Apr
21
2018
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Pivotal CEO talks IPO and balancing life in Dell family of companies

Pivotal has kind of a strange role for a company. On one hand its part of the EMC federation companies that Dell acquired in 2016 for a cool $67 billion, but it’s also an independently operated entity within that broader Dell family of companies — and that has to be a fine line to walk.

Whatever the challenges, the company went public yesterday and joined VMware as a  separately traded company within Dell. CEO Rob Mee says the company took the step of IPOing because it wanted additional capital.

“I think we can definitely use the capital to invest in marketing and R&D. The wider technology ecosystem is moving quickly. It does take additional investment to keep up,” Mee told TechCrunch just a few hours after his company rang the bell at the New York Stock Exchange.

As for that relationship of being a Dell company, he said that Michael Dell let him know early on after the EMC acquisition that he understood the company’s position. “From the time Dell acquired EMC, Michael was clear with me: You run the company. I’m just here to help. Dell is our largest shareholder, but we run independently. There have been opportunities to test that [since the acquisition] and it has held true,” Mee said.

Mee says that independence is essential because Pivotal has to remain technology-agnostic and it can’t favor Dell products and services over that mission. “It’s necessary because our core product is a cloud-agnostic platform. Our core value proposition is independence from any provider — and Dell and VMware are infrastructure providers,” he said.

That said, Mee also can play both sides because he can build products and services that do align with Dell and VMware offerings. “Certainly the companies inside the Dell family are customers of ours. Michael Dell has encouraged the IT group to adopt our methods and they are doing so,” he said. They have also started working more closely with VMware, announcing a container partnership last year.

Photo: Ron Miller

Overall though he sees his company’s mission in much broader terms, doing nothing less than helping the world’s largest companies transform their organizations. “Our mission is to transform how the world builds software. We are focused on the largest organizations in the world. What is a tailwind for us is that the reality is these large companies are at a tipping point of adopting how they digitize and develop software for strategic advantage,” Mee said.

The stock closed up 5 percent last night, but Mee says this isn’t about a single day. “We do very much focus on the long term. We have been executing to a quarterly cadence and have behaved like a public company inside Pivotal [even before the IPO]. We know how to do that while keeping an eye on the long term,” he said.

Apr
16
2018
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Utah’s Pluralsight unveils IPO filing

Pluralsight, the Utah-based education technology company, has revealed its IPO filing. 

Given the timing of the unveiling, the company is likely targeting a May public debut.

Its core business is online software development courses, helping people improve their skills in categories like IT, data and security. Businesses small and large pay Pluralsight to help train their employees. It also has offerings for individual subscribers.

In the filing, the company acknowledges that it is a competitive landscape, and names Cornerstone OnDemand, Udacity, Udemy, LinkedIn Learning as others in a comparable market. It also mentions General Assembly, which was recently acquired by Adecco for $413 million. 

This is the first glimpse we get at Pluralsight’s financials. For 2017, the company brought in $166.8 million in revenue, up from $131.8 million in 2016 and $108.4 million in 2015.

Losses are growing, however. This is partly due to a sizeable increase in sales and marketing expenditures. For 2017, the company lost $96.5 million. This is up from losses of $20.6 million in 2016 and $26.4 million in 2015.

Pluralsight has been around since 2004. Like many startups outside of the San Francisco Bay Area, the company bootstrapped its business and didn’t raise significant outside funding until 2013. Pluralsight previously raised nearly $200 million in financing.

The largest shareholder is Insight Venture Partners, which owned 46.1 percent of the shares prior to the IPO, an unusually high percentage. Co-founder and CEO Aaron Skonnard owned 13.4 percent and investment group ICONIQ owned 8.1 percent.

Morgan Stanley and J.P. Morgan served as lead underwriters. Wilson Sonsini and Goodwin Procter served as counsel.

Pluralsight plans to list on the Nasdaq under the ticker “PS.”

A provision in the JOBS Act from 2012 helped make it so that companies could file confidentially and then reveal financials and other business information just weeks before making public debuts. This helps companies avoid too much scrutiny in the months leading up to an IPO. There is also a quiet period in this time, meaning that companies are limited in what they can say publicly about their businesses.

Like most tech companies, Pluralsight chose to take advantage of this confidential filing provision. But it also announced that it filed, something that companies don’t usually do. Most choose to stay quiet about IPO plans until they make the filings public, unless reporters break the news first.

It was no surprise to those who have been following Utah’s tech scene that Pluralsight is planning to list on the stock market this year. The venture-backed “unicorn” has been a late-stage company for several years now, with a reported valuation of $1 billion as of 2014. 

After a slow first couple of months, there has been a flurry of tech IPO activity in recent weeks. DropboxSpotify and Zuora recently debuted. Pivotal, Smartsheet and Carbon Black are amongst the companies expected to list in the coming weeks.

 

Apr
13
2018
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Zuora’s IPO is another step in golden age of enterprise SaaS

Zuroa’s founder and CEO Tien Tzuo had a vision of a subscription economy long before most people ever considered the notion. He knew that for companies to succeed with subscriptions, they needed a bookkeeping system that understood how they collected and reported money. The company went public yesterday, another clear sign post on the road to SaaS maturation.

Tzuo was an early employee at Salesforce and their first CMO. He worked there in the early days in the late 90s when Salesforce’s Marc Benioff famously rented an apartment to launch the company. Tzuo was at Salesforce 9 years, and it helped him understand the nature of subscription-based businesses like Salesforce.

“We created a great environment for building, marketing and delivering software. We rewrote the rules, the way it was built, marketed and sold,” Tzuo told me in an interview in 2016.

He saw a fundamental problem with traditional accounting methods, which were designed for selling a widget and declaring the revenue. A subscription was an entirely different model and it required a new way to track revenue and communicate with customers. Tzuo took the long view when he started his company in early 2007, leaving a secure job at a growing company like Salesforce.

He did it because he had the vision, long before anyone else, that SaaS companies would require a subscription bookkeeping system, but before long, so would other unrelated businesses.

Building a subscription system

As he put it in that 2016 interview, if you commit to pay me $1 for 10 years, you know that $1 was coming in come hell or high water, that’s $10 I know I’m getting, but I can’t declare the money until I get it. That recurring revenue still has value though because my investors know that I’m secure for 10 years, even though it’s not on the books yet. That’s where Zuora came in. It could account for that recurring revenue when nobody else could. What’s more, it could track the billing over time, and send out reminders, help the companies stay engaged with their customers.

Photo: Lukas Kurka/Getty Images

As Ray Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research put it, they pioneered the whole idea of a subscription economy, and not just for SaaS companies. Over the last several years, we’ve heard companies talking about selling services and SLAs (service/uptime agreements) instead of a one-time sale of an item, but not that long ago it wasn’t something a lot of companies were thinking about.

“They pioneered how companies can think about monetization,” Wang said. “So large companies like a GE could go from selling a wind turbine one time to selling a subscription to deliver a certain number of Kw/hr of green energy at peak hours from 1 to 5 pm with 98 percent uptime.” There wasn’t any way to do this before Zuora came along.

Jason Lemkin, founder at SaaStr, a firm that invests in SaaS startups, says Tzuo was a genuine visionary and helped create the underlying system for SaaS subscriptions to work. “The most interesting part of Zuora is that it is a “second” order SaaS play. It could only thrive once SaaS became mainstream, and could only scale on top of other recurring revenue businesses. Zuora started off as a niche player helping SaaS companies do billing, and it dramatically expanded and thrived as SaaS became … Software.”

Market catches up with idea

When he launched the company in 2007, perhaps he saw that extension of his idea out on the distant horizon. He certainly saw companies like Salesforce needing a service like the one he had decided to create. The early investors must have recognized that his vision was early and it would take a slow, steady climb on the way to exiting. It took 11 years and $242 million in venture capital before they saw the payoff. The revenue after 11 years was a reported $167 million. There is plenty of room to grow.

But yesterday the company had its initial public offering, and it was by any measure a huge success. According TechCrunch’s Katie Roof, “After pricing its IPO at $14 and raising $154 million, the company closed at $20, valuing the company around $2 billion.” Today it was up a bit more as of this writing.

When you consider the Tzuo’s former company has become a $10 billion company, that companies like Box, Zendesk, Workday and Dropbox have all gone public, and others like DocuSign and Smartsheets are not far behind, it’s pretty clear that we are in a golden age of SaaS — and chances are it’s only going to get better.

Apr
03
2018
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InVision acquires design visibility tool Wake

InVision, the NY-based design platform focused on collaboration, has today announced the acquisition of Wake.

Wake is a design tool focused squarely on supporting design visibility throughout a particular organization. Wake allows companies to share design assets and view work in progress as designers build out their screens, logos, or other designs. Design team leaders, or other higher-ups at the company, can upvote certain design projects or give feedback on specific tweaks.

InVision CEO Clark Valberg said that one of the most attractive features of Wake is that sharing on the Wake platform was implicit, rather than on InVision where designers have to take an extra step to upload their prototypes on InVision.

Wake will continue to operate independently within InVision, and Valberg has plans to integrate some of the Wake tools into the InVision core product. Moreover, as part of the deal, Wake will be introducing a free tier.

“We’re in the midst of a shift,” said CEO Clark Valberg. “The screen is the most important place in the world. Every company is now a digital product company. The world of design is growing and the Wake product represents a very interesting philosophical vector of that market.”

The entire Wake team will join InVision. Wake was founded in 2013 by Chris Kalani and Johan Bakken, with a customer list that includes Capital One, Spotify, Palantir, Stripe, and Airbnb. In fact, InVision’s Valberg said that Wake’s customer overlap with InVision was one of the first things that alerted InVision to Wake.

Wake has raised a total of $3.8 million, with investments from First Round and Designer Fund.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Mar
07
2018
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S&P Global snares Kensho for $550 million

S&P Global announced today that it will acquire Kensho, a Cambridge, Massachusetts startup that has concentrated on artificial intelligence and analytics for big financial institutions. The total value of the deal is $550 million in a mix of cash and stock.

Kensho, which counted S&P Global as a client/partner and an investor, launched in 2013 and has raised $67.5 million, according to Crunchbase. The most recent funding round was in fact led by S&P Global for $50 million in February 2017. They apparently liked Kensho so much, they bought the company.

“In just a short amount of time, Kensho’s intuitive platforms, sophisticated algorithms and machine learning capabilities have established a wide following throughout Wall Street and the technology world,” S&P global president and CEO Douglas Peterson said in a statement announcing the deal.

The company doesn’t have small goals. Its stated mission involves solving some of the biggest analytical problems of our time — no pressure or anything. In additional to financial services, the company also has a division called Koto, which concentrates on national security.

As you would expect in a deal like this, Kensho sees S&P Global providing it with financial resources it couldn’t provide alone through conventional funding channels. To solve those big artificial intelligence problems requires world-class engineers, and that requires an owner or investor with deep pockets. They got that with today’s announcement.

The good news for Kensho and its customers is that S&P Global intends to mostly leave it alone and let it do what it’s been doing. It will continue to operate as an independent brand out of its Cambridge offices.

Per usual, the deal is going to be subject to regulatory approval before it closes, but it’s not every day you have a company be your client, your investor and your owner, but that’s what happened to Kensho today as it scored the investment hat trick.

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