Mar
03
2021
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As activist investors loom, what’s next for Box?

Box could be facing troubled times if a Reuters story from last week is accurate. Activist investor Starboard Value took a 7.9% stake in the storage company in September 2019, and a year ago took three board seats as its involvement in the cloud company deepened. It seemed only a matter of time before another shoe dropped.

Activist investor Starboard Value is reportedly after three additional board seats.

That thunk you just heard could be said shoe as Starboard is reportedly after three additional board seats. Those include current CEO Aaron Levie’s and two independent board members, all of whom have their seats coming up for election in June. If the firm were to obtain three additional seats, it would control six of nine votes and could have its way with Box.

What could the future hold for the company given this development (assuming it’s true)? It seems changes are coming for Box.

Below, we’ll explore how Box got to this point. And if an acquisition is in Box’s future, just who might be in the market for a cloud-native content management company built to scale in the enterprise? There would very likely be multiple suitors.

Box’s fickle financial fate

Starboard may have reason to be frustrated by Box’s performance. The cloud company’s stock price and market cap remain stubbornly low. Its share price is mired around $18 a share, not much higher than the price it went public at in 2015 when it was valued at $14 per share. Its market cap today is $3 billion, which is lacking in comparison to fellow cloud stalwarts like Dropbox at $9 billion, Slack at $23 billion or Okta at $34 billion.

Remember back in March 2014 when Box announced it was going public? It then did something highly unusual, delaying the deed 10 months until January 2015. One thing or another kept the company from pulling the trigger and just doing it. Perhaps it was a sign.

Instead, Box raised $150 million more after its S-1 filing received a lackluster response from the market. Looking back, you could argue that the SaaS model was simply less well known in 2014 than it is today. Certainly public investors are more sympathetic to software companies that run deficits in the name of growth than they were back then.

But when Box did file again, finally pricing at $14 per share in 2015, it received a strong welcome. The company had priced above its $11 to $13 per-share IPO range as TechCrunch reported at the time and instantly shot higher. We wrote on its IPO day that the cloud company quickly “surged to over $20 a share and [was then] trading at $23.67.”

A year later, our continuing coverage had flipped with the share price stuck at $10 in January 2016.

When growth won’t come

Feb
25
2021
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Why F5 spent $2.2B on 3 companies to focus on cloud native applications

It’s essential for older companies to recognize changes in the marketplace or face the brutal reality of being left in the dust. F5 is an old-school company that launched back in the 90s, yet has been able to transform a number of times in its history to avoid major disruption. Over the last two years, the company has continued that process of redefining itself, this time using a trio of acquisitions — NGINX, Shape Security and Volterra — totaling $2.2 billion to push in a new direction.

While F5 has been associated with applications management for some time, it recognized that the way companies developed and managed applications was changing in a big way with the shift to Kubernetes, microservices and containerization. At the same time, applications have been increasingly moving to the edge, closer to the user. The company understood that it needed to up its game in these areas if it was going to keep up with customers.

Taken separately, it would be easy to miss that there was a game plan behind the three acquisitions, but together they show a company with a clear opinion of where they want to go next. We spoke to F5 president and CEO François Locoh-Donou to learn why he bought these companies and to figure out the method in his company’s acquisition spree madness.

Looking back, looking forward

F5, which was founded in 1996, has found itself at a number of crossroads in its long history, times where it needed to reassess its position in the market. A few years ago it found itself at one such juncture. The company had successfully navigated the shift from physical appliance to virtual, and from data center to cloud. But it also saw the shift to cloud native on the horizon and it knew it had to be there to survive and thrive long term.

“We moved from just keeping applications performing to actually keeping them performing and secure. Over the years, we have become an application delivery and security company. And that’s really how F5 grew over the last 15 years,” said Locoh-Donou.

Today the company has over 18,000 customers centered in enterprise verticals like financial services, healthcare, government, technology and telecom. He says that the focus of the company has always been on applications and how to deliver and secure them, but as they looked ahead, they wanted to be able to do that in a modern context, and that’s where the acquisitions came into play.

As F5 saw it, applications were becoming central to their customers’ success and their IT departments were expending too many resources connecting applications to the cloud and keeping them secure. So part of the goal for these three acquisitions was to bring a level of automation to this whole process of managing modern applications.

“Our view is you fast forward five or 10 years, we are going to move to a world where applications will become adaptive, which essentially means that we are going to bring automation to the security and delivery and performance of applications, so that a lot of that stuff gets done in a more native and automated way,” Locoh-Donou said.

As part of this shift, the company saw customers increasingly using microservices architecture in their applications. This means instead of delivering a large monolithic application, developers were delivering them in smaller pieces inside containers, making it easier to manage, deploy and update.

At the same time, it saw companies needing a new way to secure these applications as they shifted from data center to cloud to the edge. And finally, that shift to the edge would require a new way to manage applications.

Feb
22
2021
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Winning enterprise sales teams know how to persuade the Chief Objection Officer

Many enterprise software startups at some point have faced the invisible wall. For months, your sales team has done everything right. They’ve met with a prospect several times, provided them with demos, free trials, documentation and references, and perhaps even signed a provisional contract.

The stars are all aligned and then, suddenly, the deal falls apart. Someone has put the kibosh on the entire project. Who is this deal-blocker and what can software companies do to identify, support and convince this person to move forward with a contract?

I call this person the Chief Objection Officer.

Who is this deal-blocker and what can software companies do to identify, support and convince this person to move forward with a contract?

Most software companies spend a lot of time and effort identifying their potential buyers and champions within an organization. They build personas and do targeted marketing to these individuals and then fine-tune their products to meet their needs. These targets may be VPs of engineering, data leaders, CTOs, CISOs, CMOs or anyone else with decision-making authority. But what most software companies neglect to do during this exploratory phase is to identify the person who may block the entire deal.

This person is the anti-champion with the power to scuttle a potential partnership. Like your potential deal-makers, these deal-breakers can have any title with decision-making power. Chief Objection Officers aren’t simply potential buyers who end up deciding your product is not the right fit, but are instead blockers-in-chief who can make departmentwide or companywide decisions. Thus, it’s critical for software companies to identify the Chief Objection Officers that might block deals and, then, address their concerns.

So how do you identify the Chief Objection Officer? The trick is to figure out the main pain points that arise for companies when considering deploying your solution, and then walk backward to figure out which person these challenges impact the most. Here are some common pain points that your potential customers may face when considering your product.

Change is hard. Never underestimate the power of the status quo. Does implementing your product in one part of an organization, such as IT, force another department, such as HR, to change how they do their daily jobs?

Think about which leaders will be most reluctant to make changes; these Chief Objection Officers will likely not be your buyers, but instead the heads of departments most impacted by the implementation of your software. For example, a marketing team may love the ad targeting platform they use and thus a CMO will balk at new database software that would limit or change the way customer segment data is collected. Or field sales would object to new security infrastructure software that makes it harder for them to access the company network from their phones. The head of the department that will bear the brunt of change will often be a Chief Objection Officer.

Is someone’s job on the line?

Another common pain point when deploying a new software solution is that one or more jobs may become obsolete once it’s up and running. Perhaps your software streamlines and outsources most of a company’s accounts payable processes. Maybe your SaaS solution will replace an on-premise homegrown one that a team of developers has built and nurtured for years.

Feb
18
2021
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Why do SaaS companies with usage-based pricing grow faster?

Today we know of HubSpot — the maker of marketing, sales and service software products — as a preeminent public company with a market cap above $17 billion. But HubSpot wasn’t always on the IPO trajectory.

For its first five years in business, HubSpot offered three subscription packages ranging in price from $3,000 to $18,000 per year. The company struggled with poor churn and anemic expansion revenue. Net revenue retention was near 70%, a far cry from the 100%+ that most SaaS companies aim to achieve.

Something needed to change. So in 2011, they introduced usage-based pricing. As customers used the software to generate more leads, they would proportionally increase their spend with HubSpot.  This pricing change allowed HubSpot to share in the success of its customers.

In a usage-based model, expansion “just happens” as customers are successful.

By the time HubSpot went public in 2014, net revenue retention had jumped to nearly 100% — all without hurting the company’s ability to acquire new customers.

HubSpot isn’t an outlier. Public SaaS companies that have adopted usage-based pricing grow faster because they’re better at landing new customers, growing with them and keeping them as customers.

Image Credits: Kyle Poyar

Widen the top of the funnel

In a usage-based model, a company doesn’t get paid until after the customer has adopted the product. From the customer’s perspective, this means that there’s no risk to try before they buy. Products like Snowflake and Google Cloud Platform take this a step further and even offer $300+ in free usage credits for new developers to test drive their products.

Many of these free users won’t become profitable — and that’s okay. Like a VC firm, usage-based companies are making a portfolio of bets. Some of those will pay off spectacularly — and the company will directly share in that success.

Top-performing companies open up the top of the funnel by making it free to sign up for their products. They invest in a frictionless customer onboarding experience and high-quality support so that new users get hooked on the platform. As more new users become active, there’s a stronger foundation for future customer growth.

Feb
09
2021
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Is overseeing cloud operations the new career path to CEO?

When Amazon announced last week that founder and CEO Jeff Bezos planned to step back from overseeing operations and shift into an executive chairman role, it also revealed that AWS CEO Andy Jassy, head of the company’s profitable cloud division, would replace him.

As Bessemer partner Byron Deeter pointed out on Twitter, Jassy’s promotion was similar to Satya Nadella’s ascent at Microsoft: in 2014, he moved from executive VP in charge of Azure to the chief exec’s office. Similarly, Arvind Krishna, who was promoted to replace Ginni Rometti as IBM CEO last year, also was formerly head of the company’s cloud business.

Could Nadella’s successful rise serve as a blueprint for Amazon as it makes a similar transition? While there are major differences in the missions of these companies, it’s inevitable that we will compare these two executives based on their former jobs. It’s true that they have an awful lot in common, but there are some stark differences, too.

Replacing a legend

For starters, Jassy is taking over for someone who founded one of the world’s biggest corporations. Nadella replaced Steve Ballmer, who had taken over for the company’s face, Bill Gates. Holger Mueller, an analyst at Constellation Research, says this notable difference could have a huge impact for Jassy with his founder boss still looking over his shoulder.

“There’s a lot of similarity in the two situations, but Satya was a little removed from the founder Gates. Bezos will always hover and be there, whereas Gates (and Ballmer) had retired for good. [ … ] It was clear [they] would not be coming back. [ … ] For Jassy, the owner could [conceivably] come back anytime,” Mueller said.

But Andrew Bartels, an analyst at Forrester Research, says it’s not a coincidence that both leaders were plucked from the cloud divisions of their respective companies, even if it was seven years apart.

“In both cases, these hyperscale business units of Microsoft and Amazon were the fastest-growing and best-performing units of the companies. [ … ] In both cases, cloud infrastructure was seen as a platform on top of which and around which other cloud offerings could be developed,” Bartels said. The companies both believe that the leaders of these two growth engines were best suited to lead the company into the future.

Feb
08
2021
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Container security acquisitions increase as companies accelerate shift to cloud

Last week, another container security startup came off the board when Rapid7 bought Alcide for $50 million. The purchase is part of a broader trend in which larger companies are buying up cloud-native security startups at a rapid clip. But why is there so much M&A action in this space now?

Palo Alto Networks was first to the punch, grabbing Twistlock for $410 million in May 2019. VMware struck a year later, snaring Octarine. Cisco followed with PortShift in October and Red Hat snagged StackRox last month before the Rapid7 response last week.

This is partly because many companies chose to become cloud-native more quickly during the pandemic. This has created a sharper focus on security, but it would be a mistake to attribute the acquisition wave strictly to COVID-19, as companies were shifting in this direction pre-pandemic.

It’s also important to note that security startups that cover a niche like container security often reach market saturation faster than companies with broader coverage because customers often want to consolidate on a single platform, rather than dealing with a fragmented set of vendors and figuring out how to make them all work together.

Containers provide a way to deliver software by breaking down a large application into discrete pieces known as microservices. These are packaged and delivered in containers. Kubernetes provides the orchestration layer, determining when to deliver the container and when to shut it down.

This level of automation presents a security challenge, making sure the containers are configured correctly and not vulnerable to hackers. With myriad switches this isn’t easy, and it’s made even more challenging by the ephemeral nature of the containers themselves.

Yoav Leitersdorf, managing partner at YL Ventures, an Israeli investment firm specializing in security startups, says these challenges are driving interest in container startups from large companies. “The acquisitions we are seeing now are filling gaps in the portfolio of security capabilities offered by the larger companies,” he said.

Feb
05
2021
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Lightspeed’s Gaurav Gupta and Grafana’s Raj Dutt discuss pitch decks, pricing and how to nail the narrative

Before he was a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, Gaurav Gupta had his eye on Grafana Labs, the company that supports open-source analytics platform Grafana. But Raj Dutt, Grafana’s co-founder and CEO, played hard to get.

This week on Extra Crunch Live, the duo explained how they came together for Grafana’s Series A — and eventually, its Series B. They also walked us through Grafana’s original Series A pitch deck before Gupta shared the aspects that stood out to him and how he communicated those points to the broader partnership at Lightspeed.

Gupta and Dutt also offered feedback on pitch decks submitted by audience members and shared their thoughts about what makes a great founder presentation, pulling back the curtain on how VCs actually consume pitch decks.

We’ve included highlights below as well as the full video of our conversation.

We record new episodes of Extra Crunch Live each Wednesday at 12 p.m. PST/3 p.m. EST/8 p.m. GMT. Check out the February schedule here.

Episode breakdown:

  • How they met — 2:20
  • Grafana’s early pitch deck — 12:25
  • The enterprise ecosystem — 26:00
  • The pitch deck teardown — 33:00

How they met

As soon as Gupta joined Lightspeed in June 2019, he began pursuing Dutt and Grafana Labs. He texted, called and emailed, but he got little to no response. Eventually, he made plans to go meet the team in Stockholm but, even then, Dutt wasn’t super responsive.

The pair told the story with smiles on their faces. Dutt said that not only was he disorganized and not entirely sure of his own travel plans to see his co-founder in Stockholm, Grafana wasn’t even raising. Still, Gupta persisted and eventually sent a stern email.

“At one point, I was like ‘Raj, forget it. This isn’t working’,” recalled Gupta. “And suddenly he woke up.” Gupta added that he got mad, which “usually does not work for VCs, by the way, but in this case, it kind of worked.”

When they finally met, they got along. Dutt said they were able to talk shop due to Gupta’s experience inside organizations like Splunk and Elastic. Gupta described the trip as a whirlwind, where time just flew by.

“One of the reasons that I liked Gaurav is that he was a new VC,” explained Dutt. “So to me, he seemed like one of the most non-VC VCs I’d ever met. And that was actually quite attractive.”

To this day, Gupta and Dutt don’t have weekly standing meetings. Instead, they speak several times a week, conversing organically about industry news, Grafana’s products and the company’s overall trajectory.

Grafana’s early pitch deck

Dutt shared Grafana’s pre-Series A pitch deck — which he actually sent to Gupta and Lightspeed before they met — with the Extra Crunch Live audience. But as we know now, it was the conversations that Dutt and Gupta had (eventually) that provided the spark for that deal.

Jan
29
2021
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Subscription-based pricing is dead: Smart SaaS companies are shifting to usage-based models

Software buying has evolved. The days of executives choosing software for their employees based on IT compatibility or KPIs are gone. Employees now tell their boss what to buy. This is why we’re seeing more and more SaaS companies — Datadog, Twilio, AWS, Snowflake and Stripe, to name a few — find success with a usage-based pricing model.

The usage-based model allows a customer to start at a low cost, while still preserving the ability to monetize a customer over time.

The usage-based model allows a customer to start at a low cost, minimizing friction to getting started while still preserving the ability to monetize a customer over time because the price is directly tied with the value a customer receives. Not limiting the number of users who can access the software, customers are able to find new use cases — which leads to more long-term success and higher lifetime value.

While we aren’t going 100% usage-based overnight, looking at some of the megatrends in software —  automation, AI and APIs — the value of a product normally doesn’t scale with more logins. Usage-based pricing will be the key to successful monetization in the future. Here are four top tips to help companies scale to $100+ million ARR with this model.

1. Land-and-expand is real

Usage-based pricing is in all layers of the tech stack. Though it was pioneered in the infrastructure layer (think: AWS and Azure), it’s becoming increasingly popular for API-based products and application software — across infrastructure, middleware and applications.

API-based products and appliacation software – across infrastructure, middleware and applications.

Image Credits: Kyle Poyar / OpenView

Some fear that investors will hate usage-based pricing because customers aren’t locked into a subscription. But, investors actually see it as a sign that customers are seeing value from a product and there’s no shelf-ware.

In fact, investors are increasingly rewarding usage-based companies in the market. Usage-based companies are trading at a 50% revenue multiple premium over their peers.

Investors especially love how the usage-based pricing model pairs with the land-and-expand business model. And of the IPOs over the last three years, seven of the nine that had the best net dollar retention all have a usage-based model. Snowflake in particular is off the charts with a 158% net dollar retention.

Jan
28
2021
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After soaring above $23B, Qualtrics’ founder and CEO reflect on a stellar debut

Amidst all of the the sturm und drang of l’affaire GameStop, Qualtrics went public today.

After pricing its stock above its raised IPO range, the company received a warm welcome from public investors. After starting its trading life worth $41.85, Qualtrics closed the day worth $45.50, up some 51.67%.

Qualtrics did everything that it said it was going to.

The software company’s debut comes after a lengthy path to the public markets; Qualtrics sold to SAP on the eve of its first run at a public listing back in 2018. Now, SAP has completed spinning the company out, though the software giant remains the Utah unicorn’s largest shareholder.

That Qualtrics’ IPO might perform well was presaged in its pricing run, having prices far above its initial valuation estimates; there was evidence of strong demand even before its shares started to trade.

But did Qualtrics misprice, given its strong first-day performance? TechCrunch spoke with Qualtrics CEO Zig Serafin, and its founder and current executive chairman Ryan Smith about its public offering, hoping to learn a bit about what is next for the company.

Pricing, plans

Having spoken to myriad folks on IPO days, I’ve learned the best way to kick off is to ask about emotions. Most CEOs and other execs are tied up in what they can (and cannot) say. And they are well-trained by communications experts regarding what to repeat and emphasize. You can sometimes loosen them up a little, however, by asking them how they feel.

In response to that question, Serafin described a feeling of gratitude and Smith brought up the long game. Qualtrics, he said, had been told that it couldn’t bootstrap, that it couldn’t build in Utah, that SAP had overpaid, that SAP had messed up and so forth.

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