RightNow: A seller rather than a buyer

Contact: Brenon Daly

Ever since it raised $175m in a convertible debt offering last November, RightNow Technologies has been telling anyone who would listen that it intended to go shopping with some of that money. The move more than doubled the amount of cash on hand for the customer service automation vendor. And since RightNow was generating cash on its own, and had only a small share buyback program in place, it wasn’t like there were a lot of claims on the company’s treasury.

But with the $1.5bn sale to Oracle, RightNow’s M&A program has been snuffed out before it ever really got going. It would have been a dramatic change at the company, which had largely stayed out of the M&A market. Over the past decade and a half, RightNow has only tallied four deals with a total value of just $52m.

While RightNow was unlikely to ever be a big acquirer, we can’t help but make the larger point that the sale to Oracle removes yet another player from the pool of potential tech buyers. And that pool is constantly getting shallower, even just in terms of public companies. Along with RightNow, some 50 other tech vendors have been erased from the Nasdaq and the NYSE in just 2011 alone.

Oracle buys big, again

Contact: Brenon Daly

Announcing its third deal in just the past month, Oracle said Monday that it will pay about $1.5bn for customer service software provider RightNow Technologies. The purchase brings the acquisitive software giant even closer into competition with salesforce.com, which has also used M&A to expand its customer service offering. However, true to form, the deals by the rivals underscore their wildly different approaches to dealmaking.

For Oracle, bigger appears to be better. The price of its planned purchase of RightNow, which is expected to close by early next year, is a whopping 50 times larger than the amount salesforce.com spent on InStranet back in August 2008. (Salesforce.com handed over $31.5m for InStranet.) While RightNow counts more than 2,000 customers, InStranet had just 50 at the time of its acquisition. And, finally, another key difference: Oracle is valuing RightNow at more than 6 times trailing sales, which is three times the multiple salesforce.com paid for InStranet.

Of course, as the chief consolidator of the software industry, Oracle is accustomed to making big moves. In fact, its pending purchase of RightNow ranks as only its sixth-largest purchase. (It has done more than 80 deals over the past decade.) As a point of comparison, we’d note that Oracle’s single acquisition of RightNow is larger than the $1bn or so that salesforce.com has spent on the 18 deals it has announced in its entire history. We’ll have a full report on Oracle’s pickup of RightNow in tonight’s Daily 451.

SaaS giant salesforce.com thinks small

Contact: Brenon Daly

Just several months after putting money into Assistly in its second round of funding, salesforce.com decided Wednesday to pick up the whole startup for $50m. The purchase should help the SaaS giant extend its customer service offering, Service Cloud, to small businesses. Founded in 2009, Assistly had drawn in more than 1,000 customers, although not all of those are paying. (Salesforce.com declined to give a breakdown on paying vs. nonpaying customers, but indicated revenue at the startup was a tiny amount.)

The acquisition marks the third time salesforce.com has stepped into the M&A market to bolster its customer service product. Three years ago, it reached for InstraNet, a startup that was led by Alex Dayton, who continues in an executive role for the customer service offering at salesforce.com. A year ago, salesforce.com quietly added Activa Live. (Although terms weren’t disclosed, we suspect the bill for that purchase probably only ran in the single digits of millions of dollars.) The net result of those acquisitions – along with healthy organic growth – is that Service Cloud is now the largest single product outside salesforce.com’s core sales force automation product.

Additionally, salesforce.com says Assistly will be part of its upcoming launch of a ‘small business cloud’ product. In that, Assistly will be joining the collaboration offering that salesforce.com picked up with its acquisition of SMB-focused startup Manymoon in February. The reason for the new downmarket products is pretty clear when you remember that salesforce.com gets roughly one-third of its overall revenue from small businesses.

Buying and building at salesforce.com

Contact: Brenon Daly

At the rate Marc Benioff is going, we have to wonder how long it will be until he renames the company he founded. Or at the very least, shouldn’t Benioff, who founded salesforce.com in 1999 and continues to serve as the company’s CEO, be thinking about swapping the company’s current ticker (CRM) for something that captures the broad, all-encompassing vision for the ‘social enterprise’ that he laid out at last week’s Dreamforce?

After all, the company’s core sales force automation (SFA) product barely merited a mention at the conference. Instead, most of the attention was directed toward upgrades and expansions to the Chatter and Radian6 offerings, as well as moves to broaden its two main platform plays, Heroku and Force.com. As such, Dreamforce dramatically underscored just how much of salesforce.com’s future has been staked on its M&A program.

Of course, virtually all tech vendors use acquisitions to change the trajectory of their business, whether it’s a slight nudge in some new direction through a tactical purchase (Informatica comes to mind) or roll-the-dice-and-bet-the-company transformational transactions (Dell and, more painfully right now, Hewlett-Packard.) But hardly any other tech company (with the possible exception of VMware) has used M&A so consistently to expand beyond its original offering while still managing to preserve an acrophobia-inducing valuation.

Just consider the role that acquired companies played in announcements around salesforce.com’s conference:

  • Chatter has been bolstered by the purchase of two firms (GroupSwim and Dimdim), as has Service Cloud (InStranet and Activa Live). Service Cloud is salesforce.com’s largest non-SFA product.
  • The Data.com product, which was launched at the show, goes back to the purchase of Jigsaw Data in April 2010. It was further bolstered last week through a partnership with company records provided by Dun & Bradstreet.
  • Heroku was acquired last December, and salesforce.com noted at the conference that the platform currently has triple the number of customer applications built on it than it did a year ago.
  • The social media monitoring capabilities that salesforce.com obtained with its acquisition of Radian6, which was announced in late March, are only starting to make their way into the products but are a key part of the ‘social enterprise’ that the company has described.

Altogether, salesforce.com noted that non-SFA offerings – in other words, products and technology that got significant boosts through acquired IP or engineers – accounted for a full 20% of second-quarter revenue. (That was the first time the company has broken out revenue for its new products.) Given that salesforce.com booked nearly $550m in Q2 revenue, that would imply non-SFA sales of about $110m. To be clear, very little of that amount has come directly from the acquired companies, all of which were still in their early days. Instead, it’s the net result of the ‘buy and build’ approach at salesforce.com.

Confab-ulous M&A at two cloud companies

Contact: Brenon Daly

Two of the most richly valued tech companies are each hosting annual get-togethers this week, and M&A is figuring into both of the confabs. VMware opened VMworld in Las Vegas on Monday, while saleforce.com followed a day later with Dreamforce in San Francisco. As these companies were getting ready to open the doors for the event, both announced that they had done acquisitions – with both deals coming in the security market.

VMware reached for PacketMotion, a startup that was able to capture who’s doing what on a network and whether they should be doing that at all. VMware indicated that the acquisition should allow its customers to automate security and compliance policies. For its part, salesforce.com added encryption vendor Navajo Systems. While terms weren’t announced on either transaction, we suspect that the price tags for both startups were in the low tens of millions of dollars. On the other side, we’d note that, collectively, VMware and saleforce.com are valued at north of $50bn.

Part of the tremendously rich valuation that both VMware and salesforce.com enjoy can be chalked up to the fact that each company is the sort of corporate representation for two key components of the whole cloud computing model: VMware for virtualization and salesforce.com for on-demand delivery of software and, more recently, infrastructure.

So it’s no surprise that these cloud stalwarts both recognized the need to shore up their cloud offerings by going out and buying security startups. After all, security remains probably the most important concern for broader adoption of cloud computing. In a recent survey, our sister organization ChangeWave Research asked both IT purchasers and users at companies to rate the security of current cloud offerings on a scale of 1 (very unsecure) to 10 (very secure). The median response was a distinctly middling 5.6. As a point of reference, the rating for cloud security was actually lower than the median rating for the reliability of cloud offerings, even after several high-profile outages at Amazon Web Services so far this year.

The ever-increasing appetite of salesforce.com

Contact: Brenon Daly

Salesforce.com just keeps taking bigger bites. The company announced Wednesday that it will hand over $326m ($276m in cash and $50m in stock) for social-media monitoring company Radian6. Not only is it salesforce.com’s highest-priced acquisition, it also likely brings more revenue than any other deal the company has done, at least based on our estimates for previous transactions and the company’s guidance for Radian6. Salesforce.com indicated that the Canadian startup would contribute about $50m in sales during the current fiscal year, which is about two months old.

The purchase, which is expected to close by July, also puts an exclamation point on the changes in dealmaking at salesforce.com. The 11-year-old SaaS pioneer stayed out of the M&A market for the first half of its corporate life. And even when it started doing deals in 2006, the first half-dozen or so acquisitions were all small, valued in the low tens of millions of dollars. Salesforce.com only started announcing major purchases last year, with its $142m reach for Jigsaw Data followed by its $249m takeout of Heroku.

As sizeable as the deal is inside saleforce.com, it also looms pretty large inside the burgeoning social CRM market. Consider this: at roughly one-third of a billion dollars, salesforce.com’s pickup of Radian6 is more than 50 times larger than the acquisition of another social CRM startup just last week. Privately held Meltwater Group paid just $6m for JitterJam to bolster its social CRM offering, which the company hopes to be a $100m business within three years.

salesforce.com patches a hole in its Service Cloud

Contact: China Martens

For some time, we’ve been expecting salesforce.com to make a second purchase in the service automation space. It’s a market the SaaS CRM and development platform player took a major step into back in early 2009 following its $31.5m purchase of French knowledge base provider InStranet in August 2008. It now appears as though salesforce.com has indeed made another foray with the acquisition of enterprise live chat player Activa Live, a move the companies aren’t commenting on but have confirmed to several third parties.

Based in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, Activa Live’s customers include American Apparel, Best Buy, Dun & Bradstreet, Endeca, LexisNexis and Procter & Gamble. The startup already had tight integration with Salesforce CRM. Its rivals include other chat specialists such as Bold Software, LivePerson and Velaro as well as a host of service automation software players that provide live chat modules such as eGain Communications, Kana, Moxie Software (formerly known as nGenera), Parature and RightNow Technologies.

Salesforce.com has been steadily building out Service Cloud and has found turning on-premises InStranet SaaSy a time-consuming experience. It’s keen to substantially grow the business, and owning more service automation components should further that goal.

Activa Live is another of salesforce.com’s under-the-radar purchases, deals that it barely refers to in public or doesn’t acknowledge at all. Such transactions already include the acquisitions of Welsh business orchestration firm Informavores, semantic analysis player GroupSwim, and reportedly Canadian SaaS website building, managing and optimizing tools provider Sitemasher.

Salesforce.com is still sitting on a boatload of cash after raising $575m in a private placement at the start of the year, and has only inked one substantial deal in its history – the surprise $142m acquisition of data-as-a-service (DaaS) provider Jigsaw Data in April. We continue to puzzle over what larger transactions salesforce.com might set its cap at, and would now add business information provider Zoom Information to the list as being potentially complementary to the vendor’s Jigsaw buy. DaaS is another arena where salesforce.com hopes to make big bucks

Valuations separated by more than the Atlantic

Contact: Brenon Daly

Comparing the valuations of US tech companies with their European counterparts, we can’t help but notice the fact that the recovery hasn’t been enjoyed equally on both sides of the Atlantic. We noted a few months ago that the strong US dollar had opened the way for some opportunistic shopping on the continent. Although most European currencies have inched back up since then, there are still discounts available because the valuations of the companies are still lagging their US peers and rivals.

Earlier this summer, we pointed out that discrepancy in Deltek Systems’ purchase of Maconomy, which valued the Danish ERP vendor at twice the level it started the year – but still below Deltek’s current valuation on the Nasdaq. Similarly, Adobe acquired Day Software at a price that was four times higher than the Swiss company’s own valuation last summer. However, Adobe’s own valuation is higher than the take-out valuation for Day, which included a 60% premium. (Adobe is still valued higher, even though it lost 20% of its value Wednesday after forecasting weaker-than-expected results.)

But those deals pale in comparison to the arbitrage that OpenTable did in its reach across the Atlantic for toptable.com. OpenTable values the British restaurant reservation service at basically 6 times trailing sales, while the San Francisco-based company trades at 19x trailing sales. (For those of you who haven’t looked lately, OpenTable trades in the mid-$60 range, commanding a market cap of some $1.5bn. Incidentally, various measures of OpenTable’s valuation – specifically, both trailing and forward price to earnings ratio – line up almost exactly with those of salesforce.com.)

IBM analyses Coremetrics, makes a deal

Contact: Brenon Daly

We were close on our earlier rumor-mongering on Coremetrics, but tapped the wrong buyer. Four months ago, we heard that the Web analytics firms was in play and had retained Goldman Sachs to represent it. (And, indeed, Goldman did advise Coremetrics in the process.) On June 15, IBM said it was picking up Coremetrics for an undisclosed amount. Originally, we thought salesforce.com made the most sense as the buyer for Coremetrics.

It’s not hard to imagine that IBM’s desire for Coremetrics increased significantly after its two most-recent acquisitions, Sterling Commerce and Cast Iron Systems. For instance, Coremetrics would give much more insight into the activities on the business-to-business network that Big Blue picked up three weeks ago when it paid $1.4bn for Sterling Commerce. Coremetrics has some 2,100 customers.

Even with this deal done, we still think Coremetrics would have been a natural fit for salesforce.com, and would have given a significant boost to the company’s effort to diversify from its legacy sales force automation (SFA) business. Sales of that product still account for two-thirds of overall company revenue.

Salesforce.com recently indicated it was willing to go shopping to increase its non-SFA business, reaching for business directory provider Jigsaw Data. At $142m in cash, the price of Jigsaw was more than salesforce.com spent, collectively, on its previous seven acquisitions. Who knows, maybe salesforce.com will turn to fellow analytics firm Webtrends, which is owned by buyout shop Francisco Partners. Incidentally, one of Francisco’s founding partners, Sandy Robertson, serves on salesforce.com’s board of directors.

Who’s calling on Callidus?

Contact: Brenon Daly

Annual shareholder meetings are typically uneventful affairs, mixing equal parts of corporate glad-handing and self-congratulatory pabulum. The few bits of business that do get done are generally little more than corporate housekeeping, such as electing board members and signing off on auditing firms. And while that’s probably how the annual meeting for Callidus Software will go next Tuesday, we have picked up on some rumblings of discontent from the shareholder base of the sales performance management (SPM) vendor.

Shares of Callidus have basically been changing hands in the $2.50-3.50 range for the past year and a half. (On Friday afternoon, the stock traded at $3.10.) After going public at $14 in November 2003, the stock spent the next four months at around that level before dropping into the single digits, where it has remained ever since. At current prices, the company sports a market cap of nearly $100m.

With shares having been basically dead money, even as the market rebounded, investors are growing impatient with Callidus’ still-incomplete switch from a license-based software vendor to an on-demand model. Undeniably, the company has made progress in that difficult transition, but it has come up short in both its emerging SaaS business and its old-line business, particularly services.

That inconsistency hasn’t won it many fans on Wall Street, which is reflected in Callidus’ valuation. On a back-of-the-envelope basis, the company is trading at basically a $70m enterprise value, or just 1.4 times its 2010 recurring revenue (roughly $50m total, with $20m maintenance fees and $30m subscription revenue). It seems we aren’t the only ones struck by the rock-bottom valuation of Callidus. Several market sources have indicated recently that at least one would-be suitor has approached Callidus about a deal.

Our understanding is that Callidus has retained a banker and is still in the early stages of an initial market canvass. Obviously, that’s a long way from a completed transaction, which is the outcome many Callidus shareholders are hoping for. It’s also worth remembering that the company itself has a spotty track record in M&A. In late 2008, Callidus was lead bidder for SPM startup Centive, and stood to substantially accelerate its transition to SaaS with the acquisition. Instead, Xactly – a startup that’s run by a number of former Callidus executives – snatched away Centive in early 2009.