The dual-track is back

Contact: Brenon Daly

Derailed by the bear market for much of the past two years, the ‘dual-track’ is back. Witness Wednesday’s purchase of Gomez by Compuware. The application performance management vendor got snapped up for $295m after being on file to go public for some 17 months. But as this trade sale indicates, the dual-track is no longer necessarily a path to riches. In fact, Gomez sold for about half the multiple that other dual-track companies garnered in recent deals.

That’s by no means a knock on Gomez, which got a relatively handsome valuation of 5.5 times trailing revenue in its sale to Compuware. Instead, it’s simply a reflection of how much the equity markets have come down. Keep in mind that a buyer looking to take out a company that’s already filed for an IPO effectively has to outbid the public market. Obviously, the lower the indexes, the less an acquirer has to bid; the opposite is also true.

Back when the markets were buoyant, dual-tracking companies could pull off a double-digit multiple if they opted to sell. For instance, EqualLogic sold to Dell in November 2007 for 12x trailing sales, just three months after filing its IPO paperwork. (We would note that the timing of EqualLogic’s sale for $1.4bn in cash was impeccable. The Nasdaq promptly went on a nearly uninterrupted slide for the next 18 months that cut the index in half.) And even when the market was dropping, mobile software provider Danger Inc still got picked up by Microsoft for nearly 9x trailing sales. Danger filed its prospectus in mid-December 2007, just two months before Microsoft snagged the company.

Of course, both of those previous dual-track deals were inked when the Nasdaq was higher than it currently is. And if we compare the valuation that Gomez got with other publicly traded SaaS companies, 5.5x trailing sales for an unprofitable, relatively small on-demand company starts to look pretty enticing. Add to that instant liquidity in the form of cash, rather than locked-up shares, and that’s a bid that most backers would hit every time.