New Relic, Hortonworks are losing money but solving problems. Will IPO investors bite?
The next time you click on a link in your Twitter stream and wonder how many seconds – five? ten? thirty?? - it's going to take for a page to load, spare at least a couple of those seconds for Lew Cirne, the CEO of New Relic who not only shares your frustration but is actively trying to do something about it.
“When you wait 6 seconds for a page to load and you expect to be less than 1 second, why is that so frustrating?” Cirne said recently at FutureStack, New Relic's developer conference. “My belief is this software is robbing you of your time by being slow. Life is just too short for bad software.”
Founded in 2007, San Francisco-based New Relic has been creating software that monitors applications to help developers find and fix performance problems as well as predicting and preventing future issues. Today, New Relic filed a prospectus for a stock offering that will raise at least $100 million in Cirne's war on bad software.
Joining New Relic in the IPO queue is Hortonworks, a three-year-old, Palo Alto-based company that makes a platform that stores and analyzes big data using open-source framework Hadoop. Both companies are finding ways to speed far-flung data and content onto the screens before our eyes. To do that, both companies are seeking (for now) nine-digit sums in new financing.
The filings from New Relic and Hortonworks are notable for another reason. The pipeline for new offerings on US markets has been busy in recent months, although aside from the Alibaba IPO the number of venture-backed tech IPOs has been relatively scarce. Excluding Alibaba, venture-backed IPOs raised only $1.6 billion in the third quarter, according to Renaissance Capital, and the bulk of those IPOs were in the biotech sector.
After Alibaba, the largest tech IPO of the third quarter was Visioneye, the Israeli-based maker of collision-avoidance technology for cars. The largest US-based tech company to go public was Atlanta's Travelport Worldwide, which raised $480 million for its travel-industry software. In fact, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers, of the 18 tech companies that raised more than $40 million in global IPOs last quarter, only two were based in the US (10 were based in China). In the second quarter, 14 US tech companies raised $4.1 billion.
In the PwC quarterly tech IPO report, Alan Jones attributed the slowdown to the seasonally sluggish August as well as “several US private technology companies raising large late-stage financing transactions, further delaying their requirement to enter the public markets."
In general, enterprise companies have been more willing to brave the IPO market than consumer tech companies like Box, Pinterest, Uber and Airbnb that were expected to go public in 2014. In coming weeks, GoDaddy is planning to dive into the public market, although the IPO is likely to be one of the least palatable of the year.
New Relic is hardly a household name among consumers, but it may be the highest-profile US tech company to file for an IPO in the wake of Alibaba. The company saw revenue grow 113 percent last year to $30 million, following a 154-percent growth rate a year earlier. In the first six months of 2014, revenue grew 83 percent to $48 million. New Relic posted a $20 million operating loss in the first half of the year. As a percent of revenue, the operating loss shrank to 41 percent from 70 percent a year earlier.
New Relic is trying to push its software analytics platform beyond developers, building a dashboard that can be used easily by those who aren't coders or data scientists. Product managers can track in real time how a product launch is being received. Managers can see how pricing changes affect customer retention. Customer-support teams can build custom applications to troubleshoot recurring problems.
Hortonworks, meanwhile, saw revenue rise to $11.4 million last year from $3.6 million in 2012. In the first nine months of 2014, the company's revenue grew 88 percent to $19.2 million. Operating loss, however, grew to $81 million (or more than four times revenue) from $49 million in the year-ago period. So the company has a long way to go to profitability, although the growth in current billings and the interest in big data could persuade some investors to accept the risk.
Yahoo owns a 20-percent stake in the company while Benchmark owns another 19 percent. The company was spun off from Yahoo in 2011 and has since raced against rival Cloudera for a leadership position in the Hadoop space. Questions have lingered about how easy it will be to make money from Hadoop, but there's little question it is in demand among companies in the era of big data.
In recent weeks, other data-oriented companies have gone public. In early October, financial-app hub Yodlee raised $75 million, while Hubspot, a marketing-software maker, raised $125 million. Both stocks are trading above their offering prices, despite going public with a history of operating losses. Others haven't fared so well. Cloud-based enterprise software maker Upland Software and online-retailer Wayfair are both trading below their offering prices.
As a rule, Wall Street seems to be willing to embrace tech IPOs that are going public while losing money provided that they are using cloud technology to create novel platforms that are generating interest among businesses, even if not steady profits. As long as the bullish mood of the market endures, New Relic and Hortonworks are likely to continue that trend.