February 26, 2021

DealBook: Behind the Glittery Web Start-Ups, Investors See Other Gold

Thor Swift for The New York TimesRich Wong, left, and Jay Simmons of Atlassian, an enterprise start-up that generated $100 million in revenue before it had hired a single sales person.

While the spotlight of the latest technology boom has been trained on a cluster of popular consumer applications like Facebook, Groupon and Zynga, investors are increasingly taking a shine to the start-ups building the infrastructure for those Internet powerhouses.

Silicon Valley’s largest venture capital firms are raising their stakes in so-called enterprise companies, which provide software, analytics and other services to business customers. They are betting that the emerging players in this space, typically considered the least sexy part of technology, will siphon market share from the lumbering giants like Oracle and Microsoft.

“There’s a manifest destiny, and the old guard is slowly being shunted aside, as start-ups eat their lunch,” said Scott Weiss, a partner at the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, whose portfolio includes enterprise players like the data storage service Box and the software maker Asana.

The technological and cultural gap between the giants and the start-ups is vast. Enterprise services have commonly featured costly, multiyear licensing agreements, installed software and in-house solutions. But the old model is eroding, disrupted by a new group of Web-based companies that offer their products remotely, through what’s known as the cloud.

As Internet usage explodes, more companies are looking for low-cost solutions that can be installed immediately and scaled up or down rapidly. Cloud-based services can be accessed by any employee through the Web, and data usage is not restricted by the number of on-site servers. And the services are often cheaper because they charge based on usage, rather than for a fixed number of licenses.

“Historically, a company may buy some heavyweight software from SAP, put it on an Oracle database and use EMC’s servers,” said Ping Li, of the venture capital firm Accel Partners. “But you look at Google, Facebook, they don’t have that stuff — they need tools with more scale, more flexibility.”

Mr. Weiss points to his firm’s investment portfolio. Of the roughly 60 consumer and business-related companies, including Twitter, Zynga and Groupon, not one is a customer of the enterprise juggernaut Oracle.

Instead of huge sales forces, the enterprise start-ups often rely on word-of-mouth marketing and free trials to lure customers. Atlassian, a software development and collaboration tool, hit $100 million in revenue without hiring a single sales person. Last year, the company picked up $60 million from Accel — the venture firm’s largest software investment.

“We are instantly one to many on the Web,” said Jay Simons, Atlassian’s president.

The strategic shift is expected to spur mergers and acquisitions, as the older players, like Oracle, Microsoft and SAP, face pressure to change their DNA. So far this year, enterprise deal-making has surged 82.7 percent in value, to $20 billion, accounting for 14.5 percent of all technology deals — the highest level since 2003, according to data from Thomson Reuters.

In Silicon Valley, the competition for start-ups is also intensifying. Last Thursday, Andreessen Horowitz announced it had led a $15 million investment round in GoodData, a Web-based business analytics platform. Earlier this week, Wanova, a desktop management service, raised $10 million, and Pure Storage, a maker of high-capacity storage drives, raised $30 million.

“In the next couple of years, our focus on enterprise will increase,” said Ted Schlein, a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers, noting that valuations in the area had jumped by about 30 percent in the last year.

Accel, one of the earliest investors in Facebook, is also “focusing much more on these ‘consumerized’ software services,” according to a partner, Richard Wong.

GoodData’s chief executive, Roman Stanek, said he held discussions with 12 venture firms for his latest financing round. In the end, six competed aggressively, before Mr. Stanek picked Andreessen Horowitz.

“Enterprise tends to move at a glacial pace,” said Mr. Stanek, a veteran entrepreneur who has previously sold two software businesses. “But the consolidation of the industry is accelerating, and the segmentation is becoming more obvious.”

Still, these start-ups face significant challenges on the way to becoming the next Oracle. Adoption can be slow since corporations are often hesitant to reconfigure big chunks of their technology infrastructure. Some have to get over the psychological hurdle of trusting everything to the cloud.

As Web-based applications become more robust and reliable, confidence goes up, but services are not bulletproof. Earlier this month, Amazon’s Web Services, suffered two outages, which momentarily crippled Internet businesses like Netflix and Foursquare.

Despite the hiccups, the venture capital backers remain confident in this next generation of enterprise names, seeing them as part of a natural development of the Web. As they see it, they are also prime targets for the aging giants or more established upstarts like Salesforce, a $15 billion software company built during the last dot-com boom, and VMware, which has made several cloud-centric purchases this year, including SlideRocket and Socialcast.

Like their consumer peers, these start-ups are finding the public markets welcoming. Jive Software, a Kleiner Perkins-backed company, filed to go public late Wednesday.

“In the venture world, we talk a lot about the leading trends in social and mobile but underneath the consumer-facing side, foundational elements are also shifting,” said Mr. Wong.

“The new enterprise companies are the picks and shovels that sit behind these consumer start-ups.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=3e5060a7ce01904b1a215d5664f21d78

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