appliances for streaming video devices was able to flourish as Apple, Amazon and Google entered its market, but now faces a threat from smart TVs.

Amid a bevy of streaming alternatives, Roku expanded its topline by 25% in 2016 to $399m. According to 451 Research’s Voice of the Connected User Landscape survey, Roku leads the market for streaming media devices – 41% of respondents that own such a device use one from the company. It also sits ahead of the competition in daily usage and customer satisfaction rankings.

Most of Roku’s revenue comes through sales of its hardware ($294m in 2016), although most of the growth and profit margin comes via its advertising, licensing and revenue-sharing activities, which (at one-third the size) generated nearly twice the gross profit as the hardware segment. While Roku remains in the red, losses have decreased through the first half of the year, and modest increases in marketing spend – atypical of a venture-backed IPO – have fueled its gains.

Roku’s IPO heads to Wall Street as the market for streaming video accelerates. More than 21% of people in that same 451 Research survey said that they pay for three or more streaming services – double the number from two years earlier. Yet, much of that content is being consumed on smart TVs, which obviate the need for separate streaming devices, like Roku’s, and whose use ticked up by one-quarter over the last year, per our survey.

The company has begun to license its Roku OS software to TV makers, and needs to do so to continue to scale its audience reach – the lifeblood of the most profitable part of the business. While Roku showed that it can last through a heated battle with the biggest in tech, the company’s next phase will call for a subtler mix of partnership and competition with and against TV manufacturers.

For more real-time information on tech M&A, follow us on Twitter @451TechMnA.