A Coremetrics sale to salesforce.com?

Contact: Brenon Daly

Could this be a case of history repeating itself? A Web analytics vendor pulls out at the last minute of a technology conference at a boutique bank, and then announces that it has agreed to a richly priced sale of the company. That’s the way it played out last fall with Omniture at ThinkEquity’s conference. And at least part of that has happened with Coremetrics this week at Pacific Crest Securities’ Emerging Technology Summit. (Coremetrics was slated to present at the event Thursday morning, but canceled its appearance, officially because the presenter was ill.)

Of course, there’s been a lot of M&A buzz around Coremetrics in recent weeks, with at least two sources indicating that the company had retained Goldman Sachs to represent it. As to who might be a buyer for the Web analytics shop, we come back to one name: salesforce.com. We understand that the CRM giant was acutely interested in Omniture and, according to some sources, was the cover bidder in that process. (Omniture, of course, ultimately sold to Adobe in a somewhat puzzling pairing.)

Coremetrics’ analytics would fit neatly with salesforce.com’s sales and marketing offering. Both are also SaaS companies. And, as we noted last month, the profitable company, which has about $1bn in cash available, has announced plans to raise another $500m in a convertible offering. Altogether, that’s plenty of cash to cover a potential purchase of Coremetrics, which would probably go for several hundred million dollars. And if the Coremetrics sale parallels the Omniture sale in that the analytics company goes to a somewhat unexpected buyer, we might put forward Autonomy Corp as a possibility, as my colleague Nick Patience did in a recent report. The acquisitive British vendor also recently announced plans to raise a slug of money.

Will Iron Mountain soon be sipping a Mimosa?

Contact: Brenon Daly, Kathleen Reidy, Simon Robinson

For what was once a fairly staid Old Economy business, Iron Mountain has done a better job than most companies in acclimating itself to the digital age. The records management vendor has accomplished that with eight acquisitions over the past half-decade, picking up technology for online backup and e-discovery, among other offerings. The $158m purchase of e-discovery provider Stratify stands, in many ways, as Iron Mountain’s marquee acquisition for its digital business. It has maintained the Stratify name and, last November, turned its whole digital subsidiary over to Ramana Venkata, the founder and former CEO of Stratify.

After that purchase in October 2007, Iron Mountain stayed out of the market for more than two years, despite many adjacent sectors that it could buy its way into. (And, from what we remember of the past two recession-wracked years, prices for startups weren’t particularly steep.) The M&A drought ended last month with the pickup of a San Francisco-based services company, Legal Imaging Technologies, that provides electronic document conversion. Terms weren’t disclosed.

But now we wonder if that small buy might be followed by a large deal. Several sources have indicated that Iron Mountain may be looking to snare a digital-archiving startup. It had relied on its partnership with MessageOne, but since that company’s acquisition by Dell, Iron Mountain has moved on, partnering with Mimecast last April. The partnership – combined with the fact that both businesses deliver their offerings through a subscription model – makes an acquisition of Mimecast by Iron Mountain a logical fit.

However, the market has been buzzing recently with another possible pairing for Iron Mountain – Mimosa Systems. Although Mimosa has talked in the past about going public this year, we have always thought that an acquisition of the company was more likely. (It has raised $50m in backing and, according to one source, was tracking to about $40m in bookings last year.) While Mimosa’s technology is highly regarded, the fact that it’s on-premises rather than on-demand would pose some integration challenges. However, it does have an emerging cloud story that would likely be of interest to Iron Mountain.

salesforce.com: All dressed up and nowhere to go

Contact: Brenon Daly, China Martens

We noted late last week that it has emerged recently that salesforce.com did indeed make an (unannounced) acquisition to help bolster its upcoming enterprise collaboration product, Chatter. The purchase of GroupSwim, which had just 30 customers, was undoubtedly a tiny one. That’s been the case in the five previous buys by salesforce.com, as well.

But now, the market is buzzing that salesforce.com may be looking to take on a larger deal. Why else would a profitable company that already has $1bn on its hands raise another $500m in an upcoming convertible offering? If that sort of reasoning worked for Occam, then it’ll work for us. All that remains, then, is to figure out where salesforce.com is going to spend that money.

It turns out that coming up with a shopping list for salesforce.com is actually a bit more complicated than it is for many other companies. For starters, the firm positions itself as a platform vendor, which means that it is designed to be open and inclusive. That is exactly counter to M&A. So while it might make sense for salesforce.com to move into marketing automation (MA), for instance, by picking up Unica or Constant Contact Inc, a play like that would immediately alienate all other MA providers on AppExchange. (Currently, there are 29 different MA applications listed on AppExchange, among more than 170 applications in the broader ‘marketing’ category.)

Salesforce.com has worked around that by looking more to partner than purchase, as it did to co-create FinancialForce.com, a partnership with Unit 4 Agresso. Clearly, salesforce.com could afford to buy Unit 4 Agresso outright. (The Dutch company has a market capitalization of about $650m.) We suspect that partnerships might be the approach that salesforce.com uses to cover human capital management (HCM). A number of rumors have tied the CRM giant to either of the big HCM players, Taleo or SuccessFactors. (As an aside, we might be willing to pay money to listen to any M&A negotiations between salesforce.com’s laidback, New Age-y chief executive Marc Benioff and the blunt-talking, hard-driving CEO at SuccessFactors, Lars Dalgaard. We can only imagine the look on Dalgaard’s face if Benioff invited him to sit zazen, which wouldn’t be out of character for the salesforce.com honcho.)

So having scratched most names, what’s one company that we could imagine salesforce.com reaching for? InContact. The acquisition would boost salesforce.com’s Service Cloud, taking the firm even deeper into the call center. The (hypothetical) deal would fit nicely with InStranet, which salesforce.com acquired in mid-2008 for $31.5m, and would hardly break the bank. InContact has a market capitalization of merely $90m. And as a final bonus, salesforce.com would finally be able to shed its limited ticker ‘CRM’ in favor of the bigger, more encompassing ticker of ‘SAAS,’ which is what inContact currently trades under.

A transatlantic shopping trip for Concur

Contact: Brenon Daly

After being out of the M&A market for two years, Concur Technologies reached across the Atlantic earlier this week for a small Paris-based startup to help expand its business in Europe. Currently, business outside of the US accounts for about 10% of overall revenue at Concur. The company has indicated in the past that it plans to triple the level of international revenue in the coming years. Concur said it will pay up to $40m in cash and equity for Etap-On-Line (including unspecified earnouts), but guided not to expect much from the acquisition right now. (Deutsche Bank Securities advised Concur on the transaction.)

There are a number of reasons for the muted initial expectations for the purchase. First, much of Etap’s revenue will likely get washed out because of differences between French and US accounting standards. (Not that there was likely a lot of revenue to start with.) And even the sales that Etap has booked have come primarily from offering its travel and expense management software through licenses. That means Concur will have to convert the technology to its on-demand platform.

Of course, Concur knows a bit about that process, having transformed itself earlier this decade to an on-demand software provider from the license model. In the words of one banker, the transition was ‘a valley of death’ experience for Concur. But now the company has emerged from the valley and carries the rather alpine valuation of about 6 times fiscal year sales. (Concur currently has an enterprise value of about $1.5bn, compared to the projection of about $250m in revenue in its current fiscal year, which wraps at the end of September.) A number of other software firms quietly (and not so quietly) envy Concur’s makeover – and how it has played on Wall Street. Shares of Concur, which spent much of 2001 at less than $1, closed at nearly $37 on Thursday.

Intalio gets its rollup rolling

Contact: Dennis Callaghan

Intalio’s open source rollup has finally started to roll. The company recently took the wraps off a deal it actually did earlier this month, picking up open source CRM software vendor CodeGlide. The acquirer, which has raised some $45m in venture funding, said earlier this year that it planned to do as many as 10 acquisitions over the next two years. (Intalio indicated that it was eyeing small firms with only a dozen or so employees. For its part, CodeGlide had only four employees, all of whom have gone over to Intalio.)

Intalio has wasted little time in making CodeGlide’s software available as Intalio CRM and it plans to eventually make components of this software available under the AGPL open source license. While we can think of more exciting markets than CRM that Intalio could have bought its way into, the deal nonetheless makes a lot of sense, particularly when viewed in light of its Intalio Cloud offering.

In the same breath that it announced the CodeGlide acquisition, Intalio unveiled Intalio Cloud, which is an IBM or Hewlett-Packard server appliance preloaded with Intalio’s applications – both business process management (BPM) and CRM – along with elastic compute and storage utilities. The box is designed to be the basis for companies’ internal private clouds and is available as a managed service offering. It also powers Intalio’s own on-demand wares. So why does this all make sense?

Combine CRM, BPM and cloud infrastructure and you have the main ingredients for becoming a true platform-as-a-service (PaaS) vendor. Intalio will be able to make both its BPM software and new CRM software available on demand and now has the technology to allow customers to build and/or customize their own business applications; it can offer this technology in the cloud or via private clouds. Successful PaaS initiatives – think LongJump and Salesforce.com – require not only good development tools but also an actual application platform that underlies these tools, which are then used for building customizations, mashups and process applications on top of the platform. Less-successful PaaS offerings like those from Coghead, whose technology was built on Intalio’s software, were separate from an underlying application platform and found it harder to deliver on their promise (at least until Coghead was acquired by SAP).

It may take Intalio a few months to deliver on its PaaS vision, but the company is starting to get the right tools in place. What’s next on its shopping list? We would guess a mashup vendor.

Bargains for SuccessFactors

Contact: Brenon Daly

Having organically built an on-demand business that cracked $100m in sales last year, SuccessFactors may be ready to do a bit of shopping. The switch comes a year after the human capital management (HCM) vendor told us that despite the company’s close ties to Jack Welch, it didn’t expect to do deals like the former General Electric chief executive.

But as valuations of smaller HCM players have been slashed, there may be some bargains out there that are too good to pass up, CFO Bruce Felt said recently. He added that the company has some $70m in cash and $33m in short-term investments. And in the fourth quarter of 2008, SuccessFactors generated operating cash flow for the first time, and the company indicated that would continue in 2009.

SuccessFactors would be looking to pick up technology, rather than make a large-scale consolidation move. (We would note that neither of the recent consolidation moves in the HCM market, Taleo’s $128.8m purchase of rival Vurv Technology and Kenexa’s $115m acquisition of BrassRing, has gone particularly well.) While SuccessFactors says it’s in the market, the company isn’t counting on deals to continue to boost its top line. It recently forecast 30% organic growth for this year. While that’s less than half as fast as it grew in 2008, it’s a pretty healthy clip during a recession.

Companies venture lightly into investments

Contact: Brenon Daly

A little more than a half-year after striking an initial partnership, Concur Technologies recently led the second round of a $4.6m funding for RideCharge, a startup that allows users to book and pay for taxis over mobile phones. John Torrey, Concur’s head of business development, told us the company, which provides an on-demand employee spending management offering, isn’t interested in being in the content business, so an acquisition wouldn’t have made sense. Concur, which holds some $210m in cash, has done three acquisitions but has been out of the market since mid-2007.

Concur’s investment comes despite a sharp tail-off in corporate VC in the years since the Bubble era. While several tech giants have continued to support their venture wings – including Intel, EMC and SAP, among others – most other companies have wound down their venture operations. And, based on our survey of corporate development officers late last year, they don’t expect to get back into the venture business. Some 36% said they planned to do fewer minority investments in 2009, compared to 22% who expect to do more investments this year.

‘Little brothers’ eyes get big

Contact: Brenon Daly

As virtually all investors are acutely aware, public companies get their valuations reset every trading day. And with the Nasdaq having been cut in half since the highs on the index in November 2007, those valuations are universally being reset lower. That has created a somewhat counterintuitive situation where public companies sometimes trade at a substantial discount to their privately held counterparts, despite typically being larger and certainly more liquid and transparent investments.

That pricing discrepancy has spurred some of the ‘little brothers’ to make runs at their publicly traded brethren. Last year, we saw HireRight taken private after a year on the Nasdaq by privately held US Investigations Services for $195m, or about twice the sales of the human capital management (HCM) vendor. On a larger scale, Sophos reached for German endpoint encryption vendor Utimaco in a private-public transaction last summer.

What other private company might be viewing the Nasdaq as a shopping list? We’ve heard that software-as-a-service (SaaS) roll-up nGenera recently ‘broadened its horizons’ to also include public companies. The vendor, which we understand did roughly $50m in sales in 2008, has raised some $50m from investors including Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, Foundation Capital and Oak Investment Partners. It has already inked six acquisitions.

Our understanding is that nGenera is looking to add HCM or even sales compensation management technology, which it sells as part of a larger on-demand offering. In addition to being attracted to the discount valuations of public companies, nGenera is also eyeing Nasdaq-listed targets because they are typically more mature than startups and would have more customers to add to nGenera’s existing roster of some 300 enterprise clients.

nGenera’s acquisition history

Announced Target Deal value Target description
May 21, 2008 Talisma Not disclosed SaaS customer service automation
March 5, 2008 Iconixx Not disclosed On-demand talent management HR software
November 29, 2007 New Paradigm Group Not disclosed Research company
October 3, 2007 Industrial Science Not disclosed Business simulation software
September 13, 2007 Kalivo Not disclosed On-demand collaboration provider
May 7, 2007 The Concours Group Not disclosed Research and executive education firm

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase

A SaaS-y deal

Contact: Brenon Daly

Given the rich premium that Wall Street awards to on-demand software companies, it’s no wonder that vendors still hawking software licenses are looking to get into the business of selling software as a service (Saas). Of course, there are many obstacles in making that transition, ranging from internal (how to compensate sales staff) to external (how to communicate to investors). As a result, most old-line software companies offer only a tiny bit of their products on-demand, if they do at all.

The few vendors that have seriously tried to transition to the on-demand model have used both organic and inorganic approaches. Concur Technologies largely stayed in-house to create a ‘for rent’ version of its expense account software. (Wall Street has rewarded the company with an eye-popping valuation of 5.5x trailing 12-month revenue.) Meanwhile, Ariba more than doubled the on-demand portion of its business when it spent $101m for SaaS supply chain vendor Procuri in September 2007.

We mention all this as a (long-winded) way of saying that we don’t understand why Callidus Software didn’t take home on-demand vendor Centive, which had been on the block for some months. Callidus has been selling its sales compensation management products as a service for about three years, with on-demand shoppers accounting for one-third of its 180 total customers. A year ago, it acquired a small SaaS vendor, Compensation Technologies, for $8.3m to bolster its transition efforts. One source indicated that publicly traded Callidus was initially interested in smaller rival Centive, but didn’t follow through. Instead, last week Centive and its estimated $10m in revenue went to fellow startup Xactly Corp in an all-equity consolidation play. Callidus making a run at Xactly probably won’t happen, for reasons both personal and financial.

For starters, Xactly is too expensive for Callidus, a money-losing company that holds some $39m in cash. An equity deal is probably off the table, given Callidus’ paltry valuation. Its enterprise value is just $46m, less than half the $105m in sales it likely recorded in 2008. (Callidus reports fourth-quarter earnings on Tuesday.) Beyond the money, there’s also the complicating factor that most of Xactly’s executives used to work at Callidus before setting off on their own with an eye to knocking out their former employer with their on-demand model. If indeed the two sides do ever start talking, we might suggest that a family therapist be on hand, in addition to the bankers and lawyers.

Big, happy family or favorite child?

For an executive who learned the ropes from Larry Ellison, Marc Benioff has adopted a very ‘un-Oracle-like’ approach to M&A. Since the company he founded, Salesforce.com, went public in mid-2004, Benioff has inked just five deals. The total shopping bill: less than $100m. Oracle, on the other hand, hardly touches a deal worth less than $100m. In the same four-year period that Salesforce.com has been public, Oracle has closed 45 deals with an announced value of more than $30bn.

Of course, the two companies are in very different stages of their lives, which goes a long way toward shaping their M&A activity. While Ellison and Oracle look to consolidate huge blocks of the software landscape, Benioff and Salesforce.com target tiny technology purchases that allow them to extend their on-demand offering to new markets. We saw that with Salesforce.com’s purchase last year of content management startup Koral, which had just nine employees. And on Wednesday, Salesforce.com announced its largest deal so far, spending $31m on call center software vendor InStranet.

But we would add another – perhaps less obvious – reason for the rather shallow deal flow at Salesforce.com. In many ways, the company is caught between shopping and partnering. In an effort to get a richer valuation, Salesforce.com has pushed Force.com and AppExchange as a way to be viewed as a platform company, rather than merely an applications vendor. (That effort got a big boost this week from Dell, which said it will be developing applications on the Force.com platform over the next three years.)

However, the very success of these efforts helps to explain why Salesforce.com has to keep its checkbook in its pocket when shopping. It can either focus on building out its platform or it can focus on deal-making – it can’t do both. By design, platforms are broad, open and inclusive, while M&A necessarily involves selecting one above all others. Benioff can’t pick a favorite child and expect to have a big, happy family.

To illustrate the dilemma, consider the situation concerning sales compensation, a line of business that’s a logical extension of Salesforce.com’s core CRM product and one the company could easily buy its way into. Indeed, there are already more than a half-dozen companies offering their sales compensation products on AppExchange. But imagine if Salesforce.com decided to buy one of the vendors, say Xactly Corp. Obviously, that purchase would alienate AppExchange rivals like Centive and Callidus Software, which would probably pull their offerings from AppExchange the day the deal was announced. Salesforce.com may well make up that immediate loss of revenue down the line. But as indicated by Wall Street’s brutal reaction Thursday to the company’s second-quarter report, it’s best not to tamper with the top line.

Salesforce.com: an unwilling buyer

Announced Target Deal value Target description
Aug. 2008 InStranet $31.5m Customer service automation
Oct. 2007 CrispyNews Not disclosed Community news, website development
April 2007 Koral $7m* Web content management
Aug. 2006 Kieden Not disclosed Search engine marketing management
April 2006 Sendia $15m Wireless application developer

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