Star-crossed companies?

Having already made a pair of profitable on-demand investments, venture firm StarVest Partners has decided to take a larger bite in its most recent software-as-a-service (SaaS) deal. The New York City-based firm recently led the majority acquisition of Iron Solutions, which provides online information about used farm and industrial machinery. (Want to buy a John Deere tractor? There are nearly 2,900 of them for sale on the Iron Solutions site.) StarVest put up $8.5m of the $15m for 90% of Iron Solutions, with the remaining money coming from Dublin Capital Partners, Spring Mountain Capital and GVIC Communications.

The deal caught our eye because StarVest was also an early investor in NetSuite, owning 5% of the company according to the S-1 filed ahead of NetSuite’s IPO in 2007. (StarVest’s other SaaS exit came when Dell paid $155m in cash for portfolio company MessageOne, an on-demand email archiving company run by Michael Dell’s brother.)

StarVest’s interest in NetSuite dates back to May 2000, when it led a Series C investment in the SaaS applications suite vendor together with Oracle head honcho Larry Ellison. (Ellison, of course, is the co-founder and majority owner of NetSuite.) Iron Solutions and NetSuite teamed up in October 2007 to provide industry-specific applications for agricultural equipment dealerships, and the on-demand player often uses that example to illustrate how its software can be tailored to a specific industry.

Does StarVest’s simplification of the capital structure at Iron Solutions make a sale more likely, perhaps making the firm a broker in a deal between a pair of portfolio companies? (We would note that Oak Investment Partners recently played matchmaker in an inter-portfolio marriage of two SaaS companies.)

Speculation about a possible purchase of Iron Solutions by NetSuite may be a bit of a stretch. However, it’s worth noting that NetSuite’s only acquisition so far has been a vertical deal: the $31m purchase of OpenAir, which helped boost NetSuite’s services industry expertise.

Perhaps NetSuite could broaden the focus of Iron Solutions’ online marketplace, appraisal and valuation services to a much wider market. The applications vendor has already begun to offer applications tailored for light manufacturing and has voiced a desire to add in heavy manufacturing in the future. If it’s serious about those moves, NetSuite may well find that Iron Solutions’ equipment marketplace and other know-how come in handy. The two sides, and their backers, certainly know each other well enough.

Selected StarVest exits

Company Event
MessageOne Sale to Dell for $155m
NetSuite IPO in December 2007

Proofpoint buys Fortiva, expands into email archiving

After a courtship that lasted the better part of a year, on-demand security provider Proofpoint finally picked up software-as-a-service email archiving startup Fortiva this week. Based on similar transactions and industry buzz, we estimate this tuck-in acquisition cost Proofpoint somewhere in the neighborhood of $70m. Fortiva, which has 45 employees, was running at about $15-20m in revenue from about 200 enterprise customers. This marks a solid exit for the company’s venture backers, Cargill Ventures, Ventures West and McLean Watson Capital, which only pumped $8m into Fortiva.

The interesting question sparked by this transaction is what’s next for Proofpoint, which is now up to 250 employees. Though some have suggested the company has now effectively dressed itself up as an acquisition target, we believe otherwise. We think an IPO will represent the next major milestone for the company. (In wrap-up of April’s RSA conference, we said as much, adding that an acquisition by Proofpoint was likely in the next few months.)

Proofpoint has drawn in some $86m in funding since its inception in 2002, including a $28m round in February, even though it was running at close to breakeven. With more than 1,600 customers, bookings are up 70% on a year-over-year basis for 2008. The growth comes despite stiff competition. Google, Cisco and Autonomy Corp made a big push into the market last year with their respective acquisitions of Postini, IronPort Systems and Zantaz.

Yet, Proofpoint has held its own against these larger vendors, even recruiting a few high-ranking employees from Postini, we’ve heard. Speaking of hiring at Proofpoint, we would also highlight last year’s move to bring Paul Auvil on board as CFO. Auvil served as the top numbers guy at VMware, guiding that company from the tens of millions of dollars in revenue to hundreds of millions of dollars. Of course, that company never made it fully public. We have a feeling Auvil may yet have a chance to be CFO at a public company, given the direction of Proofpoint.

Select on-demand security deals

Announced Acquirer Target Deal value Target revenue
July 9, 2007 Google Postini $625m $70m*
July 3, 2007 Autonomy Zantaz $375m Not available
May 14, 2007 Verizon Business Cybertrust $450m* $225m*
April 26, 2007 Websense SurfControl $400m $220m
Jan. 4, 2007 Cisco IronPort $830m $100m*
May 19, 2004 Symantec Brightmail $370m $26m

Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase, * official 451 Group estimates

An Oak accord

Oak Investment Partners has finally helped broker a marriage for portfolio company Talisma – a full half-decade after the startup stumbled on its way down the aisle. In both cases, however, it isn’t exactly clear whether the investment firm should be sitting on the bride’s side or the groom’s side at the wedding. In fact, Oak would have a seat on both sides of the aisle.

In this go-round for Talisma, Oak’s late-March investment of $50m in nGenera helped the SaaS rollup add Talisma to its portfolio. If the strategy sounds familiar, it’s because Oak, which owns a majority of Talisma, had a nearly identical plan for the CRM vendor in late 2003. In that case, Oak wanted to stitch together Talisma with fellow portfolio company Pivotal Corp, in a deal that valued publicly traded Pivotal at $48m. Just as that deal was heading toward a vote, however, two other companies outbid Oak for Pivotal. (First, it was Onyx Software, then it was CDC Software. Of course, those companies would go at it again three years later when CDC tried to spoil the purchase of Onyx by Consona, which was then known as M2M Holdings.)

What exactly Oak plans to do with its newly enlarged portfolio company, nGenera, is anyone’s guess. However, it could do a lot worse than follow the strategy of Consona, which was taken private by Battery Ventures. Since the LBO, we understand Battery has pulled out something like six times its money from the CRM rollup, which is still rolling along. Maybe nGenera will serve as Oak’s enterprise SaaS rollup. The company has already done six deals – and counting. 

nGenera’s (fka BSG Alliance) acquisitive 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
Oct. 3, 2007 Industrial Science Not disclosed Business simulation software
Nov. 29, 2007 New Paradigm Not disclosed Research company
Sept. 13, 2007 Kalivo Not disclosed On-demand collaboration provider
May 7, 2007 The Concours Group Not disclosed Research and executive education firm