A pause in Big Software’s ‘SaaS grab’

Contact: Brenon Daly

After years of trying to leap directly to the cloud through blockbuster acquisitions, major software vendors have been taking a more step-by-step approach lately. That’s shown up clearly in the M&A bills for two of the biggest shops from the previous era trying to make the transition to Software 2.0: Oracle and SAP.

Since the start of the current decade, the duo has done 11 SaaS purchases valued at more than $1bn, according to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase. However, not one of those deals has come in the past 14 months, as the two companies have largely focused on the implications of their earlier ‘SaaS grab.’

During their previous shopping spree for subscription-based software providers, Oracle and SAP collectively bought their way into virtually every significant market for enterprise applications: ERP, expense management, marketing automation, HR management, CRM, supply chain management and elsewhere. All of the transactions appeared designed to simply get the middle-aged companies bulk in cloud revenue, with Oracle and SAP paying up for the privilege. In almost half of their SaaS acquisitions, Oracle and SAP paid double-digit multiples, handing out valuations for subscription-based firms that were twice as rich as their own.

In addition to the comparatively high upfront cost of the SaaS targets, old-line software companies face particular challenges on integrating SaaS vendors as part of a larger, multiyear shift to subscription delivery models. Like a transplanted organ in the human body, the changes caused by an acquired company inside the host company tend to show up throughout the organization, with software engineers re-platforming some of the previously stand-alone technology and sales reps having their compensation plans completely overhauled.

The disruption inherent in bringing together two fundamentally incompatible software business models shows up even though the acquired SaaS providers typically measure their sales in the hundreds of millions of dollars, while SAP and Oracle both measure their sales in the tens of billions of dollars.

For instance, SAP is currently posting declining margins, an unusual position for a mature software vendor that would typically look to run more – not less – financially efficient. But, as the 45-year-old software giant has clearly communicated, the temporary margin compression is a short-term cost the company has to absorb as it transitions from a provider of on-premises software to the cloud.

Of course, the transition by software suppliers such as Oracle and SAP – painful and expensive though it may be – simply reflects the increasing appetite for SaaS among software buyers. In a series of surveys of several hundred IT decision-makers, 451 Research’s Voice of the Enterprise found that 15% of application workloads are running as SaaS right now. More importantly, the respondents forecast that level will top 21% of workloads by 2019, with all of the growth coming at the expense of legacy non-cloud environments. That’s a shift that will likely swing tens of billions of dollars of software spending in the coming years, and could very well have a similar impact on the market capitalization of the software vendors themselves.

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.

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Hard times for software M&A

Contact: Brenon Daly

Software M&A has fallen on hard times. Spending on application software deals has dipped to its lowest level in recent years, with the value of purchases so far in 2017 dropping to less than half the amount in the comparable period of each of the past three years, according to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase. The reason? The bellwethers aren’t buying big.

Salesforce has only done one small acquisition so far this year, after a 2016 shopping spree that saw it ink 12 deals at a cost of $3.2bn, according to an SEC filing. Similarly, Oracle’s largest print in 2017 is less than one-tenth the size of last year’s $9.5bn consolidation of NetSuite, which stands as the largest-ever SaaS transaction. (Subscribers to the M&A KnowledgeBase can see our proprietary estimate on terms of Oracle’s big print this year, its reach for advertising analytics startup Moat.) SAP has been entirely out of the market in 2017.

Since large vendors are also typically large acquirers, their absence has left application software a dramatically diminished sector of the overall tech M&A market. Application software accounts for just $7.7bn of the $132bn in announced deal value so far in 2017, according to the M&A KnowledgeBase. On an absolute basis, that’s the lowest level for the opening half of any year since the recent recession.

More tellingly, however, application software’s ‘market share’ has fallen to only about a nickel of every dollar that tech acquirers across the globe have handed out so far this year. Our M&A KnowledgeBase indicates that the 6% of total tech M&A spending in 2017 for application software is just half its share over the previous five years.

Soft start to sales-enablement M&A 

Contact: Scott Denne

Startups developing sales-enablement software have been the targets of a recent spate of acquisitions after indulging in readily available venture capital for the burgeoning category. But the early deals appear modest and bigger exits still seem a ways out.

Among the startups in this category, three have sold in the past two months – all of them with modest headcount after several years in the market, suggesting equally modest growth. Two of those, KnowledgeTree and Heighten Software, were lightly funded. The third, ToutApp, raised $20m, making it more representative of the two dozen or so venture-backed startups selling software that enables sales teams to automate processes, share content and analyze their pipelines.

Gobs of venture money combined with an early, confounding market has meant that revenue traction comes via cash-burning investments in evangelism and marketing. Such a situation isn’t likely to draw the most natural acquirers – the largest CRM companies (Salesforce, Oracle and Microsoft) that today address the nascent need for sales enablement mainly through their app stores.

When other categories of sales software have come into their own, those would-be buyers made big purchases. Take configure, price and quote (CPQ) software: both Oracle and Salesforce inked nine-figure acquisitions in that sector. But sales enablement hasn’t yet become as widely embedded into sales workflow as CPQ, so there’s little motivation for CRM vendors to make a strategic-sized investment in a sales-enablement startup until those offerings gel into an obvious complement (or threat) to CRMs.

Still, there’s potential for a steady stream of modest exits for sales-enablement providers. As Marketo did with ToutApp, other B2B marketing software companies could look to this category to build products that connect marketing and sales processes. Likewise, vendors in enterprise content management, file sharing, conference calling and collaboration could reach into this category for software to target a key vertical.
Source: 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase

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

Xactly exits

Contact: Brenon Daly

Two years after coming public, Xactly is headed private in a $564m buyout by Vista Equity Partners. The deal values shares of the sales compensation management vendor at nearly their highest-ever level, roughly twice the price at which Xactly sold them during its IPO. According to terms, Vista will pay $15.65 for each share of Xactly.

Xactly’s exit from Wall Street comes after a decidedly mixed run as a small-cap company. For the first year after its IPO, the stock struggled to gain much attention from investors. Shares lingered around their offer price, underperforming the market and, more notably, lagging the performance of direct rival Callidus Software. However, in the past year, as Xactly has posted solid mid-20% revenue growth, it gained some favor back on Wall Street. In the end, Vista is paying slightly more than 5x trailing sales for Xactly.

The valuation Vista is paying for Xactly offers an illuminating contrast to Callidus, which has pursued a much different strategy than Xactly. Although both companies got their start offering software to help businesses manage sales incentives, the much-older and much-larger Callidus has used a series of small acquisitions to expand into other areas of enterprise software, notably applications for various aspects of human resources and marketing automation. According to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase, Callidus has done seven small purchases since the start of 2014. For its part, Xactly has only bought one company in its history, the 2009 consolidation of rival Centive that essentially kept it in its existing market.

Although Xactly is getting a solid valuation in the proposed take-private, it’s worth noting that Callidus – at least partly due to its steady use of M&A – enjoys a premium to its younger rival with a narrower product portfolio. Even without any acquisition premium, Callidus trades at about 7x trailing sales. Callidus is roughly twice as big as Xactly, but has a market value that’s three times larger.

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

Okta’s growth-story IPO finds an audience on Wall Street

Contact: Brenon Daly 

The unicorn parade on Wall Street continued Friday as security vendor Okta nearly doubled its private market valuation in its debut on the Nasdaq. The subscription-based identity and access management provider initially sold shares at $17 each, but investors bid them to about $24 in midday trading. With the surge, Okta is valued at some $2.4bn. (See our full preview of the offering.)

Okta becomes the third enterprise IT startup to come public so far this year, and it extends the strong performance of these new issues. It also joins the two previous IPOs – MuleSoft and Alteryx – in sporting a rather stretched valuation. Based on a market cap of $2.4bn, Okta is trading at about 15x trailing sales.

Granted, Okta’s sales are growing quickly, having nearly quadrupled in just the past two fiscal years to $160m. Still, the company is commanding quite a premium compared with fellow secure identity specialist CyberArk, which also just happens to be the last information security startup to create more than $1bn of value in its IPO. (To be clear, CyberArk, which went public in 2014, also sells identity-related products in the form of privileged identity management, but doesn’t really compete with Okta.)

Wall Street currently values CyberArk at about 8.2x trailing sales, or just slightly more than half the level that investors are handing to the freshly public Okta. Bulls would argue that Okta merits the premium given that it is growing twice as fast as CyberArk. But others might counter with a question about what that growth is costing each of the companies. Okta lost a mountainous $83m on its way to generating $160m in sales last year. In contrast, CyberArk, which has run in the black for the past four years, netted $28m from its 2016 revenue of $217m.

If nothing else, the valuation discrepancy underscores that growth is still the key metric for investors. Okta’s IPO is simply supply meeting demand, same as it ever was on Wall Street. Indeed, CyberArk has also experienced that. Shares of the company reached an all-time high – nearly 50% higher than current levels, roughly Okta’s current valuation – in 2015, when revenue was increasing north of 50%, compared with the mid-30% level now.

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

MuleSoft gets a thoroughbred valuation in its IPO

Contact: Brenon Daly 

After a four-month shutout, the enterprise tech IPO market is back open for business. Infrastructure software vendor MuleSoft surged onto the NYSE, more than doubling its private market valuation. It sold 13 million shares at an above-range $17 each, and the stock promptly soared to $24.50 in late-Friday-afternoon trading. That puts the fast-growing company’s market valuation at slightly more than $3bn, twice the $1.5bn value that venture investors put on it.

MuleSoft’s debut valuation puts it in rarified air. Based on an initial market cap of $3.1bn, investors are valuing the company at a stunning 16.5x its trailing sales of $190m. That multiple is twice the level of fellow data-integration specialist Talend, which went public last July. Talend currently trades at a market cap of about $875m, or 8.3x its trailing sales of $106m. The valuation discrepancy indicates that investors are once again putting a premium on growth: MuleSoft is larger than Talend and – more importantly to Wall Street – it is growing nearly twice as fast. (See our full report on the offering as well as MuleSoft’s ‘hybrid integration’ strategy – what it is and where it might take the company in the future.)

The IPO netted MuleSoft $221m, or $206m after fees. That’s undoubtedly a handy amount, but we would note that it is still less than the $260m it raised, collectively, from private market investors. (Somewhat unusually, there are three corporate investors on the company’s cap table.) All of those MuleSoft backers are substantially above water on their investment following the IPO. That bullish debut is likely to draw more high-flying startups to Wall Street after a discouraging 2016, when only two enterprise tech unicorns went public. This year will likely match that number next month, when Okta debuts. The identity management startup revealed its IPO paperwork earlier this week, putting it on track for a mid-April debut.

 

With Okta, infosec no longer conspicuously absent from the IPO market

Contact: Brenon Daly 

Even as several other fast-growing enterprise IT sectors have all seen unicorns gallop onto Wall Street, richly valued information security (infosec) startups have stayed off the IPO track. The sector hasn’t seen a $1bn company created on a US exchange in more than two-and-a-half years. Infosec has been conspicuous by its absence from the tech IPO market, especially considering that no other single segment of the IT market has as many viable public company candidates. Fully one-quarter of the startups in the ‘shadow IPO’ pipeline maintained by 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase Premium come from the infosec space. (See related report.)

At long last, one of the infosec unicorns is (finally) ready to step onto the public market: cloud-based identity management startup Okta has publicly revealed its paperwork for a $100m offering that should price next month. The company, which raised nearly $230m in venture backing, had already achieved a $1bn+ valuation in the private market – and will head north from there in the public market.

Wall Street will undoubtedly find a lot to like in Okta’s prospectus. The company is doubling revenue each year, with virtually all of its sales coming from subscriptions. (Professional services accounts for roughly 10% of total revenue, a lower percentage than most of the big-name SaaS vendors.) Subscription revenue gives a certain predictability to a company’s top line, especially when coupled with the ability to consistently expand those subscriptions. Okta notes in its prospectus that its customer retention rate, on a dollar basis, is slightly more than 120%, an enviable rate for any subscription-based startup. Put it altogether and revenue at Okta for the fiscal year that ended in January is likely to be in the neighborhood of $160m, up from $86 in the previous fiscal year and just $41m in the fiscal year before that.

Having quadrupled revenue in just two years, Okta’s red ink isn’t likely to worry many investors. Through its first three fiscal quarters (ended October 31, 2016), Okta lost $65m, up from $55m in the same period the previous fiscal year. As is often the case with SaaS providers, Okta’s losses stem primarily from heavy spending on sales and marketing. Early on, Okta was spending slightly more than $1 on sales and marketing to bring in $1 of subscription revenue. It has since slowed the spending, with the result that in its latest quarter it spent $32m on sales and marketing to bring in $38m in subscriptions. (For comparison, Box – one of the more egregious spenders – shelled out $47m on sales and marketing to generate exactly the same subscription revenue as Okta ($39m) in its most recent quarter when it originally filed to go public in 2014.)

Okta’s IPO would represent the first new $1bn valuation for an infosec vendor on the NYSE or Nasdaq since CyberArk’s offering in September 2014. Sophos went public (rather quietly) in 2015 on the London Stock Exchange, and the two domestic infosec IPOs since then (Rapid7 and SecureWorks) both currently trade underwater from their offering. In contrast to the recent infosec shutout, startups from several other IT sectors have all been able to enhance their $1bn private-market valuation on Wall Street, including Nutanix, Atlassian, Twilio and Pure Storage. That list will get a little longer as MuleSoft is set to debut at more than a $2bn market cap, up from $1.5bn in its final round as a private company.

ServiceNow adds some smarts to the platform with DxContinuum

Contact: Brenon Daly

Continuing its M&A strategy of bolting on technology to its core platform, ServiceNow has reached for predictive software startup DxContinuum. Terms of the deal, which is expected to close later this month, weren’t announced. DxContinuum had taken in only one round of funding, and appears to have focused its products primarily on predictive analytics for sales and marketing. ServiceNow indicated that it plans to roll the technology, which it described as ‘intelligent automation,’ across its products with the goal of processing requests more efficiently.

Originally founded as a SaaS-based provider of IT service management, ServiceNow has expanded its platform into other technology markets including HR software, information security and customer service. Most of that expansion has been done organically. ServiceNow spends more than $70m per quarter, or roughly 20% of revenue, on R&D.

In addition, it has acquired four companies, including DxContinuum, over the past two years, according to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase. However, all four of those acquisitions have been small deals involving startups that are five years old or younger. ServiceNow has paid less than $20m for each of its three previous purchases. The vendor plans to discuss more of the specifics about its DxContinuum buy when it reports earnings next Wednesday.

ServiceNow’s reach for DxContinuum comes amid a boom time for machine-learning M&A. We recently noted that the number of transactions in this emerging sector set a record in 2016, with deal volume soaring 60% from the previous year. Further, the senior investment bankers we surveyed last month picked machine learning as the top M&A theme for 2017. More than eight out of 10 respondents (82%) to the 451 Research Tech Banking Outlook Survey predicted an uptick in machine-learning M&A activity, outpacing the predictions for acquisitions in all individual technology markets as well as the other four cross-market themes of the Internet of Things, big data, cloud computing and converged IT.

It’s win or go home for Oracle and its bid for NetSuite

Contact: Brenon Daly

Just like this year’s World Series, there’s a dramatic win-or-go-home contest playing out in the tech M&A market. The showdown pits the ever-acquisitive Oracle against one of Wall Street’s biggest investors. The stakes? The fate of the largest SaaS acquisition ever proposed.

At midnight tonight, Oracle’s massive $9.5bn bid for NetSuite will effectively expire. In the original offer three months ago, Oracle said it will pay $109 for each of the nearly 87 million (fully diluted) shares of NetSuite, valuing the subscription-based ERP vendor at $9.5bn. That wasn’t enough for NetSuite’s second-largest shareholder, T. Rowe Price. Instead, the institutional investor suggested that Oracle pay $133 for each NetSuite share, adding $2bn to the (hypothetical) price tag.

Oracle has declined to top its own bid. Nor will it adjust the other major variable in negotiations: time. (Oracle has already extended the deal’s deadline once, and says it won’t do it again.) In an unusually public display of brinkmanship in M&A, Oracle has said it will walk away from its $9.5bn bid if enough shareholders don’t sign off on its ‘best and final offer.’ As things stand, shareholder support is far below the required level, largely because of T. Rowe’s opposition.

Does T. Rowe have a case that Oracle is shortchanging NetSuite shareholders with a discount bid? Or is the investment firm greedily hoping to fatten its return on NetSuite by baiting Oracle to spend more money? If we look at the proposed valuation for NetSuite, it’s hardly a low-ball offer. On the basis of enterprise value, Oracle’s current bid values NetSuite at 11.1x trailing sales. That’s solidly ahead of the average M&A multiple of 10.3x trailing sales for other large-scale horizontal SaaS providers, according to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase. (For the record, T. Rowe’s proposed valuation of $11.6bn for NetSuite roughly equates to 13.7x trailing sales – a full turn higher than any other major SaaS transaction.)

With the two sides appearing unwilling to budge, NetSuite will likely return to its status as a stand-alone software firm. If that is indeed the case, NetSuite will probably have to get used to that status. The roughly 40% stake of NetSuite held by Oracle chairman Larry Ellison serves as a powerful deterrent to any other would-be bidder, which was one of the points T. Rowe raised in its rejection of the deal. Assuming 18-year-old NetSuite stands once again on its own, the first order of business will be to pick up growth again. (Although there’s still the small matter of a $300m termination fee in the transaction.) In its Q3, NetSuite reported that revenue increased just 26%, down from 30% in the first half of the year and 33% for the full-year 2015.

Select multibillion-dollar SaaS deals

Date announced Acquirer Target Deal value Price/trailing sales multiple
July 28, 2016 Oracle NetSuite $9.3bn 11.1x
September 18, 2014 SAP Concur $8.3bn 12.4x
May 22, 2012 SAP Ariba $4.5bn 8.6x
December 3, 2011 SAP SuccessFactors $3.6bn 11.7x
June 1, 2016 Salesforce Demandware $2.8bn 11x
June 4, 2013 Salesforce ExactTarget $2.5bn 7.6x

Source: 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase