Unify buys a new identity

Contact: Brenon Daly

It’s fairly rare for an acquiring company to take on the name of the target it has purchased, and it’s even more uncommon for the buyer to then dive headlong into the business it just picked up. And yet, that’s exactly what’s happening at Unify Corp, an old-line vendor now known as Daegis. (See our full report on the transition.) The name trade comes almost exactly a year after Unify spent some $38m in cash and stock to acquire its new namesake, Daegis. That was more, collectively, than Unify had spent on all of its other deals.

Before it added Daegis, Unify had been known for its software application development and migration tools. The 30-year-old company realized that there probably wasn’t much value to be created by being a fairly staid performer in a fairly staid market, so it went shopping. In 2009, Unify bought a small archiving and records compliance provider, AXS-One. It followed that up a year later with the much more significant purchase of Daegis, which got the company squarely in the e-discovery market. That business is now providing virtually all of the growth for Unify/Daegis.

While the new focus on the e-discovery space is a reasonable – and potentially profitable – move for Unify/Daegis, the transition does bring a fair amount of risk. The vendor already had to bump back the release of the product that was supposed to combine Unify’s archiving technology with Daegis’ e-discovery capabilities. Further, it recently scrapped any financial guidance as it sorts through its changes in business model. So far, Wall Street hasn’t really voted on the renamed and refocused company. Shares in Daegis, which also have the new symbol DAEG, are largely unchanged over the past month.

A tale of two e-discovery deals

Contact: Nick Patience

Last week was more or less bookended with two acquisitions in the e-discovery market, with Autonomy Corp picking up Iron Mountain’s digital assets on Monday and Symantec buying Clearwell Systems on Thursday. Autonomy and Symantec share a market but little else between them. Both are experienced acquirers – having made, collectively, 50 deals over the past decade – but each company chooses its targets and executes acquisitions in very different ways.

Autonomy often buys rivals simply to remove them from the market. Or it inks deals to obtain customer bases or move into adjacent sectors, and it often swoops in on companies at the last minute (as it did with Zantaz in 2007). The purchase of Iron Mountain’s divested business has all four of those characteristics. Iron Mountain was a direct rival in the e-discovery and archiving segments, while it also provided a backup and recovery business, which is a new area for Autonomy. The buyer also netted 6,000 customers, although there is some overlap. Autonomy took out Verity back in 2005 to remove a competitor and picked up Zantaz to get into the archiving space. The vendor is known for being aggressive in integrating companies, which often leads to a lot of people quickly moving on after being acquired, and we expect both people and products to be removed rapidly here.

Symantec’s M&A strategy is still somewhat shaped by its misguided attempt to add storage to its core security offering with the acquisition of Veritas in 2004. (That deal remains Big Yellow’s largest-ever purchase, accounting for more than half of the company’s entire M&A spending.) Of course, that transaction happened more than a half-decade ago and a different management team was heading the company.

Still, that experience – along with the constant reminders about the misstep from Symantec’s large shareholders – appears to have made the company more considered in its approach. For example, it had been working with Clearwell in the field as well as at the product development level for more than two years before the deal. However, we don’t think Big Yellow could have waited much longer to add some key e-discovery capabilities to boost its market-leading (but aging) Enterprise Vault franchise. We suspect that is why Symantec paid such a high premium for Clearwell, valuing the e-discovery provider at 7 times sales – more than twice the multiple Autonomy paid in its e-discovery purchase.

Clearwell had been on a growth tear since its formation at the end of 2004 and the firm helped define the e-discovery space, starting with early case assessment and then systematically moving into other segments of the e-discovery process. We get the feeling that management may have wished to have waited another year or so before being bought. We think they would have relished the chance to turn Clearwell into something substantial and possibly take it public; the fact that no bankers were used on either side indicates that Clearwell was not actively shopping itself around. But some offers are just too good to turn down.

Epiq’s expensive e-discovery deal

Contact: Brenon Daly

Announcing the largest e-discovery deal in some three-and-a-half years, Epiq Systems said earlier this week that it will borrow $100m to acquire Encore Discovery Solutions, a service provider for law firms. (My colleague Nick Patience has the full details on the acquisition.) The rationale is fairly straightforward: Epiq wanted to shore up its presence in the western US, so it reached for Phoenix-based Encore. That sort of geographic consolidation happens all the time – but it rarely happens at the kind of valuation that Epiq is paying in its services play.

Encore had generated some $40m in revenue, according to Epiq, meaning it’s trading at 2.5 times sales. That’s a fairly high multiple for a services shop, which typically have lumpy – and concentrated – revenue. (That goes double for a market like e-discovery that is largely driven by unpredictable events like lawsuits.) Unlike Epiq, Encore didn’t have its own e-discovery software, instead licensing it from other vendors. Clearly, however, the lack of IP didn’t hurt Encore’s price.

More representative of the e-discovery market is probably Unify Corp’s purchase last summer of Daegis. Unify paid $37.5m, or 1.6x sales, for Daegis, which generates about half of its sales from tools and the other half from associated services. But from Epiq’s view, the purchase of Encore sets up a relatively low threshold for a return (it is borrowing at around 3.5%) and adds bulk to a business that has a fair amount of momentum. Epiq said recently that its e-discovery business has posted five straight quarters of growth, finishing 2010 with sales at the unit up 45% to a record $81m.

More businesses on the block at LexisNexis?

Contact: Brenon Daly

When LexisNexis announced last month that it was selling off its HotDocs business, it got us thinking about other divestitures that the information provider may be contemplating. More specifically, we wonder if LexisNexis is considering reheating its effort to shed Applied Discovery. Not too long ago, we heard rumors that LexisNexis had hired a bank to help it unwind its $95m purchase of the Seattle-based e-discovery startup. LexisNexis picked up Applied Discovery in mid-2003.

According to one source, LexisNexis came close to selling Applied Discovery to the Silicon Valley-based buyout shop for about $70m, but talks collapsed during due diligence. Shortly after that, LexisNexis cut its asking price for Applied Discovery to basically half of the $95m that it originally paid for the company, but a second source indicated that the unit still didn’t generate much interest. The reason? Many would-be financial buyers are put off by the lumpy business in the e-discovery sector. Sales are typically driven by investigations or lawsuits, which can make it difficult to predict. Meanwhile, among the strategic buyers, many of the large information management vendors – including Autonomy Corp, Iron Mountain, Seagate and EMC, among others – have already announced acquisitions of e-discovery players.

‘She got the ring, I got the finger’

Contact: Brenon Daly

As every country and western crooner knows, relationships can build you up but they can also break you down. (Suggested listening: ‘I Fall to Pieces’ by Patsy Kline.) That’s as true in love as it is in business, as my colleague Kathleen Reidy notes in a new report. Specifically, she takes a look at the future for StoredIQ, which got dumped by EMC last month when the tech giant acquired rival company Kazeon for its e-discovery offering. (Suggested listening: ‘She Got the Ring (and I Got the Finger)’ by Chuck Mead.)

It was undoubtedly a big blow for StoredIQ, which had a longer-standing and deeper relationship with EMC than Johnny-come-lately Kazeon. EMC has been reselling StoredIQ under its SourceOne brand since 2008. But obviously, StoredIQ will be a bit of a third wheel following the Kazeon acquisition, and the relationship with EMC is effectively over. (Suggested listening: ‘If the Phone Don’t Ring, Baby, You’ll Know It’s Me’ by Jimmy Buffet.) While the official reason has never surfaced as to why EMC passed on StoredIQ in favor of Kazeon, we might chalk it up to the difficult task of parsing out revenue in any reselling agreement, and how to value those sales. That’s always tricky.

In any case, StoredIQ is moving on. (Suggested listening: ‘How Can I Miss You if You Won’t Go Away’ by Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks.) The eight-year-old startup has solid technology to identify and manage data that lives outside companies’ managed repositories, which is a key part of e-discovery. And StoredIQ may well be a good fit for Symantec, which also had a relationship with Kazeon and may now be in the market for a new partner. (Suggested listening: ‘I May Be Used (But Baby I Ain’t Used Up)’ by Waylon Jennings.)

Unexpected partners in e-discovery dance

Contact: Brenon Daly

After a flurry of more than a half-dozen e-discovery acquisitions from mid-2007 to mid-2008, deal flow has dried up in the sector. Buyers during the active period included companies that, broadly speaking, have an interest in storing, managing and searching electronic information, including such tech giants as Seagate Technology, Iron Mountain and Autonomy Corp. Collectively, spending on all the e-discovery deals in that one-year period topped $800m.

And then, like the rest of the M&A market, e-discovery activity dropped off dramatically. In this vacuum, rumors started bouncing around. The main one, which we noted last October, had Symantec looking closely at Kazeon. The two companies have been partners for a year, with Kazeon able to integrate with Symantec’s Enterprise Vault and Enterprise Vault Discovery Accelerator. (We also did a broader matchmaking report on the sector right around that time.)

And while a pairing between Kazeon and Symantec may well have made sense, the e-discovery vendor ended up selling to EMC on Tuesday. (Terms were not disclosed, but one report put the price at $75m. We think that may well turn out to be a bit higher than the amount EMC actually paid, particularly since we understand that Kazeon was only running at about $10m in sales.) So we were a bit off on our pairing for Kazeon, just as we were off on our assumption that EMC would reach for its longtime e-discovery partner, StoredIQ. Undeterred by that, we find ourselves nonetheless wondering if StoredIQ will end up at Symantec. There’s certainly some logic to that pairing. But then again, that was also true for the other deals we came up with that never got signed.

Symantec ‘discovers’ Kazeon?

We hear Symantec, which has already inked five deals so far this year, may be getting close to another acquisition. Several sources have indicated that Big Yellow is planning to bolster its e-discovery offering through a purchase of startup Kazeon Systems. The two companies have been partners for a year, with Kazeon able to integrate with Symantec’s Enterprise Vault and Enterprise Vault Discovery Accelerator. Mountain View, California-based Kazeon has raised some $51m in venture backing from a handful of firms, including Redpoint Ventures, Clearstone Venture Partners and Menlo Ventures, which led the startup’s second round.

Several large technology vendors have already made e-discovery acquisitions, running up a tab of about a half-billion dollars in the past year alone. Most recently, Interwoven snagged on-demand e-discovery startup Discovery Mining. In the past, we have speculated that NetApp, which at one point accounted for more than half of Kazeon’s revenue through an OEM arrangement, would be a logical buyer of Kazeon. (We would note, however, that NetApp’s share of total sales at Kazeon has declined in recent months.)

While the e-discovery marketplace is relatively crowded, there are also several key challenges for companies looking to sell in this space. For starters, e-discovery products don’t immediately appeal to departments that must budget to buy software, such as IT or finance. The end user of the e-discovery software, which in many cases is a company’s general counsel, may not have the authority to write a check for an offering that can run $100,000 and up. We recently spoke with a venture capitalist who pulled the plug on an e-discovery startup in his portfolio. He pointed out that e-discovery projects are still largely taken on by service providers and companies have been slow to move that work in-house with purchased software. Recognizing this last fact, Kazeon has inked a number of service partners for its e-discovery products.

Selected e-discovery deals over the past year

Date Acquirer Target Deal value
July 2008 Interwoven Discovery Mining $36m
March 2008 Hewlett-Packard Tower Software $100m
February 2008 Dell MessageOne $155m
December 2007 Seagate Metalincs $74m
October 2007 Iron Mountain Stratify $158m

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase