For tech startups, the late 1990s were a different time. A more IPO-friendly time.
For one such example, we turn to a software provider that’s now well into adulthood—and one that entered private equity ownership four years ago today.
In our current ecosystem, new companies often stay private for a decade or longer, piling up venture capital funding to support long-term growth. But when Tibco Software got up and running in 1997, only two years passed before the company’s public debut. Led by founder Vivek Ranadivé (today the owner of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings), Tibco began trading on the NASDAQ in July 1999 with an offer price of $15 per share.
The move paid off in an immediate way. After less than six months as a public company, Tibco stock closed the year at $153 per share, representing a stunning tenfold increase in market value for the Palo Alto-based maker of business software.
In retrospect, it was a manifestation of a dot-com bubble stretched nearly to the point of bursting. Unlike many of its peers, though, Tibco survived when the bubble ultimately did pop—but it was some time before the company thrived again. Its stock price languished in the single digits into the 2010s, at which point a steady stream of acquisitions began to drive Tibco’s share value up. By 2012, it was over $30 per share. And once that figure started falling again, the buyout firms began to circle.
Ultimately, it was Vista Equity Partners that made a deal, acquiring Tibco for $24 per share in cash in a takeover worth a total of $4.3 billion that was officially announced December 5, 2014. Ranadivé stepped down from his position as CEO, with fellow longtime executive Murray Rode taking over the top spot.
At the time, such a lofty price was rarefied air for a software company being taken private by a PE firm. But in the months and years that immediately followed Vista’s Tibco takeover, such deals experienced a boom—not on the level of the dot-com boom, but certainly a real change in the way software companies were bought and sold.
In April 2015, Thoma Bravo and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan acquired application performance specialist Riverbed Technology for about $3.5 billion. Informatica, a creator of data integration software, sold four months later to a private equity consortium for some $5.3 billion. During 1Q 2016, IT infrastructure specialist SolarWinds sold to Silver Lake and Thoma Bravo for $4.5 billion and Vista sealed another huge deal in the space, buying Solera, which makes risk and protection software, for $6.5 billion. A few months later, Thoma Bravo bought data manager and analytics business Qlik for $3 billion.
Add those deals to the Tibco acquisition and that’s six of the nine most expensive take-private software deals in the US and Europe since the start of 2010, all occurring in a span of just over 20 months, per the PitchBook Platform.
And now, already, the firms that pumped billions of dollars into those take-private transactions are looking to realize their investments. In October, SolarWinds made a return to the public markets with an IPO, less than three years after going private. And in August, Bloomberg reported that Vista had held discussions about selling Tibco, in part to get out from under a debt load that now nears $3 billion.
The software company’s next move is still uncertain. But if the past two decades are any indication, whatever it is, the deal might prove to be at the forefront of another new trend in the public and private markets.
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