Infosec on Wall Street: a tale of two exits

Contact: Brenon Daly

Although Sourcefire and Websense stand as the two most-recent publicly traded information security vendors erased from the stock exchange, they are dramatically different departures. Sourcefire is going out on top, garnering its highest-ever price in its half-decade on Wall Street. In contrast, Websense, which has been public since 2000, took an offer that valued its shares lower than they had traded on their own just two years earlier.

Of course, the discrepancy stems largely from the financial performance of the two companies – and, maybe more to the point, which buyer can make those numbers work. Essentially, the deals represent the dramatic difference between ‘growth’ and ‘mature’ tech companies, as well as the difference between financial and strategic buyers.

Sourcefire collected a platinum valuation from fellow corporation Cisco Systems because the networking giant assumes it can wring out additional ‘revenue synergies’ from the already quickly growing Sourcefire. (In 2012, Sourcefire bumped up overall sales 35%.) The rationale isn’t too much of a stretch: Cisco already moves much of the traffic around the Internet, so why not secure it as well? (Of course, that’s so obvious that Cisco has been trying to pitch that ‘convergence’ for about a decade, but has found only limited success on its own.)

Those earlier efforts help explain why Cisco is valuing Sourcefire at 10 times trailing revenue, the highest multiple for any all-cash acquisition of an infosec vendor valued at more than $1bn. On the other end of the valuation spectrum, we have Websense. The Web security vendor went private at just 2.5x trailing sales.

Undoubtedly, Websense’s financial profile is much more at home in a private equity (PE) portfolio than Sourcefire would ever be. The company is seven years older than Sourcefire, and while we wouldn’t say its best days were necessarily behind it, revenue at Websense actually ticked down slightly last year. Still, it generated far more cash than Sourcefire, which undoubtedly appealed to its new PE owner, Vista Equity Partners. (Websense’s operating margin is three times higher than Sourcefire’s.) As different as the two deals are, they do have one similarity: both buyers are getting what they want at a price they want.

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