Is Kana buying time before it gets bought?

by Brenon Daly, China Martens

The showdown that has been brewing around Kana Software for months was supposed to come to a head today. Hedge fund KVO Capital Management had been planning to put forward a director for election at the company’s annual meeting, which was originally scheduled for July 15. Instead, Kana pushed the meeting back. Not by a week or two, or even a month, but until December 1. KVO is the largest shareholder in Kana, with some 3.4 million shares, or 8% of the company.

Although Kana has postponed its annual meeting, we can’t help but wonder if the customer service software vendor is merely buying time until it can get bought. That’s certainly what some shareholders have speculated about the company, which trades at just 0.5x revenue. (And we’ve been saying that for nearly three years.) On its own, there’s little to be bullish about at Kana, a money-burning shop that has been relegated to the Bulletin Board since December 2006. But it does have at least one valuable piece to its business: a deep, long-term relationship with IBM. We suspect Big Blue would be the first call Kana would make if it continues to get pushed for a sale.

Of course, IBM has repeatedly said that it doesn’t want to be an application software vendor. (Saying and doing are two different things, however. Several of its largest acquisitions were for straight application vendors, such as Cognos and FileNet.) In any case, the two firms have had an OEM arrangement for the past seven years, and we understand from a source inside Kana that IBM-related sales have exceeded their quota in recent years. Kana has also baked a fair amount of Big Blue software (notably DB2) into its offerings. So integrating the technology wouldn’t be a challenge in this hypothetical pairing. And financially, IBM has plenty of resources to share with Kana, which would be a nice change of pace for the struggling microcap company. Kana has largely lived off equity and debt offerings over the past 12 years, having run up an astounding $4.3bn in accumulated deficit since its founding.