Recently, an interesting question about the preferred packaging of the storage product by startups came up during my conversation with few private equity acquaintances. The opinions were kind of biased and fell along their past professional background.
The opinion from finance-focused guy was that most software products require less initial investment in infrastructure and working capital needs for distribution, service and support. The software startups tend to become cash flow positive and profitable lot more quickly with early market successes. The opinion from sales-focused guy was to have a product in physical form that a potential customer can visualize, feel and touch. A physical product tend to raise fewer investigative queries about the inner-workings and the inquisitive knob-turnings that tend to happen with software product.
I am of the opinion that irrespective of the storage product packaging, the differentiation tend to come, most times, from the software running under the covers or as a standalone product. One lesson, I learned from my last entrepreneurial storage adventure was that during early round of financing, the pressure for a "working" prototype is lot greater with a storage software product than hardware product.
I decided to further look in to the question of whether startups with physical storage product are perceived better by looking at the value placed on them in the marketplace. Unfortunately, the earliest available public financial data for startup is when it files for IPO registration.
This is an attempt in finding patterns for startups from the public financial data of recent IPOs by Isilon, Data Domain, Riverbed, Mallanox, Commvault and Double-Take. A visual representation of revenue, income/loss, market capitalization and change in market cap after 12 days of trading for these six recent IPOs is shown below.
Be mindful of the limitations and assumptions made to simplify the analysis such as few data points, number of outstanding shares remaining unchanged at IPO, market cap as indicator of value of company and equating price change with change in market cap over short period of trading after IPO, and adjusting revenue and income to make them consistent across all IPOs.
Some of my observations from this analysis are:
Storage software and component vendors were valued less at IPO compared to storage hardware despite being profitable and revenues at par or higher. During early trading, public markets didn't reward software and component vendors for better financial strength either. The gains in market cap during first 12 days of trading were significantly higher for hardware IPOs. Being profitable doesn't necessarily gets rewarded. The extent of profit/loss had little bearing on performance of storage IPOs. Maturity of business results in lower rewards. Double-Take was seriously undervalued and under-appreciated in all aspects.
Last Friday, Gary also wrote about the price performance of storage IPOs during past six months in his post IPO Class of 2006. He mentioned that Riverbed and Double-Take had highest percentage price gain, while Isilon is swooning and Commvault is in doldrums. May be the efficiency of the marketplace is being finally realized.
As I was using IPO data as a proxy to startup value, I decided not to extend the time period of analysis (may do anyway, now). The primary reason was to simplify the analysis and keep the data mining and normalization workload manageable - several vendors had secondary offerings, number of outstanding shares may have changed, temporary changes in financial data resulting from IPO event and proceeds, and lock-up expiration.
Share your thoughts and opinions on the success/failure of startups and storage IPOs.