Big money, behind closed doors

Contact: Brenon Daly

Who needs to go public when there’s so much late-stage money sloshing around out there? That question hit us in the head this week after two startups announced, separately, that they were each raising $50m in new funding. First, it was marketing automation vendor Marketo saying it pulled in $50m in a new round led by Battery Ventures and then on Thursday, vulnerability management company Rapid7 also drew in that amount from Technology Crossover Ventures.

The latest round for Marketo, which effectively doubles the amount of capital it has raised, is particularly noteworthy. After all, Marketo has seen two of its main rivals track to the public market. Eloqua is currently on file for a $100m offering, while Responsys went public in late April, an offering that raised $79m.

In the case of Responsys, it may well consider itself fortunate that it raised money when it did. The company recently indicated that business through the end of the year is likely to be substantially slower than it had been. The warning knocked the stock about 25% below where it priced in April and half the level it had hit in the summer.

A renaissance of PE interest in Renaissance

Contact: Brenon Daly

In 2010, PLATO Learning went private in a relatively straightforward process that took just two months from Thoma Bravo’s announcement of the leveraged buyout (LBO) of the online education vendor to the close of it. Now, privately held PLATO is drawing out – and making more expensive – the LBO of fellow online education provider Renaissance Learning. PLATO has been part of a bidding war for Renaissance that has been playing out since mid-August.

In the original offer, buyout firm Permira planned to acquire Renaissance, which has been public since 1997, in a deal valued at $440m. (Somewhat unusually, terms call for Permira to pay one price for Renaissance’s common shares that trade on the Nasdaq while paying a lower price to the cofounders of the company, who control 69% of the equity.) PLATO then topped Permira’s opening bid a week later.

Earlier this week, Permira raised its offer, as did PLATO. However, the board continues to support the Permira bid – even though it values Renaissance at $16m less than the offer from PLATO. The reason? The cofounders don’t want to sell to PLATO. Other shareholders, who represent the remaining 31% of Renaissance equity, will have a chance to vote on Permira’s offer on October 17

Ness gets a scant sendoff

Contact: Brenon Daly

Three-quarters of Ness Technologies shareholders have backed the planned $307m take-private of the IT services vendor, clearing the way for the sale to Citi Venture Capital International (CVCI) to close by the end of the month. CVCI acquired nearly 10% of Ness in early 2008 and first offered to pick up the whole company in July 2010, according to the proxy filed in connection with the proposed deal.

Last summer, CVCI indicated that it would be looking to pay $5.50-5.75 for each Ness share it didn’t already own. Three financial buyers who also got involved in the bidding last fall indicated that they would be prepared to top that by about a dollar a share. In the end, CVCI agreed to pay $7.75 for each share, roughly one-third more than the opening bid from the buyout shop .

And yet, despite the topping bid, Ness is exiting the public market at what would appear to be a rather paltry valuation. The company recently reported that it was tracking to about $600m in sales for 2011, and yet is selling for just $307m. (Including Ness’ small net debt position, the enterprise value of the deal is $342m.) That works out to a scant 0.6 times trailing sales – just one-third the median price-to-sales valuation for US publicly traded companies so far this year, according to our calculations.

Some of that can be attributed to the fact that IT services vendors typically trade at a substantial discount to other technology firms. And yet, even within recent IT services deals, 0.6x trailing sales is the low end of the range for most acquisitions. (For instance, EDS went for that multiple in its sale to Hewlett-Packard in mid-2008, while Perot Systems got more than twice that (1.4x) in its purchase by Dell in September 2009.) In fact, Ness is selling to CVCI for a lower price than it fetched on the open market more than three years ago when the buyout shop first took its stake.

Corel erases iGrafx from its portfolio

Contact: Brenon Daly

A decade after picking up iGrafx, the private equity-backed Corel firm has divested the business process management (BPM) software company to newly formed buyout shop The Limerock Group. The move should allow new focus and resources for iGrafx, which was always an odd fit inside Corel. For its part, iGrafx sold almost entirely to enterprises, while Corel is known as a home for many faded, second-rate consumer brands, such as WordPerfect and PaintShop.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the iGrafx business suffered from a bit of neglect inside Corel. At one point, we understand the business was generating about $20m in sales, although it is probably only running at about half that level now. One area that iGrafx will undoubtedly look to expand is around consulting and other services that tend to play a not-insignificant part of BPM deployments. IGrafx may look to build that up through internal development, or the newly capitalized company could tuck-in a small consulting shop.

The move by Limerock, a firm founded by the team that built and eventually sold NetQoS for $200m, comes after a number of big-name buyers have inked BPM deals of their own over the past two years. (Limerock was advised by Northside Advisors, while Pagemill Partners worked the other side.) Significant acquirers that have bought their way into the market since mid-2009 include IBM, Software AG, Progress Software and Open Text. Valuations for these BPM deals has ranged from roughly 1x sales to almost 6x sales. Given iGrafx’s slumping sales and its awkward fit inside Corel, we suspect the business would have likely traded at the low end of that range.

A little something for your trouble

Contact: Brenon Daly

Breaking up is hard to do. And it can be expensive, too. But as a pair of deals this week shows, the costs aren’t necessarily borne equally by the two sides in a planned transaction. In the higher-profile case, the market is buzzing that Google may be on the hook for a $2.5bn payment to Motorola Mobility if that deal unravels. If that’s the case, the payment (known as a reverse breakup fee) would be 6-7 times larger than the payment Google would stand to pocket if Motorola Mobility walks away from the transaction.

That gap is much wider than is seen in deals that feature reverse breakup fees, where a would-be buyer might face a fee that would be closer to twice the amount the seller might pay. That’s how it is, for instance, in Permira’s planned $440m buyout of education software maker Renaissance Learning. According to terms of Tuesday’s leveraged buyout (LBO), if Permira walks away from the transaction, it will have to come up with $26m, or nearly 6% of the equity value of the proposed deal. On the other side, if Renaissance Learning backs away, it will have to hand over just $13m, or about 3% of the equity value.

Reverse breakup fees have long been an accepted way for a would-be seller to receive compensation for any risks in getting a transaction closed. (The rationale is that the disruption in business due to an acquisition is much greater to the target company than the acquirer, so the greater potential risk is offset by a greater potential reward.) Of course, these fees are far more common in LBOs than when the deal is struck between two companies, like Google buying Motorola Mobility. But then again, the search giant – going back to its Dutch auction IPO and continuing to today’s practice of not giving quarterly financial guidance – has never been a company that really follows Wall Street convention.

Big deals for single PE firms

Contact: Brenon Daly

In 2010, it was The Carlyle Group. So far in 2011, it’s Providence Equity Partners. These two private equity (PE) firms have the two largest non-club tech leveraged buyouts in each of the past two years. Recall that last October – on successive days, no less – Carlyle erased both CommScope and Syniverse Technologies from the public market in a pair of deals that cost the buyout shop $6.5bn. (Understandably, Carlyle has been fairly quiet since then, announcing only a pair of small transactions.)

Now, Providence has its own double-barrel deals that are on top of the standings. Somewhat unusually, both of the firm’s acquisitions came on the first day of a new quarter: On April 1, it announced the planned take-private of SRA International for $1.9bn, and then followed that up Friday with the $1.6bn buyout of Blackboard to start the third quarter.

PE activity since the Great Recession

Period Deal volume Deal value
Q3-Q4, 2009 62 $12.1bn
Q1-Q2, 2010 57 $10.7bn
Q3-Q4, 2010 76 $15.6bn
Q1-Q2, 2011 78 $11.9bn

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase

Bolting onto the PE platform

Contact: Brenon Daly

One of the knock-on effects of private equity (PE) spending hitting its highest level in three years in 2010 has been the emergence of bolt-on deals in 2011. Consider the recent M&A activity at Emailvision, an SMB-focused email marketing vendor. The company had been listed on the Euronext, although, candidly, European investors didn’t really appreciate Emailvision’s SaaS delivery model. So rather than stick around as an unloved public company, the firm sold a nearly 70% stake last summer to PE shop Francisco Partners. The transaction valued the overall company at around $109m.

Fast-forward less than a year since selling a majority stake, and Emailvision has already done one small deal as well as a more recent acquisition that it could have never pulled off without the deep pockets of its PE patron. Earlier this month, Emailvision closed its $40m pickup of smartFOCUS, which had been listed on the London Stock Exchange. The transaction added more than $20m to Emailvision’s revenue, which we understand should hit about $110m this year. (That would be nearly twice the level it was before it went private, with M&A boosting an already healthy 40% organic growth rate.) And the vendor may not be done buying. We gather that Emailvision may well announce another deal before the end of the year.

Flips and flops for PE shops

Contact: Brenon Daly

There are flips that fly, and flips that flop. Consider the two recent exits by private-equity (PE)-owned companies Skype Technologies and Freescale Semiconductor. One deal basically quadrupled the price of the portfolio company, while the other company is still lingering at a value of less than half its original purchase price. Granted, that ‘headline’ calculation misses some of the nuances of the holdings and their returns to the PE shops, but it’s nonetheless a solid reminder that deals need to be done with a focus on the ‘demand’ side of the exit.

For Skype’s PE ownership of Silver Lake Partners, Index Ventures and Andreessen Horowitz, the $8.5bn all-cash sale to Microsoft came less than two years after the consortium carved the VoIP provider out of eBay for just $2bn. The deal stands as the largest ever purchase by Microsoft, and the double-digit price-to-sales valuation suggests Redmond had to reach deep to take Skype off the board. Skype had filed to go public, but was also rumored to have attracted interest from Google as a possible buyer.

On the other hand, there wasn’t much demand for Freescale, which was coming public after undergoing the largest tech LBO in history. Freescale priced its recent IPO some 20% below the bottom end of its expected range. That had to be a painful concession for the PE owners of the company: Blackstone Group, Carlyle Group, Permira Funds and Texas Pacific Group. The club paid $17.6bn in mid-2006 for the semiconductor maker, loading up the company with billions in debt just as the market tanked. Freescale, which still carts around about $7.5bn in debt, has lower sales now than when it was taken private four years ago.

Updata secures a bargain from CA

Contact: Brenon Daly

When CA Technologies ‘partnered’ with Indian outsourcing firm HCL Technologies to try to offload its security business in November 2007, we termed the move a ‘kind-of, sort-of’ divestiture that was unlikely to fit well with either party. Three and a half years later, the full divestiture is finally done: CA sold it to Updata Partners last week. Although terms weren’t disclosed, we understand that Updata is paying only about $10m for the business, a price that reflects just how much the division had suffered under the joint venture. The roughly $50m in sales at the unit is less than half the level it was at the time of the CA-HCL accord.

The fact that CA got any money for its security assets surprised some. We hear from several participants that at least one bidder put forward a ‘cashless’ offer, offering to take the unit off of CA’s hands for only the assumption of liabilities. (We gather that there was some interest in the business from a few of the larger, privately held security vendors, while from the financial world, both Platinum Equity and Symphony Technology Group were rumored to be bidders.) However, the deal was a very complicated one, not the least of which because there were some questions about the revenue sharing with HCL.

The split ownership, exacerbated by uneven commitments from the two sides, meant that the security business itself was rather starved, particularly for sales and marketing support. (It didn’t help that the division focused on consumers and small businesses, while its corporate parent, CA, targets enterprises. CA will continue to sell enterprise security offerings, which is primarily its identity and access management software.) Out from under the untenable ownership structure, the security unit will likely enjoy renewed focus and resources from its soon-to-be owners at Updata as the buyout firm tries, first, to stabilize the business and then ultimately get it growing again. The deal should close next month.

Tripwire pulls the plug on its IPO

Contact: Brenon Daly

Almost exactly a year after Tripwire formally filed its IPO paperwork, the security vendor has opted for the other exit, a trade sale. Thoma Bravo, a buyout shop with a number of other security and management companies in its portfolio, expects to close the acquisition of Portland, Oregon-based Tripwire this month. Terms weren’t disclosed but we understand that Thoma Bravo is paying about $225m. The decision by Tripwire to sell isn’t a surprise, any more than the fact that a buyout shop is its new owner.

If it had gone ahead with its IPO, we suspect that Tripwire would have had a rough go of it as a public company. Wall Street looks for growth, and while Tripwire has put up steady growth, it hasn’t been explosive growth or particularly valuable growth, at least in the eyes of portfolio managers. In 2010, Tripwire bumped up its overall top line 16% to $86m, primarily driven by increases in maintenance revenue and, to a lesser degree, consulting work. Collectively, those lines of business, which now represent more than half of Tripwire’s total revenue, rose 25% in 2010 – three times the rather anemic growth rate of 8% in license sales. (License sales actually flatlined in both the third and fourth quarters of 2010.)

The lagging license sales certainly wouldn’t have helped the company attract interest from strategic buyers. We noted earlier that nearly four years ago Tripwire came very close to selling to BMC. Since it filed its prospectus, we’ve heard that both Quest Software and CA Technologies looked at Tripwire. Still, in our view, Tripwire has a financial profile that should fit well inside a PE portfolio: some 6,000 customers; seven consecutive years of revenue and operating income growth; a rock-steady – and growing – maintenance stream of about $40m; and roughly $10m in cash flow per year.