Big Data means Big Dollars for VCs

Contact: Brenon Daly

Just since last summer, the data-warehousing industry has seen a wave of consolidation sweep most of the sizable startups into the portfolios of larger vendors. While dramatically reshaping the industry, the concentrated dealmaking has also generated outsized returns for venture firms that have put money into some of the startups that are tackling the problems of ‘big data.’ By our calculation, the four recent data-warehousing exits – on average – have been 10-baggers for their backers.

The eight-month M&A spree started last July, when EMC reached for Greenplum. Two months later it was IBM’s turn to take out Netezza, the sole data-warehousing startup that had actually made it to the public market in recent years. In mid-February, Hewlett-Packard reversed its long-held strategy to stay with internal data-warehousing development and gobbled up Vertica Systems. And then just last week, the granddaddy of the industry, Teradata, snagged Aster Data Systems.

This run of deals has been a welcome development for venture capitalists, who have been starved recently for moneymaking exits. Consider this: the quartet of data-warehousing startups that have been snapped up have returned some $2.5bn to their investors, an astonishing 10 times the $245m that they collectively raised. (The total funding for the startups comes from The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase, which recently added venture information to many of the deal records.) Taking a dime and turning it into a dollar is a pretty nifty trick – and it’s one that most VCs haven’t been able to pull off across any sector of enterprise IT in a long, long time.

Select recent data-warehousing deals

Date announced Acquirer Target Price VC raised by target
March 3, 2011 Teradata Aster Data Systems $295m $57m
February 14, 2011 HP Vertica Systems $275m* (excluding earnout) $25m
September 20, 2010 IBM Netezza $1.8bn $73m
July 6, 2010 EMC Greenplum $400m* $90m

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase *451 Group estimate

Netezza’s bogeyman

When Microsoft gets into a new market, the impact on the existing vendors tends to be in line with the software giant’s gargantuan size. After all, fears among startups over getting ‘Netscape-d’ have often been realized. That’s particularly true in the days before the convicted monopolist started putting on a softer face on its business. Gone are the days when Microsoft would threaten ‘to cut off the air supply’ of other companies, as it famously did to the Internet browser pioneer. Maybe it’s middle-aged softness at the 33-year-old company, but Microsoft’s bite often seems a little toothless these days. (Does anyone really think Microsoft – with or without spending $45bn on Yahoo – will be able to narrow the gap to Google in search advertising?)

Still, there was a moment last week when it appeared the Redmond, Wash.-based behemoth once again looked like it had the power to scare the bejesus out of a company (and its investors) by buying its way into a market. Last Thursday, as it was holding its annual meeting with Wall Street, Microsoft said it was purchasing Datallegro, a data-warehousing startup that we estimate was running at about $35m in sales. A market source indicated that rumors of the deal started percolating late Wednesday, a day before official word of the acquisition. Almost immediately, shares of data-warehousing vendor Netezza came under pressure. After hitting an intra-day high of $13.36 on Wednesday, Netezza stock slumped as much as 8% and closed basically at the low of the day. It opened even lower Thursday and sunk the entire day, finishing the session at $11.48. From its peak to its trough in those two sessions, Netezza lost 14%, with trading on Thursday about 50% busier than average.

However, as easy as it may be to point to Microsoft’s competitive move as the reason for Netezza’s decline, the two events are linked only by coincidence rather than causality. According to two market sources, Netezza actually distributed shares back to its VCs, meaning the stock’s slump can be attributed to the supply side, rather than demand side. (There have been no SEC filings about the move, and calls to the company to verify the information weren’t immediately returned.) Maybe Microsoft isn’t the big, bad company we all thought it was?