Palo Alto puts in its paperwork

Contact: Brenon Daly, Thejeswi Venkatesh

Long rumored to be an IPO candidate, Palo Alto Networks has finally filed its paperwork for a $175m offering. The application-level firewall security vendor has put up astonishing growth in recent quarters, but unlike other early-stage companies, Palo Alto has been running in the black recently. But the real story – and one that will certainly draw interest on Wall Street – is Palo Alto’s astonishing growth. From essentially a standing start in 2007, the company has racked up more than 6,650 customers.

On the top line, Palo Alto has grown tenfold since 2009, recording sales of $185m over the past four quarters. In its most recent quarter, which ended January 31, the company more than doubled sales to $57m. While Palo Alto is obviously just getting started, it’s nonetheless worth considering how the startup is growing relative to the firewall industry’s stalwart, Check Point Software. That vendor, which crossed over the $1bn mark in 2010, expanded revenue about 13% last year.

Off a revenue base that’s counted in the billions of dollars, Check Point’s growth rate is actually fairly impressive. To put that another way, Check Point generated an additional $149m in revenue in 2011, which is less than Palo Alto generated but a level that’s still respectable. (And we should note that Check Point increases sales at a level of profitability that most other tech companies can only envy: For every dollar it books as sales, more than 40 cents of that drops straight to the bottom line.)

Wall Street certainly is bullish on Check Point, having driven the company’s shares to their highest level in 11 years. It currently garners a market cap of $12.8bn, a full 10 times trailing sales. We would expect Palo Alto to at least trade at that multiple when it comes to market later this summer. That could put its valuation above $2bn. Not a bad bit of value creation for a company that raised just $65m in venture backing. Greylock Partners and Sequoia Partners are Palo Alto’s biggest shareholders, with each firm owning 22% of the startup.