ServiceNow leaps into applications performance monitoring with Lightstep acquisition

This morning ServiceNow announced that it was acquiring Lightstep, an applications performance monitoring startup that has raised over $70 million, according to Crunchbase data. The companies did not share the acquisition price.

ServiceNow wants to take advantage of Lightstep’s capabilities to enhance its IT operations offerings. With Lightstep, the company should be able to provide customers with a way to monitor the performance of applications with the goal of detecting problems before the grow into major issues that take down a website or application.

“With Lightstep, ServiceNow will transform how software solutions are delivered to customers. This will ultimately make it easier for customers to innovate quickly. Now they’ll be able to build and operate their software faster than ever before and take the new era of work head on with confidence,” Pablo Stern, SVP & GM for IT Workflow Products at ServiceNow said in a statement.

Ben Sigelman, founder and CEO at Lightstep sees the larger organization being a good landing spot for his company. “We’ve always believed that the value of observability should extend across the entire enterprise, providing greater clarity and confidence to every team involved in these modern, digital businesses. By joining ServiceNow, together we will realize that vision for our customers and help transform the world of work in the process […], Sigelman said in a statement.

Lightstep is part of the application performance monitoring market with companies like DataDog, New Relic and AppDynamics, which Cisco acquired in 2017 the week before it was scheduled to IPO for $3.7 billion. It seems to be an area that is catching the interest of larger enterprise vendors, who are picking off smaller startups in the space.

Last November, IBM bought Instana, an APM startup and then bought Turbonomic for $2 billion at the end of last month as a complementary technology. Being able to monitor apps and keep them up and running is crucial, not only from a business continuity perspective, but also from a brand loyalty one. Even if the app isn’t completely down, but is running slowly or generally malfunctioning in some way, it’s likely to annoy users and could ultimately cause users to jump to a competitor. This type of software gives customers the ability to observe and detect problems before they have an impact on large numbers of users.

Lightstep, which is based in San Jose California, was founded in 2015. It raised $70 million from investors like Altimeter Capital, Sequoia, Redpoint and Harrison Metal. Customers include GitHub, Spotify and Twilio. The deal is expected to close this quarter.

Activist investor Starboard Value makes official bid for Box board seats in letter

Last week activist investor Starboard delivered a public letter rebuking the company for what it perceives as under performance. Today the firm, which owns 8% of Box stock, making it the company’s largest stock holder, took it a step further with an official slate of four candidates it will be putting up at the next stockholder’s meeting.

While the company rehashed many of the same complaints as in last week’s letter, this week’s explicitly stated its intent to run its own slate of candidates for the Box board. “Therefore, in accordance with the Company’s governance deadlines and in order to preserve our rights as stockholders, we have delivered a formal notice to Box nominating four highly qualified director candidates (the “Nominees”) for election to the Board at the Annual Meeting,” Starboard wrote in a public letter to Box.

Box responded in a press release that the Board as currently constituted categorically rejects this attempt by Starboard to take over additional seats.

“The Box Board of Directors does not believe the changes to the Board proposed by Starboard are warranted or in the best interests of all stockholders. The Box Board has been consistently responsive to feedback from all of its stockholders, including suggestions from Starboard, and open-minded toward all value enhancing opportunities. Furthermore, Starboard’s statements do not accurately depict the progress Box has made,” the Board wrote in a statement this morning.

Box further points out that the company overhauled the Board last year with three new board members specifically receiving Starboard approval.

What is driving Starboard to take this action? Like any good activist investor it wants a higher stock price and is seeking for more growth from Box. Activist investors often come in and try to extract value by brute force when they perceive the company is under performing. The end game were they successful could involve removing Levie as CEO or more likely selling the company and grabbing its profit on the way out.

Box asserted that “Starboard’s statements do not accurately depict the progress Box has made,” highlighting some of its recent financial performance including “a $127 million increase in free cash flow in fiscal 2021.” The former private-market darling also argued that its fiscal 2021 “revenue growth rate plus free cash flow margin [came to more than] 26%,” which beat its own target of 25% and was “nearly double” what it managed in its fiscal 2020.

This is a good time for a ‘yes, but‘: Yes, but Box’s ability to improve its profitability does not change the fact that its growth rate has been in steady decline for years. And while a company’s growth rate can cover nearly any sin, slowing growth that has already slipped into the single digits doesn’t cut Box much slack. (For reference, in its most recent quarter, the fourth of its fiscal 2021, Box grew just 8% on a year-over-year basis.)

It’s worth noting that the company did promise “accelerated growth and higher operating margins in the years ahead” in its most recent earnings call, but the company’s recent $500 million investment from KKR particularly irked Starboard, which asserts that it was akin to ‘buying the vote.’

“[Box] made several poor capital allocation decisions, including its recent entry into a financing transaction that we believe serves no business purpose and was done in the face of a potential election contest with Starboard at the 2021 Annual Meeting of Stockholders.”

Now it’s becoming a battle over more board seats. Box is putting up Levie, Verisign CFO Dana Evan and Peter Leav, Chief Executive Officer of McAfee and former Chief Executive Officer of BMC.

Starboard nominees include Deborah S. Conrad, former executive at Intel; Peter A. Feld, Starboard’s head of research; John R. McCormack, former CEO of WebSense and Xavier D. Williams, a director of American Virtual Cloud Technologies.

The vote will take place at the Box stockholder’s meeting, which has traditionally been held in late June or early July. To this point, the company has not put out the exact date publicly.

From bootstrapped to a $2.1B valuation, ReCharge raises $227M for subscription management platform

ReCharge, a provider of subscription management software for e-commerce, announced today that it has raised $227 million in a Series B growth round at a $2.1 billion valuation. 

Summit Partners, ICONIQ Growth and Bain Capital Ventures provided the capital.

Notably, Santa Monica, California-based ReCharge was bootstrapped for several years before raising $50 million in a previously undisclosed Series A from Summit Partners in January of 2020. And, it’s currently cash flow positive, according to company execs. With this round, ReCharge has raised a total of $277 million in funding.

Over the years, the company’s SaaS platform has evolved from a subscription billing/payments platform to include a broader set of offerings aimed at helping e-commerce businesses boost revenues and cut operating costs.

Specifically, ReCharge’s cloud-based software is designed to give e-commerce merchants a way to offer and manage subscriptions for physical products. It also aims to help these brands, primarily direct to consumer companies, grow by providing them with ways to “easily” add subscription offerings to their business with the goal of turning one-time purchasers “into loyal, repeat customers.”

The company has some impressive growth metrics, no doubt in part driven by the COVID-19 pandemic’s push to all things digital. ReCharge’s ARR grew 146% in 2020, while revenue grew over 136% over the same period, according to co-founder and CEO Oisin O’Connor, although he declined to reveal hard numbers. The startup has 15,000 customers and 20 million subscribers across 180 countries on its platform. Customers include Harry’s, Oatly, Fiji Water, Billie and Native. But even prior to the pandemic, it had doubled its processing volume each year for the past five years and has processed over $5.3 billion in transactions since its 2014 inception.

ReCharge also has 328 employees, up from 140 in January of 2020.

“We saw many brick and mortar stores, such as Oatly, offer their products through subscriptions as a result of the pandemic in 2020,” O’Connor told TechCrunch. “Certain categories such as food & beverage and pet foods were some of the fastest growing segments in total subscriber count, with 100% and 147% increases, respectively, as non-discretionary spending shifted online.”

He was surprised to see that growth also extend beyond the most obvious categories. For example, ReCharge saw beauty care products subscribers grow by 120% last year.

“Overall, we saw a 91% subscriber growth in 2020 across the board in all categories of subscriptions,” O’Connor told TechCrunch. “We believe there is a combination of factors at play: the pandemic, the rise of physical subscriptions and the rise of direct-to-consumer buying.”

ReCharge plans to use its fresh capital to accelerate hiring in both R&D (engineering and product) and go-to-market functions such as sales, marketing and customer success. It plans to continue its expansion into other e-commerce platforms such as BigCommerce, Salesforce Commerce Cloud and Magento, and outside of North America into other geographic markets, starting with Europe. ReCharge also plans to “broaden” its acquisition scope so that it can “accelerate” its time-to-market in certain domains, according to O’Connor, and of course build upon its products and services.

Yoonkee Sull, partner at ICONIQ Growth, said his firm has been watching the rapid rise of subscription commerce for several years “as more merchants have looked for ways to deepen relationships with loyal customers and consumers increasingly have sought out more convenient and flexible ways to buy from their favorite brands.”

Ultimately, ICONIQ is betting on its belief that ReCharge “will continue to take significant share in a fast-growing market,” he told TechCrunch.

Sull believes the ReCharge team identified the subscription e-commerce opportunity early on and addresses the numerous nuanced needs of the market with “a fully-featured product that uniquely enables both the smallest merchants and largest brands to easily adopt and scale with their platform.”

Andrew Collins, managing director at Summit Partners, was impressed that the company saw so much growth without external capital for years, due to its “efficiency and discipline.”

The ReCharge team identified a true product-market fit and built a product that customers love — which has fueled strong organic growth as the business has scaled,” Collins added.

Emerging open cloud security framework has backing of Microsoft, Google and IBM

Each of the big cloud platforms has its own methodology for passing on security information to logging and security platforms, leaving it to the vendors to find proprietary ways to translate that into a format that works for their tool. The Cloud Security Notification Framework (CSNF), a new working group that includes Microsoft, Google and IBM is trying to create a new open and standard way of delivering this information.

Nick Lippis, who is co-founder and co-chairman of ONUG, an open enterprise cloud community, which is the primary driver of CSNF says that what they’ve created is part standard and part open source. “What we’ve been really focusing on is how do we automate governance on the cloud. And so security was the place that was ripe for that where we can actually provide some value right away for the community,” he said.

While they’ve pulled in some of the big cloud vendors, they’ve also got large companies who consume cloud services like FedEx, Pfizer and Goldman Sachs. Conspicuously missing from the group is AWS, the biggest player in the cloud infrastructure market by far. But Lippis says that he hopes as the project matures, other companies including AWS will join.

“There’s lots of security programs and industry programs that get out there and that people are asking them to join, and so some companies want to wait to see how well this pans out [before making a commitment to it],” Lippis said. His hope is that over time, that Amazon will come around and join the group, but in the meantime they are working to get to the point everyone in the community will feel good about what they’re doing.

The idea is to start with security alerts and find a way to build a common format to give companies the same kind of system they have in the data center to track security alerts in the cloud. The way they hope to do that is with this open dialogue between the cloud vendors and the companies involved with the group.

“So the structure of that is that there’s a steering committee that is chaired by CISOs from these large cloud consumer brands, and also the cloud providers, and they provide voting and direction. And then there’s the working group where all the work is done. The beauty of what we do is that we have now consumers and also providers working together and collaborating,” he said.

Don Duet, a member of ONUG, who is CEO and co-founder of Concourse Labs, has been involved in the formation of the CSNF. He says to keep the project focused they are looking at this as a data management problem and they are establishing a common vocabulary for everyone to work within the group.

“How do you build a consensus on what are the types of terms that everybody can agree on and then you build the underlying basis so that the experts in your resource providers in this case, Cloud Service Providers, can bless how their data [connects] to those common standards,” Duet explained.

He says that particular problem is more of an organizational problem than a technical one, getting the various stakeholders together and just building consensus around this. At this point, they have that process in place and the next step is proving it by having the various companies involved in this test it out in the coming months.

After they get past the testing phase, in October they plan to actually demonstrate what this looks like in a before and after scenario, with the new framework and without it. As the group works toward these goals, the hope is that eventually the framework will become more established and other companies and vendors will come on board and make this a more standard way of sharing security alerts. If all goes well, they hope to build in other security information into this framework over time.

Timescale grabs $40M Series B as it goes all in on cloud version of time series database

Timescale, makers of the open source TimescaleDB time series database, announced a $40 million Series B financing round today. The investment comes just over two years after it got a $15 million Series A.

Redpoint Ventures led today’s round with help from existing investors Benchmark, New Enterprise Associates, Icon Ventures and Two Sigma Ventures. The company reports it has now raised approximately $70 million.

TimescaleDB lets users measure data across a time dimension, so anything that would change over time. “What we found is we need a purpose-built database for it to handle scalability, reliability and performance, and we like to think of ourselves as the category-defining relational database for time series,” CEO and co-founder Ajay Kulkarni explained.

He says that the choice to build their database on top of Postgres when it launched 4 years ago was a key decision. “There are a few different databases that are designed for time series, but we’re the only one where developers get the purpose-built time series database plus a complete Postgres database all in one…,” he said.

While the company has an open source version, last year it decided rather than selling an enterprise version (as it had been), it was going to include all of that functionality in the free version of the product and place a bet entirely on the cloud for revenue.

“We decided that we’re going to make a bold bet on the cloud. We think cloud is where the future of database adoption is, and so in the last year, […] we made all of our enterprise features free. If you want to test it yourself, you get the whole thing, but if you want a managed service, then we’re available to run it for you,” he said.

The community approach is working to attract users, with over 2 million monthly active databases, some of which the company is betting will convert to the cloud service over time. Timescale is based in New York City, but it’s a truly remote organization with 60 employees spread across 20 countries and every continent except Antarctica.

He says that as a global company, it creates new dimensions of diversity and different ways of thinking about it. “I think one thing that is actually kind of an interesting challenge for us is what does D&I mean in a totally global org. A lot of people focus on diversity and inclusion within the U.S., but we think we’re doing better than most tech companies in terms of racial diversity, gender diversity,” he said.

And being remote first isn’t going to change even when we get past the pandemic. “I think it may not work for every business, but I think like being remote first has been a real good thing for us,” he said.

SAP CEO Christian Klein looks back on his first year

SAP CEO Christian Klein was appointed co-CEO with Jennifer Morgan last April just as the pandemic was hitting full force across the world. Within six months, Morgan was gone and he was sole CEO, put in charge of a storied company at 38 years old. By October, its stock price was down and revenue projections for the coming years were flat.

That is definitely not the way any CEO wants to start their tenure, but the pandemic forced Klein to make some decisions to move his customers to the cloud faster. That, in turn, had an impact on revenue until the transition was completed. While it makes sense to make this move now, investors weren’t happy with the news.

There was also the decision to spin out Qualtrics, the company his predecessor acquired for $8 billion in 2018. As he looked back on the one-year mark, Klein sat down with me to discuss all that has happened and the unique set of challenges he faced.

Just a pandemic, no biggie

Starting in the same month that a worldwide pandemic blows up presents unique challenges for a new leader. For starters, Klein couldn’t visit anyone in person and get to know the team. Instead, he went straight to Zoom and needed to make sure everything was still running.

The CEO says that the company kept chugging along in spite of the disruption. “When I took over this new role, I of course had some concerns about how to support 400,000 customers. After one year, I’ve been astonished. Our support centers are running without disruption and we are proud of that and continue to deliver value,” he said.

Taking over when he couldn’t meet in person with employees or customers has worked out better than he thought. “It was much better than I expected, and of course personally for me, it’s different. I’m the CEO, but I wasn’t able to travel and so I didn’t have the opportunity to go to the U.S., and this is something that I’m looking forward to now, meeting people and talking to them live,” he said.

That’s something he simply wasn’t able to do for his first year because of travel restrictions, so he says communication has been key, something a lot of executives have discussed during COVID. “I’m in regular contact with the employees, and we do it virtually. Still, it’s not the same as when you do it live, but it helps a lot these days. I would say you cannot over-communicate in such times,” he said.

Starboard Value puts Box on notice that it’s looking to take over board

Activist investor Starboard Value is clearly. fed up with Box and it let the cloud content management know it in no uncertain terms in a letter published yesterday. The firm, which bought a 7.7% stake in Box two years ago claims the company is underperforming, executing poorly and making bad business decisions — and it wants to inject the board of directors with new blood.

While they couched the letter in mostly polite language, it’s quite clear Starboard is exasperated with Box. “While we appreciate the dialogue we have had with Box’s management team and Board of Directors (the “Board”) over the past two years, we have grown increasingly frustrated with continued poor results, questionable capital allocation decisions, and subpar shareholder returns,” Starboard wrote in its letter.

Box as you can imagine did not take kindly to the shot across its bow and responded in a press release that it has bent over backwards to accommodate Starboard including refreshing the board last year when they added several numbers, whom they point out were approved by Starboard.

“Box has a diverse and independent Board with directors who bring extensive technology experience across enterprise and consumer markets, enterprise IT, and global go-to-market strategy, as well as deep financial acumen and proven track records of helping public companies drive disciplined growth, profitability, and stockholder value. Furthermore, seven of the ten directors on the Box Board will have joined the Board within the last three years,” the company wrote in a statement. In other words, Box is saying it already has injected the new blood that Starboard claims it wants.

Box recently got a $500 million cash injection from KKR widely believed to be an attempt to bulk up cash reserves with the goal generating growth via acquisition. Starboard was particularly taken aback by this move, however. “The only viable explanation for this financing is a shameless and utterly transparent attempt to “buy the vote” and shows complete disregard for proper corporate governance and fiscal discipline,” Starboard wrote.

Alan Pelz-Sharpe, founder and principal analyst at Deep Analysis, a firm that closely tracks the content management market, says the two sides clearly aren’t aligned and that’s not likely to change. “Starboard targeted and gained a seat on the board at Box at a difficult time for the firm, thats the modus operandi for activist investors. Since that time there has clearly been a lot of improvements in terms of Box’s financial goals. However, there is and will remain a misalignment between Starboard’s goals, and Box led by Levie as a whole. Though both would like to see the share price rise, Starboard’s end goal is most likely to see Box acquired, sooner rather than later, and that is not Box’s goal,” he said.

Starboard believes the only way to resolve this situation is to inject the board with still more new blood, taking a swipe at the Box leadership team while it was at it. “There is no good reason that Box should be unable to deliver improved growth and profitability, at least in-line with better performing software companies, which, in turn, would create significant shareholder value,” Starboard wrote.

As such the firm indicated it would be putting up its own slate of board candidates at the company’s next board meeting. In the tit for tat that has been this exchange, Box indicated it would be doing the same.

Meanwhile Box vigorously defended its results. “In the past year, under the oversight of the Operating Committee, the company has made substantial progress across all facets of the business — strategic, operational and financial — as demonstrated by the strong results reported for the full year of fiscal 2021,” the company wrote, pointing to its revenue growth last fiscal year as proof of the progress with revenue of $771 million up 11% year over year.

It’s unclear how this standoff will play out, but clearly Starboard wants to take over the Board and have its way with Box, believing that it can perform better if it were in charge. That could result ultimately, as Pelz-Sharpe suggested, in Box being acquired.

We would appear to heading for a showdown, and when it’s over, Box could be a very different company, or the current leadership could assert control once and for all and we could proceed with Box’s current growth strategy still in place. Time will tell which is the case.

Equity Monday: TechCrunch goes Yahoo while welding robots raise $56M

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is Equity Monday, our weekly kickoff that tracks the latest private market news, talks about the coming week, digs into some recent funding rounds and mulls over a larger theme or narrative from the private markets. You can follow the show on Twitter here and myself here.

This morning was a notable one in the life of TechCrunch the publication, as our parent company’s parent company decided to sell our parent company to a different parent company. And now we’re to have to get new corporate IDs, again, as it appears that our new parent company’s parent company wants to rebrand our parent company. As Yahoo.

Cool.

Anyway, a bunch of other stuff happened as well:

We’re back Wednesday with something special. Chat then!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 AM PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

Dell dumps another big asset moving Boomi to Francisco Partners and TPG for $4B

It’s widely known that Dell has a debt problem left over from its massive acquisition of EMC in 2016, and it seems to be moving this year to eliminate part of it in multi-billion chunks. The first step was spinning out VMware as a separate company last month, a move expected to net close to $10 billion.

The second, long expected, finally dropped last night when the company announced it was selling Boomi to a couple of private equity firms for $4 billion. Francisco Partners is joining forces with TPG to make the deal to buy the integration platform.

Boomi is not unlike Mulesoft, a company that Salesforce purchased in 2018 for $6.5 billion, although a bit longer in tooth. They both help companies with integration problems by creating connections between disparate systems. With so many pieces in place from various acquisitions over the years, it seems like a highly useful asset for Dell to help pull these pieces together and make them work, but the cash is trumping that need.

Providing integration services is a growing requirement as companies look for ways to make better use of data locked in siloed systems. Boomi could help and that’s one of the primary reasons for the acquisition, according to Francisco executives.

“The ability to integrate and connect data and workflows across any combination of applications or domains is a critical business capability, and we strongly believe that Boomi is well positioned to help companies of all sizes turn data into their most valuable asset,” Francisco CEO Dipanjan Deb and partner Brian Decker said in a statement.

As you would expect, Boomi’s CEO Chris McNabb put a positive spin on the deal about how his new bosses were going to fuel growth for his company. “By partnering with two tier-one investment firms like Francisco Partners and TPG, we can accelerate our ability for our customers to use data to drive competitive advantage. In this next phase of growth, Boomi will be in a position of strength to further advance our innovation and market trajectory while delivering even more value to our customers,” McNabb said in a statement.

All of this may have some truth to it, but the company goes from being part of a large amorphous corporation to getting absorbed in the machinery of two private equity firms. What happens next is hard to say.

The company was founded in 2000, and sold to Dell in 2010. Today, it has 15,000 customer, but Dell’s debt has been well documented, and when you string together a couple of multi-billion deals as Dell has recently, pretty soon you’re talking real money. While the company has not stated it will explicitly use the proceeds of this deal to pay off debt as it did with the VMware announcement, it stands to reason that this will be the case.

The deal is expected to close later this year, although it will have to pass the typical regulatory scrutiny prior to that.

Cloud infrastructure market keeps rolling in Q1 with almost $40B in revenue

Conventional wisdom over the last year has suggested that the pandemic has driven companies to the cloud much faster than they ever would have gone without that forcing event with some suggesting it has compressed years of transformation into months. This quarter’s cloud infrastructure revenue numbers appear to be proving that thesis correct.

With The Big Three — Amazon, Microsoft and Google — all reporting this week, the market generated almost $40 billion in revenue, according to Synergy Research data. That’s up $2 billion from last quarter and up 37% over the same period last year. Canalys’s numbers were slightly higher at $42 billion.

As you might expect if you follow this market, AWS led the way with $13.5 billion for the quarter up 32% year over year. That’s a run rate of $54 billion. While that is an eye-popping number, what’s really remarkable is the yearly revenue growth, especially for a company the size and maturity of Amazon. The law of large numbers would suggest this isn’t sustainable, but the pie keeps growing and Amazon continues to take a substantial chunk.

Overall AWS held steady with 32% market share. While the revenue numbers keep going up, Amazon’s market share has remained firm for years at around this number. It’s the other companies down market that are gaining share over time, most notably Microsoft which is now at around 20% share good for about $7.8 billion this quarter.

Google continues to show signs of promise under Thomas Kurian, hitting $3.5 billion good for 9% as it makes a steady march towards double digits. Even IBM had a positive quarter, led by Red Hat and cloud revenue good for 5% or about $2 billion overall.

Synergy Research cloud infrastructure bubble map for Q1 2021. AWS is leader, followed by Microsoft and Google.

Image Credits: Synergy Research

John Dinsdale, chief analyst at Synergy says that even though AWS and Microsoft have firm control of the market, that doesn’t mean there isn’t money to be made by the companies playing behind them.

“These two don’t have to spend too much time looking in their rearview mirrors and worrying about the competition. However, that is not to say that there aren’t some excellent opportunities for other players. Taking Amazon and Microsoft out of the picture, the remaining market is generating over $18 billion in quarterly revenues and growing at over 30% per year. Cloud providers that focus on specific regions, services or user groups can target several years of strong growth,” Dinsdale said in a statement.

Canalys, another firm that watches the same market as Synergy had similar findings with slight variations, certainly close enough to confirm one another’s findings. They have AWS with 32%, Microsoft 19%, and Google with 7%.

Canalys market share chart with Amazon with 32%, Microsoft 19% and Google 7%

Image Credits: Canalys

Canalys analyst Blake Murray says that there is still plenty of room for growth, and we will likely continue to see big numbers in this market for several years. “Though 2020 saw large-scale cloud infrastructure spending, most enterprise workloads have not yet transitioned to the cloud. Migration and cloud spend will continue as customer confidence rises during 2021. Large projects that were postponed last year will resurface, while new use cases will expand the addressable market,” he said.

The numbers we see are hardly a surprise anymore, and as companies push more workloads into the cloud, the numbers will continue to impress. The only question now is if Microsoft can continue to close the market share gap with Amazon.