Today the CRM giant announced it was taking a leap into streaming media with Salesforce+, a forthcoming digital media network with a focus on video that, in the words of the company, “will bring the magic of Dreamforce to viewers across the globe with luminary speakers.” (Whether that’s a good thing or not is in the eye of the beholder.)
Over the last year, Salesforce has watched companies struggle to quickly transform into fully-digital entities. The Slack purchase is part of Salesforce’s response to the evolving market, but the company believes it can do even more with an on-demand video service providing business content around the clock.
Salesforce president and CMO Sarah Franklin said in an official post that her company has had to “reimagine how to succeed in the new digital-first world.” The answer apparently is involves getting the larger Salesforce community together is a new live, and recorded video push.
In a Q&A with Colin Fleming, Salesforce’s senior vice president of Global Brand Marketing, he sees it as a way to evolve the content the company has been sharing all along. “As a result of the pandemic, we looked at the media landscape, where people are consuming content, and decided the days of white papers in a business-to-business setting were no longer interesting to people. We’re staring at a cookie-less future. And looking at the consumer world, we reflected on that for Salesforce and asked, “Why shouldn’t we be thinking about this too,” he said in the Q&A.
The company’s efforts are not small. Axios reports that there are “50 editorial leads” aboard the project to help it launch, and “hundreds of people at Salesforce currently working on Salesforce+” more broadly.
Notably Salesforce does not have near-term monetization plans for Salesforce+. The service will be free, and will not feature external advertising. Salesforce+ will launch in September in conjunction with Dreamforce and include four channels: Primetime for news and announcements, Trailblazer for training content, Customer 360 for success stories and Industry Channels for industry-specific offerings.
The company hopes that by combining the announcement with Dreamforce, it will help drive interest in what Salesforce has cooked up. After the Dreamforce push, Salesforce+ will enter into interesting territory. How much do Salesforce customers, and the larger business community really want what the company describes as “compelling live and on-demand content for every role, industry and line of business,” and “engaging stories, thought leadership and expert advice”?
Salesforce is considered the most successful SaaS-first company in history, and as such may have an opinion that people are interested in hearing. In its most recent quarterly earnings report in May, the company disclosed $ 5.96 billion in revenue, up 23% compared to the year-ago quarter, putting it close to a $ 25 billion run rate. The company also generates lots of cash. But being cash-rich doesn’t absolve the question of whether this new streaming effort will prove to be a money pit, costing buckets of cash to produce with limited returns.
The service sounds a bit like your LinkedIn feed brought to life, but in video form. At the very least, it’s probably the largest content marketing scheme of all time, but can it ever pay for itself either as a business unit or through some other monetization plans (like advertising) down the road?
Brent Leary, founder and principal analyst at CRM essentials says that he could see Salesforce eyeing advertising revenue with this venture and having it all tie into the Salesforce platform. “A customer could sponsor a show, advertise a show, or possibly collaborate on a show. And have leads generated from the show directly tied to the activity from those options while tracking ROI, and it’s all done on one platform. And the content lives on with ads living on with them,” Leary told TechCrunch.
Whether that’s the ultimate goal of this venture remains to be seen, but Salesforce has proven that there is market appetite for Dreamforce content at least in the physical world with over a hundred thousand people involved in 2019, the last time the company was able to hold a live event. While the pandemic shifted most traditional conference activity into the digital realm, making Dreamforce and related types of content available year-round in video format makes some sense in that context.
Precisely how the company will justify the sizable addition to its marketing budget will be interesting; measuring ROI from video products is not entirely straightforward when it is not monetized directly. And sooner or later it will have to have some direct or indirect impact on the business or face questions from shareholders on the purpose of the venture.
Marvell announced this morning it has reached an agreement to acquire Innovium for $ 1.1 billion in an all-stock deal. The startup, which raised over $ 400 million according to Crunchbase data, makes networking ethernet switches optimized for the cloud.
Marvell president and CEO Matt Murphy sees Innovium as a complementary piece to the $ 10 billion Inphi acquisition last year, giving the company, which makes copper-based chips, more ways to work across modern cloud data centers.
“Innovium has established itself as a strong cloud data center merchant switch silicon provider with a proven platform, and we look forward to working with their talented team who have a strong track record in the industry for delivering multiple generations of highly successful products,” Marvell CEO Matt Murphy said in a statement.
Innovium founder and CEO Rajiv Khemani, who will remain as an advisor post-close, told a familiar tale from a startup CEO being acquired, seeing the sale as a way to accelerate more quickly as part of a larger organization than it could on its own. “As we engaged with Marvell, it became clear that our data center optimized portfolio combined with Marvell’s scale, leading technology platform and complementary portfolio, can accelerate our growth and vision of delivering breakthrough switch silicon for the cloud and edge,” he wrote in a company blog post announcing the deal.
The company, which was founded in 2014, raised more than $ 143 million last year on a post-money valuation of $ 1.3 billion, according to PitchBook data. The question is, was this a reasonable deal for the company given that valuation?
No company wants to sell for less than it was last valued by its investors. In some cases, such deals can still be accretive for early backers of the selling concern, but not always. In this case TechCrunch is not privy to all the details of the Innovium cap table and what its later investors may have built into their deals with the company in the form of downside protection; such measures can tilt the value of the sale of a company more toward its later and final investors. This is usually managed at the expense of its earlier backers and employees.
Still, the Innovium deal should not be seen as a failure. Building a company that sells for north of $ 1 billion in equity value is impressive. The deal appears to be slightly smaller in enterprise value terms. In the business world, enterprise value is a useful method of valuing the true cost of an acquisition. In the case of Innovium, a large cash position, what was described as “Innovium cash and exercise proceeds expected at closing of approximately $ 145 million,” lowered the cost of the transaction to a more modest $ 955 million in net outlays.
Our general perspective is that the sale is probably not the outcome that Innovium’s backers had hoped for, but that it may still prove lucrative to early workers and early investors, and still works at that lower figure. It’s also notable how in today’s market of mega-rounds and surfeit unicorns, an exit north of the $ 1 billion mark in equity terms can be viewed as a disappointment in any terms. Innovium is selling for around the price that Facebook paid for Instagram in 2012, a deal that at the time was so large that it dominated technology headlines around the world.
But with so much capital available today, private valuations are soaring and mega deals abound. And recent rounds north of $ 100 million, much like Innovium’s 2020-era, $ 143 million round, can set companies up with rich valuations and a narrow path in front of them to beat those heightened expectations.
What likely happened? Perhaps Innovium found itself with more cash than opportunities to spend it; perhaps it simply needed a large partner to help it better sell into its market. With expected revenues of $ 150 million in Marvell’s fiscal 2023, its next fiscal period, Innovium did not fail to reach scale. It may have simply grown well as a private, independent company, and stalled out after its last round.
Regardless, a billion-dollar exit is a billion-dollar exit. The deal is expected to close by the end of this year. While both company boards have approved the deal, it still must clear regular closing hurdles, including approval by Innovium’s private stock holders.
Startups and SMBs are usually the first to adopt many SaaS products. But as these customers grow in size and complexity — and as you rope in larger organizations — scaling your infrastructure for the enterprise becomes critical for success.
Below are four tips on how to advance your company’s infrastructure to support and grow with your largest customers.
Address your customers’ security and reliability needs
If you’re building SaaS, odds are you’re holding very important customer data. Regardless of what you build, that makes you a threat vector for attacks on your customers. While security is important for all customers, the stakes certainly get higher the larger they grow.
Given the stakes, it’s paramount to build infrastructure, products and processes that address your customers’ growing security and reliability needs. That includes the ethical and moral obligation you have to make sure your systems and practices meet and exceed any claim you make about security and reliability to your customers.
Here are security and reliability requirements large customers typically ask for:
Formal SLAs around uptime: If you’re building SaaS, customers expect it to be available all the time. Large customers using your software for mission-critical applications will expect to see formal SLAs in contracts committing to 99.9% uptime or higher. As you build infrastructure and product layers, you need to be confident in your uptime and be able to measure uptime on a per customer basis so you know if you’re meeting your contractual obligations.
While it’s hard to prioritize asks from your largest customers, you’ll find that their collective feedback will pull your product roadmap in a specific direction.
Real-time status of your platform: Most larger customers will expect to see your platform’s historical uptime and have real-time visibility into events and incidents as they happen. As you mature and specialize, creating this visibility for customers also drives more collaboration between your customer operations and infrastructure teams. This collaboration is valuable to invest in, as it provides insights into how customers are experiencing a particular degradation in your service and allows for you to communicate back what you found so far and what your ETA is.
Backups: As your customers grow, be prepared for expectations around backups — not just in terms of how long it takes to recover the whole application, but also around backup periodicity, location of your backups and data retention (e.g., are you holding on to the data too long?). If you’re building your backup strategy, thinking about future flexibility around backup management will help you stay ahead of these asks.
As its name suggests, venture firm Pillar VC is focused on building “pillar” companies in Boston and across the Northeast.
The Boston-based seed-stage firm closed a raise of $ 192 million of capital that was split into two funds, $ 169 million for Pillar III and $ 23 million for Pillar Select. More than 25 investors are backing the new fund, including portfolio founders.
Jamie Goldstein, Sarah Hodges and Russ Wilcox are Pillar VC’s three partners, and all three lead investments for Pillar. The trio all have backgrounds as entrepreneurs: Goldstein, who has spent the past two decades in VC, co-founded speech recognition company PureSpeech, which was acquired by Voice Control Systems; Hodges was at online learning company Pluralsight; and Wilcox was CEO of electronic paper company E Ink, which he sold in 2009.
Pillar typically invests in a range of enterprise and consumer startups and aims to target Pillar III at startups focused on biology, enterprise SaaS, AI/ML, crypto, fintech, hardware, manufacturing and logistics. The firm will make pre-seed investments of $ 50,000 to $ 500,000 and seed-round investments of $ 2 million to $ 6 million.
One of the unique aspects of the firm is that it will buy common stock so that it will be aligned with founders and take on the same risks, Goldstein told TechCrunch.
The firm, founded in 2016, already has 50 portfolio companies from its first two funds — Pillar I, which raised $ 57 million, and Pillar $ 100 million. These include cryptocurrency company Circle, which announced a SPAC earlier this month, 3D printing company Desktop Metal that went public, also via SPAC, last year, and PillPack, which was bought by Amazon in 2018.
“Pillar is an experiment, answering the question of ‘what would happen if unicorn CEOs came in and helped bootstrap the next generation’,” Wilcox said. “The experience is working, and Pillar does what VCs ought to do, which is back first-of-its-kind ideas.”
In addition to leading investments, Hodges leads the Pillar VC platform for the firm’s portfolio companies. Many of the portfolio companies are spinouts from universities, and need help turning that technology into a company. Pillar provides guidance to recruit a CEO or partner on the business side, leadership development, recruit talent and makes introductions to potential customers.
Pillar also intends to invest a third of the new fund into that biology category, specifically looking at the convergence of life science and technology, Wilcox said.
In its second fund, the firm started Petri, a pre-seed bio accelerator focused on biotech, and brought in founders using computation and engineering to develop technologies around the areas of agriculture, genetics, cell and gene therapies, medical data and drug discovery. The third fund will continue to support the accelerator through both pre-seed and seed investments.
The first investments from Pillar III are being finalized, but Hodges expects to infuse capital into another 50 companies.
“We are super bullish on Boston,” she added. “So many companies here are growing to be household names, and an exciting energy is coming out.”
ServiceMax, a company that builds software for the field-service industry, announced yesterday that it will go public via a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, in a deal valued at $ 1.4 billion. The transaction comes after ServiceMax was sold to GE for $ 915 million in 2016, before being spun out in late 2018. The company most recently raised $ 80 million from Salesforce Ventures, a key partner.
Broadly, ServiceMax’s business has a history of modest growth and cash consumption.
ServiceMax competes in the growing field-service industry primarily with ServiceNow, and interestingly enough given Salesforce Ventures’ recent investment, Salesforce Service Cloud. Other large enterprise vendors like Microsoft, SAP and Oracle also have similar products. The market looks at helping digitize traditional field service, but also touches on in-house service like IT and HR giving it a broader market in which to play.
GE originally bought the company as part of a growing industrial Internet of Things (IoT) strategy at the time, hoping to have a software service that could work hand in glove with the automated machine maintenance it was looking to implement. When that strategy failed to materialize, the company spun out ServiceMax and until now it remained part of Silver Lake Partners thanks to a deal that was finalized in 2019.
TechCrunch was curious why that was the case, so we dug into the company’s investor presentation for more hints about its financial performance. Broadly, ServiceMax’s business has a history of modest growth and cash consumption. It promises a big change to that storyline, though. Here’s how.
A look at the data
The company’s pitch to investors is that with new capital it can accelerate its growth rate and begin to generate free cash flow. To get there, the company will pursue organic (in-house) and inorganic (acquisition-based) growth. The company’s blank-check combination will provide what the company described as “$ 335 million of gross proceeds,” a hefty sum for the company compared to its most recent funding round.
ZoomInfo announced this morning it intends to acquire conversational sales intelligence tool Chorus.AI for $ 575 million. Shares of ZoomInfo are unchanged in pre-market trading following the news, per Yahoo Finance data.
Sales intelligence, Chorus’s market, is a hot space that uses AI to “listen” to sales conversations to help improve interactions between salespeople and customers. ZoomInfo is mostly known for providing information about customers, so the acquisition expands the acquiring company’s platform in a significant way.
The company sees an opportunity to bring together different parts of the sales process in a single platform by “combining ZoomInfo’s historic top-of-the-funnel strength with insights driven from the middle of the funnel in the customer conversations that Chorus captures,” it said in a release.
“With Chorus, the entire organization can make better decisions by surfacing insights and analytics that you would only get if you sat in on every sales or customer success call,” ZoomInfo CEO and founder Henry Schuck said in a blog post announcing the deal.
Ahead of the transaction, ZoomInfo was valued at just under $ 21 billion.
Chorus looks for what it calls “smart themes” in sales calls, which help managers steer sales teams towards the types of conversation and tone that is likely to drive more revenue. In fact, Chorus holds the largest patent portfolio related to conversational intelligence, according to the company.
Chorus was founded in 2015 and raised over $ 100 million along the way, according to Pitchbook data. The most recent round was a $ 45 million Series C last year.
Crunchbase News reports that at the time of its Series C round of funding, Chorus had “doubled its headcount to more than 100 employees and tripled its revenue over the past year.” That’s the sort of growth that venture capitalists covet, making the company’s 2020 funding round a non-surprise.
Notably PitchBook data indicates that the company’s final private valuation was around the $ 150 million mark; if accurate, it would imply that the company’s last private round was expensive in dilution terms. And that its investors did well in the exit, quickly more than trebling the capital that was last invested, with investors who put capital in earlier doing even better.
But we’re slightly skeptical of the company’s available valuation history given the growth that it claimed at the time of its Series C; it feels low. If that’s the case, the company’s exit multiple would decrease, making its final sale price slightly less impressive.
Of course a half-billion dollar exit is always material, even if venture capitalists in today’s red-hot, and expensive market are more interested in $ 1 billion exits and larger.
Chorus.ai will likely not be the final exit in the conversational intelligence space. Its rival Gong (often known by its URL, Gong.io) is one of the hotter startups in this space, having raised over $ 500 million. Its most recent raise was $ 250 million on a $ 7.25 billion valuation last month.
The implication of the Chrous.ai exit and Gong’s enormous private valuation is that the application of AI to audio data in a sales environment is incredibly useful, given the number of customers the two companies’ aggregate valuation implies.
Netskope, focused on Secure Access Service Edge architecture, announced Friday a $ 300 million investment round on a post-money valuation of $ 7.5 billion.
The oversubscribed insider investment was led by ICONIQ Growth, which was joined by other existing investors, including Lightspeed Venture Partners, Accel, Sequoia Capital Global Equities, Base Partners, Sapphire Ventures and Geodesic Capital.
Netskope co-founder and CEO Sanjay Beri told TechCrunch that since its founding in 2012, the company’s mission has been to guide companies through their digital transformation by finding what is most valuable to them — sensitive data — and protecting it.
“What we had before in the market didn’t work for that world,” he said. “The theory is that digital transformation is inevitable, so our vision is to transform that market so people could do that, and that is what we are building nearly a decade later.”
With this new round, Netskope continues to rack up large rounds: it raised $ 340 million last February, which gave it a valuation of nearly $ 3 billion. Prior to that, it was a $ 168.7 million round at the end of 2018.
Similar to other rounds, the company was not actively seeking new capital, but that it was “an inside round with people who know everything about us,” Beri said.
“The reality is we could have raised $ 1 billion, but we don’t need more capital,” he added. “However, having a continued strong balance sheet isn’t a bad thing. We are fortunate to be in that situation, and our destination is to be the most impactful cybersecurity company in the world.
Beri said the company just completed a “three-year journey building the largest cloud network that is 15 milliseconds from anyone in the world,” and intends to invest the new funds into continued R&D, expanding its platform and Netskope’s go-to-market strategy to meet demand for a market it estimated would be valued at $ 30 billion by 2024, he said.
Even pre-pandemic the company had strong hypergrowth over the past year, surpassing the market average annual growth of 50%, he added.
Today’s investment brings the total raised by Santa Clara-based Netskope to just over $ 1 billion, according to Crunchbase data.
With the company racking up that kind of capital, the next natural step would be to become a public company. Beri admits that Netskope could be public now, though it doesn’t have to do it for the traditional reasons of raising capital or marketing.
“Going public is one day on our path, but you probably won’t see us raise another private round,” Beri said.
The war between Box’s current leadership and activist shareholder Starboard took a new turn today with a detailed timeline outlining the two groups’ relationship, thanks to an SEC filing and companion press release. Box is pushing back against a slate of board candidates put forth by Starboard, which wants to shake up the company’s leadership and sell it.
The SEC filing details a lengthy series of phone calls, meetings and other communications between the technology company and Starboard, which has held a stake in Box greater than 5% since September of 2019. Since then shares of Box have risen by around $ 10 per share.
Today’s news is multi-faceted, but we’ve learned more concerning Starboard’s demands that Box sell itself; how strongly the investor wanted co-founder and CEO Aaron Levie to be fired; and that the company’s complaints about a KKR-led investment into Box that it used to repurchase its shares did not match its behavior, in that Starboard asked to participate in the transaction despite its public statements.
Activist investors, a bit like short-sellers, are either groups that you generally like or do not. In this case, however, we can learn quite a lot from the Box filing. Including the sheer amount of time and communication that it takes to manage such an investor from the perspective of one of its public-market investments.
What follows are key excerpts from Box’s SEC filing on the matter, starting with its early stake and early agreement with Starboard:
- On September 3, 2019, representatives of Starboard contacted Mr. Levie to inform Mr. Levie that Starboard would be filing a
- Schedule 13D with the SEC reporting a 7.5% ownership stake in the company.
- On March 9, 2020, Mr. O’Driscoll and Ms. Barsamian had a call with representatives of Starboard to discuss entering into a settlement agreement with Starboard.
- On March 22, 2020, the company and Starboard entered into an agreement[.]
Also on March 23, 2020, Starboard reported beneficial ownership of 7.7% of the outstanding Class A common stock.
Then Box reported earnings, which Starboard appeared to praise:
- On May 27, 2020, the company reported its fiscal first quarter results, noting a 13% increase in year-over-year revenue, a 900 basis point increase in year-over-year GAAP operating margin and a $ 36.4 million increase in year-over-year cash flow from operations. Peter Feld, a representative of Starboard, and Mr. Levie had an email conversation related to the company’s first quarter results in which Mr. Feld stated “you guys are on a good path…congrats to the team and keep it up.”
- Also on May 29, 2020, Starboard reported that it had decreased its beneficial ownership to 6.0% of the outstanding Class A common stock.
The same pattern repeated during Box’s next earnings report:
- On August 27, 2020, Mr. Levie, Mr. Smith and company IR discussed the company’s earnings release with Starboard. Starboard indicated it was pleased with the rate of margin expansion and where the company was heading. In an email exchange between Mr. Feld and Mr. Levie related to the company’s results, Mr. Feld stated that he was “thrilled to see the company breaking out and performing better both on the top and bottom line. Appreciate you guys working with us and accepting the counsel. Not everyone behaves that way and it is greatly appreciated. Shows your comfort as a leader and a willingness to adapt. Very impressive.”
Then Box reported its next quarter’s results, which was followed by a change in message from Starboard (emphasis TechCrunch):
- On December 1, 2020, the company announced its fiscal third quarter results, noting an 11% increase in year-over-year revenue, an improvement of 2100 basis points in year-over-year GAAP operating margin and a $ 36 million increase in year-over-year cash flow from operations. The company also provided guidance regarding its fiscal fourth quarter results, noting that its revised revenue guidance was due to “lower professional services bookings than we noted previously, which creates a roughly $ 2 million headwind” and that the company was being “prudent in our growth expectations given the macroeconomic challenges that our customers are facing.” The revised guidance for revenue was 1.1% below analysts’ consensus estimates of $ 198.8 million.
- On December 2, 2020, Box’s common stock declined approximately 9% from its prior close of $ 18.54 to $ 16.91. On December 2, 2020 and December 4, 2020, Mr. Levie, Mr. Smith and Box IR discussed the company’s earnings release with representatives of Starboard. Despite the prior support Mr. Feld communicated to the company, Starboard reversed course and demanded that the company explore a sale of the entire company or fire the company’s CEO, or otherwise face a proxy contest from Starboard. Mr. Feld further stated that the company should not turn down an offer from a third party to buy the entire company “in the low twenties” and that Starboard would be a seller at such a price.
Recall that Box shares are now in the mid-$ 26s. At the time, however, Box shares lost value (emphasis: TechCrunch)
- On December 16, 2020, two weeks after earnings, the company’s stock price closed at $ 18.85, which was above where it was trading immediately prior to the announcement of the company’s fiscal third quarter results on December 1, 2020.
- On January 11, 2021, Starboard disclosed that it had increased its beneficial ownership to 7.9% of the outstanding Class A common stock.
- On January 15, 2021, Mr. Lazar and Ms. Barsamian had a call with representatives from Starboard. Mr. Feld expressed his view that, while the company’s Convertible Senior Notes were executed on favorable terms, he was not supportive of the transaction. He reiterated his demand that the company sell itself and indicated that if the company did not do so then it must replace its CEO or otherwise face a proxy contest from Starboard to replace the CEO.
Over the next few months, Box bought SignRequest, reported earnings, and engaged external parties to try to help it bolster shareholder value. Then the KKR deal came onto the table:
- On March 31, 2021, the Strategy Committee met to discuss the status of the strategic review. At such time, the Strategy Committee was in receipt of a proposal from KKR pursuant to which KKR and certain partners would make an investment in the form of convertible preferred stock at an initial yield of 3%, which had been negotiated down from KKR’s proposal of 7% yield in its preliminary indication of interest in early March.
The deal was unanimously approved by Box’s board, and announced on April 8th, 2021. Starboard was not stoked about the transaction, however:
- Later on April 8, 2021, Ms. Mayer and Mr. Lazar had a call with representatives of Starboard. Mr. Feld expressed Starboard’s strong displeasure with the results of the strategic review. During the conversation, Mr. Feld indicated that he would stop the fight immediately if Mr. Levie were replaced.
- On April 14, 2021, Ms. Mayer, Mr. Lazar and Ms. Barsamian had a call with Mr. Feld. Despite his prior statements, Mr. Feld now indicated that Starboard was not willing to sell its shares of Class A common stock at $ 21 or $ 22 per share. Mr. Feld requested that the company release KKR from its obligation to vote in favor of the company as a gesture of good faith. Mr. Feld reiterated Starboard’s desire to replace Mr. Levie as CEO and indicated that he would like to join the Board of Directors if the company did so. Ms. Mayer offered Mr. Feld the opportunity to execute a non-disclosure agreement to receive more information about the strategic review process, which Mr. Feld immediately declined.
Box was like, all right, but Feld doesn’t get to be on the board:
- On April 20, 2021, Ms. Mayer and Mr. Lazar had a call with representatives of Starboard. Mr. Feld stated that Starboard would not move forward with its planned director nominations if Starboard were offered the opportunity to participate in the KKR-Led Transaction and Mr. Feld were appointed to the Board of Directors. Mr. Feld reiterated that he was not willing to sign a non-disclosure agreement.
- On April 27, 2021, Mr. Park had a discussion with Mr. Feld. During this conversation, Mr. Feld reiterated his desire for Starboard to participate as an investor in the KKR-Led Transaction.
- On April 28, 2021, Ms. Mayer and Mr. Lazar informed Mr. Feld that the Board of Directors was amenable to allowing Starboard to participate in the KKR-Led Transaction but would not appoint Mr. Feld as a director. Mr. Feld indicated that there is no path to a settlement that doesn’t include appointing him to the Board of Directors.
And then Starboard initiated a proxy war.
What to make of all of this? That trying to shake up a company from the position of a minority stake is not impossible, with Starboard able to exercise influence on Box despite having a sub-10% ownership position. And that Box was not willing to put a person on the board that wanted to fire its CEO.
What’s slightly silly about all of this is that the fight is coming at a time when Box is doing better than it has in some time. Its profitability has improved greatly, and in its most recent quarter the company topped expectations and raised its forward financial guidance.
There were times in Box’s history when it may have deserved a whacking for poor performance, but now? It’s slightly weird. Also recall that Starboard has already made quite a lot of money on its Box stake, with the company’s value appreciating sharply since the investor bought in.
Most media coverage is surrounding the public criticism by Starboard of the KKR deal and its private demand to be let into the deal. That dynamic is easily explained: Starboard thought that the deal wouldn’t make it money, but later decided that it could. So it changed its tune; if you are expecting an investor to do anything but try to maximize returns, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.
A person close to the company told TechCrunch that the current situation should be a win-win for everyone involved, but Starboard is not seeing it that way. “If you’re a near term shareholder, [like Starboard] then the path Box has taken has already been better. And if you’re a long term shareholder, Box sees significantly more upside. […] So overwhelmingly, the company believes this is the best path for shareholders and it’s already been proven out to be that,” the person said.
Alan Pelz-Sharpe, founder and principal analyst at the Deep Analysis, who has been watching the content management space for many years, says the battle isn’t much of a surprise given that the two have been at odds pretty much from the start of the relationship.
“Like any activist investor Starboard is interested in a quick increase in shareholder values and a flip. Box is in it for the long run. Further, it seems that Starboard may have mistimed or miscalculated their moves, Box clearly was not as weak as they appeared to believe and Box has been doing well over the past year. Bringing in KKR was the start of a big fight back, and the proposed changes couldn’t make it any clearer that they are fed up with Starboard and ready to fight back hard,” Pelz-Sharpe said.
He added that publicly revealing details of the two companies’ interactions is a bit unusual, but he thinks it was appropriate here.
“Actually naming and shaming, detailing Starboard’s moves and seemingly contradictory statements, is unusual but it may be effective. Starboard won’t back down without a fight, but from an investor relations/PR perspective this looks bad for them and it may well be time to walk away. That being said, I wouldn’t bet on Starboard walking away, as Silicon Valley has a habit of moving forward when they should be walking back from increasingly damaging situations”
What comes next is a vote on Box’s board makeup, which should happen later this summer. Let’s see who wins.
It’s worth noting that we attempted to contact Starboard Value, but as of publication they had not gotten back to us. Box indicated that the press release and SEC filing speak for themselves.
In a surprise announcement today, IBM announced that Jim Whitehurst, who came over in the Red Hat deal, would be stepping down as company president just 14 months after taking over in that role.
IBM didn’t give a lot of details as to why he was stepping away, but acknowledged his key role in helping bring the 2018 $ 34 billion Red Hat deal to fruition and helping bring the two companies together after the deal closed. “Jim has been instrumental in articulating IBM’s strategy, but also, in ensuring that IBM and Red Hat work well together and that our technology platforms and innovations provide more value to our clients,” the company stated.
He will stay on as a senior adviser to Krishna, but it begs the question why he is leaving after such a short time in the role, and what he plans to do next. Oftentimes after a deal of this magnitude closes, there is an agreement as to how long key executives will stay. It could be simply that the period has expired and Whitehurst wants to move on, but some saw him as the heir apparent to Krishna and the move comes as a surprise when looked at in that context.
“I am surprised because I always thought Jim would be next in line as IBM CEO. I also liked the pairing between a lifer IBMer and an outsider,” Patrick Moorhead, founder and principal analyst at Moor Insight & Strategies told TechCrunch.
Regardless, it leaves a big hole in Krishna’s leadership team as he works to transform the company into one that is primarily focused on hybrid cloud. Whitehurst was undoubtedly in a position to help drive that change through his depth of industry knowledge and his credibility with the open source community from his time at Red Hat. He is not someone who would be easily replaced and the announcement didn’t mention anyone filling his role.
When IBM bought Red Hat in 2018 for $ 34 billion, it led to a cascading set of changes at both companies. First Ginni Rometty stepped down as CEO at IBM and Arvind Krishna took over. At the same time, Jim Whitehurst, who had been Red Hat CEO moved to IBM as president and long-time employee Paul Cormier moved into his role.
At the same time, the company also announced some other changes including that long-time IBM executive Bridget van Kralingen announced she too was stepping away, leaving her role as senior vice president of global markets. Rob Thomas, who had been senior vice president of IBM cloud and data platform, will step in to replace Van Kraligen.
Vantage, a service that helps businesses analyze and reduce their AWS costs, today announced that it has raised a $ 4 million seed round led by Andreessen Horowitz. A number of angel investors, including Brianne Kimmel, Julia Lipton, Stephanie Friedman, Calvin French Owen, Ben and Moisey Uretsky, Mitch Wainer and Justin Gage, also participated in this round
Vantage started out with a focus on making the AWS console a bit easier to use — and help businesses figure out what they are spending their cloud infrastructure budgets on in the process. But as Vantage co-founder and CEO Ben Schaechter told me, it was the cost transparency features that really caught on with users.
“We were advertising ourselves as being an alternative AWS console with a focus on developer experience and cost transparency,” he said.”What was interesting is — even in the early days of early access before the formal GA launch in January — I would say more than 95% of the feedback that we were getting from customers was entirely around the cost features that we had in Vantage.”
Like any good startup, the Vantage team looked at this and decided to double down on these features and highlight them in its marketing, though it kept the existing AWS Console-related tools as well. The reason the other tools didn’t quite take off, Schaechter believes, is because more and more, AWS users have become accustomed to infrastructure-as-code to do their own automatic provisioning. And with that, they spend a lot less time in the AWS Console anyway.
“But one consistent thing — across the board — was that people were having a really, really hard time twelve times a year, where they would get a shock AWS bill and had to figure out what happened. What Vantage is doing today is providing a lot of value on the transparency front there,” he said.
Over the course of the last few months, the team added a number of new features to its cost transparency tools, including machine learning-driven predictions (both on the overall account level and service level) and the ability to share reports across teams.
While Vantage expects to add support for other clouds in the future, likely starting with Azure and then GCP, that’s actually not what the team is focused on right now. Instead, Schaechter noted, the team plans to add support for bringing in data from third-party cloud services instead.
“The number one line item for companies tends to be AWS, GCP, Azure,” he said. “But then, after that, it’s Datadog Cloudflare Sumo Logic, things along those lines. Right now, there’s no way to see, P&L or an ROI from a cloud usage-based perspective. Vantage can be the tool where that’s showing you essentially, all of your cloud costs in one space.”
That is likely the vision the investors bought in as well and even though Vantage is now going up against enterprise tools like Apptio’s Cloudability and VMware’s CloudHealth, Schaechter doesn’t seem to be all that worried about the competition. He argues that these are tools that were born in a time when AWS had only a handful of services and only a few ways of interacting with those. He believes that Vantage, as a modern self-service platform, will have quite a few advantages over these older services.
“You can get up and running in a few clicks. You don’t have to talk to a sales team. We’re helping a large number of startups at this stage all the way up to the enterprise, whereas Cloudability and Cloud Health are, in my mind, kind of antiquated enterprise offerings. No startup is choosing to use those at this point, as far as I know,” he said.
The team, which until now mostly consisted of Schaechter and his co-founder and CTO Brooke McKim, bootstrapped to company up to this point. Now they plan to use the new capital to build out its team (and the company is actively hiring right now), both on the development and go-to-market side.
The company offers a free starter plan for businesses that track up to $ 2,500 in monthly AWS cost, with paid plans starting at $ 30 per month for those who need to track larger accounts.