Jun
01
2021
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Cloudera to go private as KKR & CD&R grab it for $5.3B

Cloudera was once one of the hottest Hadoop startups, but over time the shine has come off that market, and today it went private as KKR and Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, a pair of private equity firms, announced they intended to purchase Cloudera for $5.3 billion. The company has a market cap of around $3.7 billion.

Cloudera and Hortonworks, two key startups in the Hadoop space, merged in 2018 for $5.2 billion. Cloudera was likely under pressure from activist investor Carl Icahn, who took an 18% stake in the company in 2019 and now stands to gain from the sale, which the company stated represented a 24% premium for shareholders at $16 a share. Prior to the market opening this morning, the stock was sitting at $12.86.

Back in the day, about a decade ago, when Hadoop was the way to process big data, venture money was pouring into the space. Over time it lost some of its glow. That’s because it was highly labor intensive, and companies began moving to the cloud and looking at software services that did more of the work for them. More modern technologies like data lakes began replacing it and the company recognized that it must change its approach to survive in the modern data processing marketplace.

Cloudera CEO Rob Bearden sees the transaction as a way to do just that. “We believe that as a private company with the expertise and support of experienced investors such as CD&R and KKR, Cloudera will have the resources and flexibility to drive product-led growth and expand our addressable market opportunity,” Bearden said in a statement.

While there is a lot of executive jargon in that statement, it basically means that the company hopes that these private equity firms can give it some additional financial resources to move toward a more modern approach for processing large amounts of data.

While it was at it, Cloudera also announced a couple of acquisitions of its own to help it move toward that modernization goal. For starters, it grabbed Datacoral, a startup that abstracts away the infrastructure needed to build a data pipeline without using code. It also acquired Cazena, a startup that helps customers build cloud data lakes, giving the company a more modern approach to processing big data. Bearden sees both of these services helping Cloudera reposition itself in the big data self-service market

“Both businesses will enable our combined customers to enjoy a reduction in complexity and faster time to value for their data initiatives, leading to improved insights, faster innovation, and stronger engagements with their customers and partners,” Bearden said in a statement.

Cloudera went public in 2018, closing at $18.09 a share after raising $1 billion. The vast majority of that was a $740 million investment from Intel Capital in 2014. It’s worth noting that Cloudera bought Intel’s stake in the company at the end of last year for $314 million.

Hortonworks raised another $248 million. A third Hadoop startup, MapR, raised $280 million. The company’s assets were sold rather unceremoniously to HPE in 2019 for a price pegged at under $50 million, showing just how far the market has fallen since its earlier glory days.

The Cloudera deal includes a brief “go shop” provision that allows it to continue to look for a better deal. It’s doubtful it will find one, and if it doesn’t the transaction with KKR and CD&R is expected to close in the second half of this year subject to typical regulatory review. The company will announce earnings later today.

Apr
08
2021
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Industry experts bullish on $500M KKR investment in Box, but stock market remains skeptical

When Box announced it was getting a $500 million investment from private equity firm KKR this morning, it was hard not to see it as a positive move for the company. It has been operating under the shadow of Starboard Value, and this influx of cash could give it a way forward independent of the activist investors.

Industry experts we spoke to were all optimistic about the deal, seeing it as a way for the company to regain control, while giving it a bushel of cash to make some moves. However, early returns from the stock market were not as upbeat as the stock price was plunging this morning.

Alan Pelz-Sharpe, principal analyst at Deep Analysis, a firm that follows the content management market closely, says that it’s a significant move for Box and opens up a path to expanding through acquisition.

“The KKR move is probably the most important strategic move Box has made since it IPO’d. KKR doesn’t just bring a lot of money to the deal, it gives Box the ability to shake off some naysayers and invest in further acquisitions,” Pelz-Sharpe told me, adding “Box is no longer a startup its a rapidly maturing company and organic growth will only take you so far. Inorganic growth is what will take Box to the next level.”

Dion Hinchcliffe, an analyst at Constellation Research, who covers the work from home trend and the digital workplace, sees it similarly, saying the investment allows the company to focus longer term again.

“Box very much needs to expand in new markets beyond its increasingly commoditized core business. The KKR investment will give them the opportunity to realize loftier ambitions long term so they can turn their established market presence into a growth story,” he said.

Pelz-Sharpe says that it also changes the power dynamic after a couple of years of having Starboard pushing the direction of the company.

“In short, as a public company there are investors who want a quick flip and others that want to grow this company substantially before an exit. This move with KKR potentially changes the dynamic at Box and may well put Aaron Levie back in the driver’s seat.”

Josh Stein, a partner at DFJ and early investor in Box, who was a long time board member, says that it shows that Box is moving in the right direction.

“I think it makes a ton of sense. Management has done a great job growing the business and taking it to profitability. With KKR’s new investment, you have two of the top technology investors in the world putting significant capital into going long on Box,” Stein said.

Perhaps Stein’s optimism is warranted. In its most recent earnings report from last month, the company announced revenue of $198.9 million, up 8% year-over-year with FY2021 revenue closing at $771 million up 11%. What’s more, the company is cash-flow positive, and has predicted an optimistic future outlook.

“As previously announced, Box is committed to achieving a revenue growth rate between 12-16%, with operating margins of between 23-27%, by fiscal 2024,” the company reiterated in a statement this morning.

Investors remains skeptical, however, with the company stock price getting hammered this morning. As of publication the share price was down over 9%. At this point, market investors may be waiting for the next earnings report to see if the company is headed in the right direction. For now, the $500 million certainly gives the company options, regardless of what Wall Street thinks in the short term.

Apr
08
2021
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KKR hands Box a $500M lifeline

Box announced this morning that private equity firm KKR is investing $500 million in the company, a move that could help the struggling cloud content management vendor get out from under pressure from activist investor Starboard Value.

The company plans to use the proceeds in what’s called a “Dutch auction” style sale to buy back shares from certain investors for the price determined by the auction, an activity that should take place after the company announces its next earnings report in May. This would presumably involve buying out Starboard, which took a 7.5% stake in the company in 2019.

Last month Reuters reported that Starboard could be looking to take over a majority of the board seats when the company board meets in June. That could have set them up to take some action, most likely forcing a sale.

While it’s not clear what will happen now, it seems likely that with this cash, they will be able to stave off action from Starboard, and with KKR in the picture be able to take a longer-term view. Box CEO Aaron Levie sees the move as a vote of confidence from KKR in Box’s approach.

“KKR is one of the world’s leading technology investors with a deep understanding of our market and a proven track record of partnering successfully with companies to create value and drive growth. With their support, we will be even better positioned to build on Box’s leadership in cloud content management as we continue to deliver value for our customers around the world,” Levie said in a statement.

Under the terms of the deal, John Park, head of Americas Technology Private Equity at KKR, will be joining the Box board of directors. The company also announced that independent board member Bethany Mayer will be appointed chairman of the board, effective on May 1st.

Earlier this year, the company bought e-signature startup SignRequest, which could help open up a new set of workflows for the company as it tries to expand its market. With KKR’s backing, it’s not unreasonable to expect that Box, which is cash flow positive, could be taking additional steps to expand the platform in the future.

Box stock was down more than 8% premarket, a signal that perhaps Wall Street isn’t thrilled with the announcement, but the cash influx should give Box some breathing room to reset and push forward.

Mar
24
2021
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Feedzai raises $200M at a $1B+ valuation for AI tools to fight financial fraud

On the heels of Jumio announcing a $150 million injection this week to continue building out its AI-based ID verification and anti-money laundering platform, another startup in the space is levelling up. Feedzai, which provides banks, others in the financial sector, and any company managing payments online with AI tools to spot and fight fraud — its cornerstone service involves super-quick (3 millisecond) checks happening in the background while transactions are being made — has announced a Series D of $200 million. It said that the new financing is being made at a valuation of over $1 billion.

The round is being led by KKR, with Sapphire Ventures and strategic backer Citi Ventures — both past investors — also participating. Feedzai said it will be using the funds for further R&D and product development, to expand into more markets outside the U.S. — it was originally founded in Portugal but now is based out of San Mateo — and towards business development, specifically via partnerships to integrate and sell its tools.

One of those partners looks to be Citi itself:

“Citi is committed to advancing global payments anchored on transparency, efficiency, and control, and our partnership with Feedzai is allowing us to provide customers with technology that seamlessly balances agility and security,” said Manish Kohli, global head of Payments and Receivables, with Citi’s Treasury and Trade Solutions, in a statement.

This latest round comes nearly four years after Feedzai raised its Series C, a $50 million round led by an unnamed investor and with an undisclosed valuation. Sapphire also participated in that round. It has now raised some $182 million to date.

Feedzai’s funding is happening at a time when the need for fraud protection for those managing transactions online has reached a high watermark, leading to a rush of customers for companies in the field.

Feedzai says that its customers include four of the five largest banks in North America, 80% of the world’s Fortune 500 companies, 154 million individual and business taxpayers in the U.S., and has processed $9 billion in online transactions for two of the world’s most valuable athletic brands. In total its reach covers some 800 million customers of businesses that use its services.

In addition to Citibank, its customers include Fiserv, Santander, SoFi and Standard Chartered’s Mox.

While money laundering, fraud and other kinds of illicit financial activity were already problems then, in the interim, the problem has only compounded, not least because of how much activity has shifted online, accelerating especially in the last year of pandemic-driven lockdowns. That’s been exacerbated also by a general rise in cybercrime — of which financial fraud remains the biggest component and motivator.

Within that bigger trend, solutions based on artificial intelligence have really emerged as critical to the task of identifying and fighting those illicit activities. Not only is that because AI solutions are able to make calculations and take actions and simply process more than non-AI based tools, or humans for that matter, but they are then able to go head to head with much of the fraud taking place, which itself is being built out on AI-based platforms and requires more sophistication to identify and combat.

For banking customers, Feedzai’s approach has been disruptive in part because of how it has conceived of the problem: It has built solutions that can be used across different scenarios, making them more powerful since the AI system is subsequently “learning” from more data. This is in contrast to how many financial service providers had conceived and tackled the issue in the past.

“Until now banks have used solutions based on verticals,” Nuno Sebastiao, co-founder and CEO of Feedzai, said in the past to TechCrunch. “The fraud solution you have for an ATM wouldn’t be the same fraud solution you would use for online banking which wouldn’t be the same fraud solution you would have for a voice call center.” As these companies have refreshed their systems, many have taken a more agnostic approach like the kind Feedzai has built.

The scale of the issue is clear, and unfortunately also something many of us have experienced firsthand. Feedzai says its data indicates that the last quarter of 2020 shows consumers saw a 650% increase in account takeover scams, a 600% in impersonation scams and a 250% increase in online banking fraud attacks versus the first quarter of 2020.  (Those periods are, essentially, before-pandemic and during-pandemic comparisons.)

“The past 12 months have accelerated the world’s dependency on electronic financial services – from online banking to mobile payments, and in turn have increased fraud and money laundering activity. Our services are in more demand than ever,” said Sebastiao in a statement today.

Indeed, yesterday, when I covered Jumio’s $150 million round, I said I wouldn’t consider its funding to be an outlier (even though Jumio made clear it was the largest funding to date in its space): the fast follow from Feedzai, with an even higher amount of financing, really does underscore the trend at the moment.

In addition to these two, one of Feedzai’s biggest competitors, Kount, was acquired by credit ratings giant Equifax earlier this year for $640 million to move deeper into the space. (And related to that field, in the area of identity management, which goes hand-in-hand with tools for laundering and fraud, Okta acquired Auth0 for $6.5 billion.)

Other big rounds for startups in the wider space have included ForgeRock ($96 million round), Onfido ($100 million), Payfone ($100 million), ComplyAdvantage ($50 million), Ripjar ($36.8 million) Truework ($30 million), Zeotap ($18 million) and Persona ($17.5 million).

KKR’s involvement in this round is notable as another example of a private equity firm getting in earlier with venture rounds with fast-scaling startups, similar to Great Hill’s investment in Jumio yesterday and a number of other examples. The firm says it’s making this investment out of its Next Generation Technology Growth Fund II, which is focused on making growth equity investment opportunities in the technology space.

“Feedzai offers a powerful solution to one of the biggest challenges we are facing today: financial crime in the digital age. Global commerce depends on future-proof technologies capable of dealing with a rapidly evolving threat landscape. At the same time, consumers rightfully demand a great customer experience, in addition to strong security layers when using banking or payments services,” said Stephen Shanley, managing director at KKR, in a statement

“We believe Feedzai’s platform uniquely meets these expectations and more, and we are looking forward to working with Nuno and the rest of the team to expand their offering even further,” added Spencer Chavez, principal at KKR.

Jul
03
2019
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KKR confirms it has acquired Canadian software company Corel, reportedly for over $1B

Yesterday we broke the news that Corel — the company behind WordPerfect, Corel Draw and a number of other apps, as well as the new owner of Parallels — had itself gotten acquired by KKR. Today, the news is confirmed and official: KKR today announced it has closed the deal, purchasing Corel from private equity firm Vector Capital.

The terms of the acquisition are not being disclosed, but when the first rumors of a deal started to emerge a couple of months ago, the price being reported was over $1 billion.

Corel may not be the first name you think of in the world of apps and software today. Founded in the 1980s as one of the first big software companies to capitalize on the first wave of personal computer ownership, it tried to compete against Microsoft in those early days (unsuccessfully), and has seen a lot of ups and downs, including two retreats from the stock market, an insider trading scandal and patent disputes (and even detentes) with its onetime rival.

But in more recent years it has, under the radar, built itself to be a solid and — in these days of startups that claim to intentionally operate at a loss for years in order to scale — profitable business with 90 million users. (Vector said in the past that Corel had paid dividends of $300 million over the years it owned the company.)

Founded in the days when you went to electronics store and bought physical boxes of software with installation disks and hefty manuals, Corel has brought itself into the modern era, with acquisitions like Parallels — a virtualization giant that lets businesses run far-flung and very fragmented networks as if they weren’t — underscoring that strategy.

And that is where KKR appears to be putting its focus. In the memo that a source passed us yesterday, Corel’s CEO Patrick Nichols assured staff that there would be no layoffs and that this acquisition would mean a significant new infusion of capital both to expand its existing business as well as to make more acquisitions to grow. (As we pointed out yesterday, there are a lot of very promising software startups in the market today, and not all of them will scale on their own, so that could present interesting opportunities for companies like Corel.)

“Corel has differentiated itself by offering an impressive portfolio of essential tools and services for connected knowledge workers – across devices, operating systems, and a range of fast-growing industries. KKR looks forward to working together with management to drive continued growth across its existing platforms while leveraging the team’s extensive experience in M&A to deliver a new chapter of innovation and growth on a global scale,” said John Park, member at KKR, in a statement.

That’s not to say that Corel does not have a specific strategy in mind. The company has apps and services today in three verticals serving consumers (mostly “prosumers”) and so-called knowledge workers: Creativity, Productivity and Desktop-as-a-Service. That will likely be the trajectory that it will continue to pursue as it looks for more growth.

Although Vector is known as a tech investor, KKR is another step up in to the “bigger” leagues, and so it will be interesting to see what Corel can do with the larger coffers, and the larger network of contacts, that KKR will bring to the table.

“KKR recognizes the value of our people and their impressive achievements, especially in terms of our commitment to customers, technology innovation, and our highly successful acquisition strategy. With KKR’s support and shared vision, our management team is excited by the opportunities ahead for our company, products, and users,” Nichols said in a statement.

If reports of the acquisition price are accurate, that would represent a big premium to Vector: over the last 16 years the PE firm had acquired, taken public and reacquired Corel, paying no more than $124 million for the company in those two acquisitions (the second time it paid just $30 million).

“Corel has been an important part of the Vector Capital family for many years and we are pleased to have achieved a fantastic outcome for our investors with the sale to KKR,” said Alex Slusky, Vector Capital’s founder and chief investment officer, in a statement. “Under Vector’s ownership, Corel completed multiple transformative acquisitions, grew revenue and meaningfully improved profitability, highlighting Vector’s proven strategy of partnering with management teams to position companies for long-term success.  We are confident the company has found a great partner with KKR and wish them continued success together.”

Jul
02
2019
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KKR has acquired Corel (including its recent acquisition Parallels), reportedly for $1B+

Only six months after snapping up virtualization specialist Parallels, Canadian software company Corel is itself getting acquired. TechCrunch has learned and confirmed with multiple sources that private equity giant KKR has closed a deal to buy the company from Vector Capital, which has owned some or all of Corel since 2003.

KKR’s interest in Corel was first rumored in May, when PE Hub reported the two were in talks for a sale valued at over $1 billion. At the time, representatives of Corel declined to comment, although our sources inside the company indicated that the reports were not inaccurate.

Fast-forward to today, and both KKR and and a spokesperson for Parallels/Corel declined to comment. But, we now have a copy of the memo provided by an internal source that has been sent out to staff announcing that the deal has indeed closed, and that Corel is now officially part of the KKR family of companies.

According to the memo, KKR is very optimistic about Corel’s prospects. It plans to give Corel an “infusion of capital” to accelerate its growth, which will go into two areas. First will be expanding operations for the existing business: Corel is the company behind a number of longstanding software brands including WordPerfect, Corel Draw, WinZip, PaintShop Pro. Second will be making acquisitions (and the sheer proliferation of promising startups in the last decade dedicated to all variety of apps and other software that may have found it a challenge to scale means Corel could have rich pickings).

There are no layoffs planned as part of the deal, and the official announcement had been planned to go out next week, but now looks like it may be moved up to tomorrow (Wednesday).

Vector and Corel itself have never publicly disclosed much on user numbers or financials, but Vector has described the company as “highly profitable,” with dividends of more than $300 million to date. The memo we’ve seen notes that Corel (including Parallels) has millions of customers across its various software platforms and apps.

The acquisition of Corel by KKR marks another chapter in the company’s long corporate history.

Founded in the 1980s — when personal computers were just starting to enter the mainstream but well before we had anything like the internet (not to mention the world of cloud-based apps) that we know today — Corel once positioned itself as a potential competitor to Microsoft in the software wars.

When Corel purchased WordPerfect from Novel in 1996, Corel founder Michael Cowpland viewed the software package as an integral part of that rivalry, describing it as the Pepsi to Microsoft’s Coke — that is, Word.

Microsoft proved the mightier of the two, and it even eventually signed a partnership with Corel that saw it investing in the company: a sell out, as one disappointed Canadian journalist described it at the time. The two have also sparred over patents.

Corel, which went public early in its life, got battered in the first dot-com bust (which was not helped by an insider trading scandal that led to Cowpland’s departure). Vector stepped in and took it private in 2003.

After restructuring the company, Vector listed Corel again in 2006. But, amid another recession that again hit Corel hard, it once more took it private in 2010. In the intervening years, Corel has been focused on modernising its offerings, bringing in e-commerce, direct downloads, subscriptions and acquisitions to bring the company’s products and wider business closer to how consumers and workers use computers today.

Parallels was a part of that strategy: its products help people work seamlessly across multiple platforms, letting employees (and IT managers) run a unified workflow regardless of the device or operating system, with Parallels providing support for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Chromebook, Linux, Raspberry Pi and cloud — a timely offering in the current, fragmented IT market.

If the $1 billion+ figure is accurate, that strategy seems to have worked: across the two times that Vector took Corel private, it never paid more than $124 million for the company (the second time, as its stock was tanking, it paid just $30 million).

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