MuleSoft carries a hefty valuation

Contact: Scott Denne

A pinnacle acquisition of an IT infrastructure vendor shows just how much Salesforce is betting on the digital transformation trend. In shelling out $6.6bn for MuleSoft, Salesforce is spending twice what it did on its previous largest purchase in an effort to push its business from a developer of enterprise apps to the go-to technology provider for organizations in the cloud era – a position occupied by IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP in the fast-fading client-server age.

The deal not only sets a new high for Salesforce, it stands well apart from other transactions in the infrastructure management corner of the tech M&A market. Salesforce will pay $6.6bn (20% of it coming in stock) for MuleSoft, making it the fourth-largest infrastructure software acquisition, according to 451 Research’s M&A KnowledgeBase. The sales of HPE’s software business ($8.8bn), BEA Systems ($8.5bn) and BMC Software ($6.9bn) fetched similar prices, although the multiples couldn’t be further apart.

Salesforce’s purchase values MuleSoft at 22x trailing revenue, the highest ever for a $1bn deal in its category. Moreover, compared with those three larger transactions, MuleSoft, with $296m in trailing revenue, is the only one to post less than $1bn in revenue. The next-highest valuation on a $1bn-plus infrastructure software deal came with Cisco’s $3.7bn AppDynamics buy, nearly five turns lower than today’s pairing.

In most of its acquisitions since the start of the current decade, Salesforce has angled to build off its CRM roots and into the broader category of customer engagement – acquiring new apps to sell to marketing, sales and service teams. Selling apps to the line of business differs from selling apps to IT. The marketing team, for example, gives little consideration to what software the sales team uses.

The combination of apps with MuleSoft’s integration software, which can load those apps with data from legacy IT systems and other SaaS products, should strengthen Salesforce’s ability to sell a strategic package of software for digital transformation initiatives, where IT innovation is driven by business strategy. As idealistic as that sounds, a real change is underway. According to 451 Research’s Digital Transformation Leaders and Laggards report, 53% of surveyed companies are either considering or planning their digital transformation strategy.

Salesforce also sets up a strong challenge to its competitors with this move. In owning MuleSoft, Salesforce now has an asset that can lift data from on-premises database, CRM and ERP systems to essentially reside in SaaS applications, potentially converting older systems into commodity repositories, rather than cornerstones of the IT stack.

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