VC funds open bargain basement

Sale  credit: Shutterstock
Sale credit: Shutterstock

Three recent deals illustrate the trend of tech investors clearing their portfolios of under-performing companies to make way for the next thing.

Hard times require hard measures: in the past six months, since technology investors started substantially reducing the flow of cash to their portfolio companies, they have also started speeding up sales of companies. First on the block are older companies that have not managed to conquer market share, or that have not managed to grow and generate a potentially large return on investment.

At the same time, more and more investment banks have been expanding their activity in Israel recently, with the aim of finding such acquisition opportunities. Among the banks that have boosted their presence are Landmark, Moelis, William Blair, and Oppenheimer.

Technology funds are taking advantage of this period to make a clear out of their portfolios for several reasons. First of all, further investment in their less well performing companies will be liable to dilute them further around the investor table. They prefer to realize their investments in cash and return it to their investors. Secondly, they want to free up time and energy for the next generation of promising companies. So companies that have been on the road a long time but haven’t got far are having to give way to younger companies with better prospects.

Longstanding shareholders who have grown tired of pumping in more and more money want to move on to the next thing, and hope that the existing team will find a warm home somewhere else, even at the price of losing profits or compromising on the return on investment. In most cases, there are overlapping interests: foreign companies are looking for leading technological teams, high-quality products, and business centers outside the US to which they can transfer revenue and profits, often for tax reasons.

1 Competition with giants squeezing out startups

In the middle of the last decade, when several top-tier investors, such as VC firms JVP, Pitango, Verizon, and Magma (which has since been dissolved) sat around the table of investors in Iguazio, the future looked promising. Iguazio looked as though it would slake the thirst of investors and the market for technology that would assist enterprises in implementing artificial intelligence-based systems quickly and easily, and monitoring them. The Israeli company enabled customers to install on each of the cloud services they used, such as those of Amazon, Microsoft and Google, sophisticated AI systems, and for that reason it was also an acquisition target for these giants.

Perhaps that is what led investors to put $81.7 million into the company, according to research company PitchBook, which also reveals that in 2020 Iguazio raised $24 million in a convertible loan at a post-money valuation of $167.6 million.

Over the years, Iguazio published several press releases indicating close relationships with the giant companies, such as Samsung and its cloud system and NetApp’s storage systems. The nature of the deals and expected revenue were never disclosed, but a senior market source claims that in fact Iguazio’s annual revenue never exceeded $10 million. In other words, the company has struggled to grow and to justify the high valuation it received three years ago. The company did not respond to "Globes’" enquiries.

Rapid changes in the market led to rapid successions of technological generations, and to greater crowding in a market that was in any case competitive. Storage for AI products underwent an upheaval, and Israeli company WEKA entered the field, while companies such as Fiddler and Datarobot, which in the past year have succeeded in raising hundreds of millions of dollars and becoming unicorns, stood out in real-time AI monitoring. In the meantime, the giants such as Google, Amazon and Microsoft started to offer more and more complementary services themselves, pushing the startups aside.

Last month, Iguazio was sold for $50 million. The buyer was not Samsung, NetApp, Google, Amazon, or Dell, but management consultancy McKinsey, which spotted an opportunity to broaden its enterprise software offering. PitchBook described the acquisition as part of a wave of consolidation in AI, and said that the company had not managed to increase its valuation beyond what it received in 2010, and that its growth had been low in terms of workforce expansion as well. As causes for this, PItchBook cited the fact that the market for enterprise AI products had remained fairly small in 2022, at $6.7 billion, with growing competition from the cloud computing giants.

2 The cyber industry that disappeared from the radar

About ten years ago, cybersecurity companies started to popup one after another in a new category that at the time was considered surprising and sophisticated: under the heading "hacker deception", Israeli companies such as Illusive Networks, TrapX, Cymmetria, and Minerva Labs raised tens of millions of dollars as part of what looked like the next promising trend in cyber. Since then, however, this field’s light has dimmed. Deception companies failed to demonstrate that they could build a business of their own. They only managed to offer something that would complement other cyber products.

Cymmetria was the first Israeli company to raise money in the prestigious startup accelerator Y Combinator of OpenAI founder Sam Altman. It was sold at no profit to its investors, and without the buyer making use of its technology. TrapX, among whose investors was BRM, was sold for half the amount invested in it; and Minerva Labs and Guardicore decided to switch to another product.

Last year, Illusive Networks, which was formed in the Team8 incubator and which has former IDF signals intelligence unit 8200 commander and Team8 co-founder and CEO Nadav Zafrir, and also Yuval Shachar, on its board, was left as the last remaining independent player in the sector. Illusive’s investors saw a glorious future ahead of it. It could have followed the path of major US rival Attivo, which was sold to Israeli company SentinelOne for $617 million in March last year. The two companies led expansion into other areas such as identity management, but they both struggled to remain independent.

A month ago, Illusive Networks was sold, but its fate was different from that of Attivo. All those close to the deal said it was "good for everyone" but refused to disclose how much was paid for the company, which had raised $57 million since 2015. According to research company IVC, the price was $125 million, giving a very modest return to the investors. In order to obtain the advantages of a product such as that of Illusive, information security managers prefer a comprehensive suite of products from one of the giant cybersecurity companies such as Palo Alto Networks, Microsoft, CrowdStrike, or SentinelOne.

3 Sometimes making profits isn’t enough

Last month, New York-based company Jeeng was sold to OpenWeb, an Israel advertising technology company, for $100 million, mostly in OpenWeb shares. This was a very profitable deal, since in the thirteen years of its existence Jeeng had raised only $1 million and had already repaid all the loans it had taken. Jeeng is an example of a company that may be profitable for years but that finds it hard to grow in a landscape of giants.

Jeeng developed technology that integrates advertisements into email newsletters of news websites. It suffered from adtech’s poor image, made worse by the fact that it operated in the news website market. Despite that, the investors in the company, Maverick Ventures for example, which came in after a down round in the company, made six to eight times their investment. Battery Ventures also made a return close to that. Aryeh Mergi, formerly at Dov Moran’s M Systems, who founded Jeeng, also came away with millions of dollars from the sale.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - - on February 14, 2023.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2023.

Sale  credit: Shutterstock
Sale credit: Shutterstock
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