CommerceHub in sellers’ market

Contact: Scott Denne

A pair of private equity (PE) firms has taken CommerceHub off the public markets in a $1.1bn acquisition. The deal carries a scorching multiple that punctuates the value of e-commerce software as retailers struggle to make digital engagement a centerpiece of their business.

GTCR and Sycamore Partners’ joint purchase of CommerceHub values the firm at 10x trailing revenue, or 32x EBITDA – atypical multiples for an e-commerce software provider with the target’s growth. With that valuation, CommerceHub finds itself in the same neighborhood as Demandware and hybris, which each fetched about 11x revenue in their respective sales to Salesforce and SAP.

Yet CommerceHub’s revenue expanded by just 11% last year, compared with Demandware and hybris, which both posted topline growth in the 50% neighborhood leading up to their exits. Ariba offers a more accurate, if aging, comp for CommerceHub – both vendors provide back-end commerce services, such as integration between retailers and suppliers, whereas Demandware and hybris build customer-facing software. CommerceHub is fetching a multiple that’s a full turn above Ariba’s 2012 sale, despite the latter company having double the growth rate and being triple the size of the former.

In part, today’s multiple reflects higher prices being paid by buyout shops as their investments in tech M&A rise. According to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase, the median multiple paid by a PE acquirer last year rose to 3x, up from 2.5x a year earlier. Moreover, that median has hovered above 2.5x every year since 2014. In the preceding decade, it never once hit that level, and in only three years did the median reach 2x.

All that’s not to say nothing but a flood of PE money drove up CommerceHub’s price. Digital commerce technology is evolving into a core element of customer engagement and retailers need timely, accurate product information, which CommerceHub facilitates, to integrate into their customer-facing marketing and commerce software systems. According to 451 Research’s VoCUL Quarterly Advisory Report: Digital Transformation Leaders and Laggards, digital commerce and web experience management are the two most common areas of investment for enterprises, as 27% of enterprises told us they plan to deploy or upgrade those technologies in late 2017 and early 2018.

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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.

Onapsis on the block?

Contact: Brenon Daly

Enterprise application security startup Onapsis quietly kicked off a sale process about a month ago, according to our understanding. Several sources have indicated that Onapsis, which focuses on hardening security for SAP implementations, has hired UBS to gauge interest among buyers. And while there undoubtedly will be acquisition interest in the startup, Onapsis may ultimately prove to be a bit of a tough sell. The reason? The most obvious buyers for the company don’t typically pay the type of valuations that Onapsis is thought to be asking.

In many cases, the heavy-duty SAP systems that Onapsis helps secure were implemented by one of the big consulting shops. So at least theoretically, it’s not a big leap to imagine one of these consultancies buying Onapsis and offering its platform, exclusively, to help safeguard these mission-critical systems and the data they generate. (Indeed, Onapsis already has partnerships with many of the big consulting firms, including KPMG, PWC, Accenture and others.) While that strategy may be sound, M&A always comes down to pricing. And that’s why we would think it’s probably more likely than not that eight-year-old Onapsis remains independent.

According to our understanding, Onapsis is looking to sell for roughly $200m, which would be twice the valuation of its September 2015 funding. The rumored ask works out to about 8x bookings in 2016 and 4.5x forecast bookings for this year. For a fast-growing SaaS startup, those aren’t particularly exorbitant multiples. Yet they may well price out any consulting shops, which have typically either picked up small pieces of specific infosec technology or just gobbled up security consultants. Any reach for Onapsis would require a consulting firm to pay a significantly richer price than the ‘tool’ or ‘body’ deals they have historically done.

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

Massive SaaS: Oracle pays up for NetSuite

by Brenon Daly

Announcing the largest-ever SaaS transaction, Oracle says it will pay $9.3bn in cash for cloud ERP vendor NetSuite. The deal, which is expected to close before year-end, involves the ever-acquisitive Oracle snapping up the roughly 54% of NetSuite not already owned by Oracle founder and executive chairman Larry Ellison.

Terms call for Oracle to pay $109 for each share of NetSuite. Oracle’s bid represents a premium of nearly 60% over NetSuite’s closing price 30 days ago, before rumors swirled about this pairing. Although the premium is about twice as rich as typical enterprise software transactions, NetSuite is still valued just a smidge below its highest-ever stock price, which it hit in early 2014.

NetSuite is the latest SaaS firm that Oracle has gobbled up as the 29-year-old company increasingly stakes its future on cloud software. After initially ignoring – and even dismissing – the disruptive trend of subscription-based software, Oracle, which still sold more than $7bn worth of software licenses in its just-completed fiscal year, went on a SaaS shopping spree. In addition to NetSuite (ERP), Oracle’s other recent SaaS deals valued at $1bn or more include: Taleo (HR software), Responsys (marketing software), RightNow (CRM) and Datalogix (marketing data).

At an equity value of $9.3bn, NetSuite is valued at 11x its trailing 12-month revenue of $846m. That matches the average multiple paid by rival SAP in its multibillion-dollar SaaS acquisitions, as well as the valuation Salesforce put on e-commerce provider Demandware in June.

Further, to underscore the value that can accrue through the subscription model, it’s worth noting that NetSuite’s double-digit multiple is basically twice the multiple that Oracle has paid for the license-based software vendors it has acquired. (Of course, some of the discrepancy can be attributed to NetSuite’s enviable 30% growth rate, even as the 18-year-old company hits a $1bn run rate.)

Specifically, consider Oracle’s purchase more than a decade ago of PeopleSoft, which would stand as a representative ERP transaction for the ‘Software 1.0’ era while NetSuite serves as a ‘Software 2.0’ deal. Although Oracle paid $1bn more for PeopleSoft than NetSuite, PeopleSoft generated three times more revenue than NetSuite. Put another way, if we applied PeopleSoft’s valuation of 4x trailing sales to NetSuite, Oracle would have had to pay only $3.4bn – rather than $9.3bn – to take it home.

SaaS multiples

Will Zuora play in Peoria?

Contact: Brenon Daly

Like several of its high-profile peers, Zuora is trying to make the jump from startup to grownup. That push for corporate maturity was on full display this week at the company’s annual user conference. Sure, Zuora announced enhancements to its subscription management offering and basked in the requisite glowing customer testimonials at its Subscribed event. But both of those efforts actually served a larger purpose: landing clients outside Silicon Valley. In many ways, the success of Zuora, which has raised a quarter-billion dollars of venture money, now hinges on the question: ‘Will it play in Peoria?’

When Zuora opened its doors in 2008, many of its initial customers were fellow startups, which were already running their businesses on the new financial metrics that the company not only talked about but actually built into its products. Both in terms of business culture and basic geography, Zuora’s deals with fellow subscription-based startups represented some of the most pragmatic sales it could land. But as the company has come to recognize, there’s a bigger world out there than just Silicon Valley. (As sprawling and noisily self-promoting as it is, the tech industry actually only accounts for about 20% of the Standard & Poor’s 500, for instance.) We have previously noted Zuora’s efforts to expand internationally.

As part of its attempt to gain a foothold in the larger economy, the company is reworking its product (specifically, its Zuora 17 release that targets multinational businesses) as well as its strategy. That might mean, for instance, Zuora going after a division of a manufacturing giant that has a subscription service tied to a single product, rather than just netting another SaaS vendor. Sales to old-economy businesses tend to be slower, both in terms of closing rates as well as the volume of business that gets processed over Zuora’s system, both of which affect the company’s top line.

In terms of competition, the expansion beyond subscription-based startups also brings with it the reality that Zuora has to sit alongside the existing software systems that these multinationals are already running, rather than replace them. Further, some of the providers of those business software systems have been acquiring some of the basic functionality that Zuora itself offers. For example, in the past half-year, both Salesforce and Oracle have spent several hundred million dollars each to buy startups that help businesses price their products and rolled them into their already broad product portfolios.

Zuora has attracted more than 800 clients and built a business that it says tops $100m. As the company aims to add the next $100m in sales with bigger names from bigger markets such as media, manufacturing and retail, its new focus looks less like one of the fabled startup ‘pivots’ and more like just a solid next step. Compared with a company like Box – which started out as a rebellious, consumer-focused startup but has swung to a more button-down, enterprise-focused organization that partners with some of the companies it used to mock – Zuora is facing a transition rather than a transformation.

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Concur is just the latest of SAP’s pricey plays in the cloud

Contact: Brenon Daly

Announcing the largest SaaS acquisition in history, SAP will pay $8.3bn for travel and expense management software provider Concur Technologies. The purchase comes as the German giant is on the hook for doubling its cloud revenue in 2015 – a corporate target that has driven SAP’s recent M&A.

In its 42-year history, SAP has announced seven acquisitions valued at $1bn or more, according to The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase . However, the five most recent deals have all been pickups of subscription-based software vendors. (SAP’s two consolidation plays for firms hawking software licenses came in 2007 and 2010, with Business Objects and Sybase, respectively.) The purchase of Concur is the Germany company’s largest acquisition, and the fifth-largest transaction in the software market overall.

More significantly, SAP is paying up as it tries to move to the cloud. Including the Concur buy, SAP has handed out a lavish multiple, on average, of 11x trailing revenue to its SaaS targets. (Obviously, revenue doesn’t fully reflect the economic value of multiyear contracts common at SaaS firms. But even on a more liberal measure of business activity such as bookings, SAP has paid double-digit multiples in its subscription-based acquisitions.)

The SaaS premium stands out even more when compared with the valuations SAP has paid for conventional license-based vendors. The purchases of both Business Objects and Sybase went off at slightly less than 5x trailing revenue, or half the average SaaS valuation. Further, SAP itself trades at less than half the valuation it has paid for its SaaS acquisitions.

SAP acquisitions, $1bn+

Date announced Target Software delivery model Deal value Price/revenue multiple
September 18, 2014 Concur Technologies Subscription $8.3bn 12.4
October 7, 2007 Business Objects License $6.8bn 4.7
May 12, 2010 Sybase License $6.1bn 4.8
May 22, 2012 Ariba Subscription $4.5bn 8.6
December 3, 2011 SuccessFactors Subscription $3.6bn 11.7
June 5, 2013 hybris Subscription $1.3bn 10.7*
March 26, 2014 Fieldglass Subscription $1bn* 11.8*

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase *451 Research estimate

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Software’s haves and have-nots

Contact: Scott Denne

Advent International said Monday that it will hand over $1.6bn for software provider UNIT4. The announcement, however, was almost lost in the hoopla surrounding the opening of Dreamforce,’s annual customer and developer lovefest. The two events – along with the buzz they generated, respectively – go a long way toward explaining the chasm between valuations for traditional enterprise software vendors and their SaaS counterparts.

Advent’s proposed take-private values the Dutch ERP vendor at 2.7x its trailing 12-month revenue. That’s a far cry from the rich 10.3x valuation that fetches on the public market. We’re not picking on UNIT4. In fact, it secured a slight premium to the median price-to-sales multiple of 2.1x in comparable purchases of software firms by PE shops. (On another – perhaps more relevant – measure, Advent is paying basically 14x EBITDA for UNIT4, right in line with precedent transactions.)

Like many other traditional software firms, 33-year-old UNIT4 hopes to transition its business to include more SaaS revenue – part of the motivation for going private. From 2011 to 2012, its (still small) SaaS business increased 25% and accounted for 10% of its sales. The reason for the messy and complicated transition to SaaS? Growth.

A recent survey by ChangeWave Research, a service of 451 Research, found that 32% of respondents plan to increase their SaaS spending over the next six months – that’s about twice as high as the percentage who forecast an increase in overall software spending. That trend is what has boosted shares of to roughly their all-time high, some 1,300% higher than where they came public in mid-2004. is expected to report fiscal third-quarter sales growth of about 33% after the closing bell on Monday.

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Who has designs on Planview?

by Brenon Daly

Old-line project and portfolio management (PPM) vendor Planview may be getting new owners soon. The 24-year-old company is rumored to be close to wrapping up a sale process, which has been led by Lazard. The buyer is likely to be a private equity (PE) shop, although one tech company is also apparently taking a long look. No final price has been struck, but Planview will likely trade in the neighborhood of $200m, according to our understanding.

The rumored price would value Planview at roughly 3x trailing sales. That’s exactly the valuation of the last significant transaction in the PPM market. In August 2012, Thoma Bravo paid $990m, or about 3x trailing sales, for Deltek, a government-focused PPM provider. PE firms have been fairly active in the PPM sector, with Parallax Capital Partners and Vista Equity Partners, among others, having inked acquisitions.

In terms of strategic acquirers, Planview probably has the closest relationship with SAP, primarily through a long-standing association with Business Objects. And don’t forget, too, that rival Oracle has already snapped up a large privately held PPM vendor, adding Primavera Software five years ago. Although terms weren’t disclosed in that deal, we estimate that Oracle handed over roughly $350m for PE-backed Primavera.

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Friends are friends, but business is business

Contact: Ben Kolada Scott Denne

Oracle is either adding depth or distance to its partnership with by acquiring BigMachines, yet another startup. The two software giants have had a difficult relationship, most visibly with CEO Marc Benioff being ‘uninvited’ from Oracle OpenWorld two years ago. But the companies seemed to have worked out their differences this year, announcing a nine-year product integration partnership in June. Oracle’s recent dealmaking, however, could undermine some of that reconciliation.

Terms haven’t been disclosed in Oracle’s acquisition of configure, price and quote sales automation SaaS vendor BigMachines. We estimate that the company generated $60m in trailing sales, or about twice the revenue it recorded in the year before its recapitalization by Vista Equity Partners and JMI Equity.

BigMachines is the second partner Oracle has purchased in the past week. On October 17, Oracle bought content marketing SaaS provider Compendium, but the stakes and price are certainly much larger for this deal (subscribers to The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase can see our estimated price and revenue for the Compendium buy here).

BigMachines integrated its price and quoting optimization software into’s core CRM offering in 2010 (it was also an Oracle partner) and became an investor in the company in 2012. (As an investor, almost certainly had right of first refusal on Big Machines.) Compendium – which was founded by one of the founders of ExactTarget, the marketing software company that picked up for $2.5bn earlier this year – integrated its content marketing software into ExactTarget’s offering as well as a rival marketing automation offering from Eloqua, which Oracle acquired a year ago.

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