OpenPages: a restart that finished strong

Contact: Brenon Daly

In the startup world, a restart rarely goes anywhere. What typically happens is a company swaps one failing business plan for another, with the inevitable wind-down delayed only by a fresh round of capital. Yet that’s not the case with OpenPages, which secured a solid exit with its sale to IBM after completely overhauling its business.

OpenPages, which sells software for the governance, risk and compliance (GRC) market, has virtually nothing in common with the company that started out in 1996. As its name implies, OpenPages was originally a content management vendor. The firm survived the dot-com bust, but only after trimming its headcount from more than 300 down to 15. In the aftermath, it also switched to Plan B for the business: GRC.

Although the initial draw to the GRC space was Sarbanes-Oxley, OpenPages found success in the broader market. By 2006, Sarbanes-Oxley only accounted for about 15% of revenue at the firm. As it recast its business, OpenPages also recapitalized the business. It raised some $10m in 2004 and added another $10m in 2007. (Back in the Bubble Era, it had raised about $60m from investors.)

The sale to IBM makes a fair amount of sense, both strategically and financially. Big Blue and OpenPages have been partners for at least three years. In addition to OpenPages’ technology fitting well with the BI portfolio IBM acquired with Cognos, there’s also a large chunk of services revenue that Big Blue can pocket around an OpenPages implementation. (OpenPages has some 140 customers.)

And, at least as we understand the deal, the exit valued OpenPages at a healthy 5 times its estimated $35m in sales. (Both the price and the valuation line up almost exactly with the other large GRC deal of the year, EMC’s purchase of Archer Technologies back in January.) In our view, whatever valuation OpenPages got should probably be viewed as a rich one when we consider the fact that the company nearly died penniless earlier in its life.