On Tuesday, March 25th, Facebook announced the $2 billion-plus acquisition of Oculus VR. Based in Irvine, CA, and founded in 2012, Oculus has been working to create a mass market virtual reality headset, which can be utilized to enhance the videogame experience. The brainchild of appropriately-named Palmer Luckey, Oculus has already created a successful developer tool kit, replete with a prototype headset, cables, power supplies, software, and lenses, and has sold over 60,000 copies thus far, according to the Wall Street Journal. Prices range from $300 to $350 per tool kit.
The strategy seems to be to get the tool kit into developer hands, gain feed-back on the product, and then create a consumer headset, already dubbed the Rift, which will be targeted to the large mass of video game users, four million of whom have purchased the Sony Playstation in the last several months.
The headset will feature ultra stereoscopic 3D rendering, a large field of view, as well as “ultra low latency head tracking,” according to the company’s founder. All of these features are designed to provide a more realistic, immersive, 3D experience than other products on the market, none of which have achieved critical mass. Oculus’ strategy is to provide an extremely affordable yet high quality device, which is already being assisted by breakthroughs in high density displays, and ultra lightweight sensors. Funded by several prestigious VC firms who have provided over $70 million in financing, Oculus is set to ship the second iteration of its software developer tool kit sometime in July.
The $2 billion acquisition includes $400 million in cash, approximately $1.6 billion in stock, and a potential earn out of $300 million, assuming certain milestones are met. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg sees larger plans for the company as a social platform that might include the potential for doctor patient consultation, online learning, virtual vacations, and sporting events. We think it is highly plausible that Oculus caught the attention of other consumer-oriented tech companies, including Microsoft, Google, and Apple, but may have been persuaded that its best chance to develop a mass market device would be to link up with Facebook. No doubt, the company’s VCs had strong thoughts about the valuation. If published reports regarding the sale of 60,000 developer toolkits are true, it seems plausible that Oculus generated over $18 million in revenue in the last year.
Mr. Chen, who hails from a modest upbringing in Hong Kong, and lived in New England for several years, where he attended the Northfield Mount Herman school on the banks of the Connecticut River, and graduated with a EE from Brown University in 1978. He then headed West to receive his masters in electrical engineering from the California Institute of Technology the following year.
John Chen began his career at Unisys, (the merger of mainframe computer companies Burroughs and Sperry) as a hardware engineer, and later became president and COO at age 38 of Pyramid Technology Corporation, a fast-growing computer company, based in San Jose, California, started by former HP engineers, and a pioneer in Reduced Instruction Set Computing. After Siemens acquired Pyramid and merged it into Siemens Nixdorf, Chen became president and CEO of Siemens Nixdorf’s Open Enterprise Computing Division in 1996.
A year later he joined Sybase, as president and CEO. Sybase, at one time, was the youngest and fastest growing database software company in the world, and a perceived challenger to Oracle for technology leadership. A series of management missteps pertaining to its products and technology, misleading financial statements, and ultimately lost investor credibility, led to a multi-year phase of purgatory—not unlike that experienced by BlackBerry.
This set the stage for a turnaround, which was led by John Chen, after he assumed leadership of the company in 1997. Under his leadership Sybase reemerged as a provider of data warehouse and other analytics software, mobile data management, messaging and virtualization technology. And the company recorded 55 consecutive quarters of profitability. In May of 2010 SAP AG the German enterprise applications software giant acquired Sybase for $5.8 billion, thus filling a gaping hole in its own product line, and better positioning itself as an Oracle competitor.
Among the myriad challenges facing John Chen and the management of Blackberry is what to do with the company’s smart phone and tablet business, which has steadily lost market share to long-standing competitors and up-starts. The company’s software challenges are no less daunting, although the company possesses solid mobile and security assets. Blackberry also benefits from several thousand patents relating to mobile devices, software, and security, and these are sure to be powerful assets in the future.
All in all, John Chen’s challenges exceed those that he faced upon joining Sybase some thirteen years ago. It will be interesting to see whether his interim position is followed by a more permanent one in which he can reestablish the leadership once held by the venerable Canadian company.
Constant Contact (NASDAQ: CTCT) of Waltham, Massachusetts is the category leader in email marketing software, with a cloud-based subscription software service that helps over 550,000 companies mount effective marketing campaigns, and maintain a continuous line of communication with customers and prospects. Though the company lost focus last year with an over-exuberant thrust into the social media market, Constant Contact, has, in the last several quarters returned to a more disciplined sales approach, and has added over 10,000 gross new customers in each of the last two quarters. We think it highly probable that CTCT will end 2013 with close to 600,000 active customers.
Constant Contact targets more than 20 million small and mid sized businesses in the U.S., as well as non-profits, including trade associations, schools, churches, hospitals and libraries. Constant Contact’s core email marketing product improves the quality and frequency of interaction with customers, constituents, and prospects, while reducing the costs associated with expensive, and often wasteful direct mail.
Three years ago Constant Contact offered only one product, email marketing, but now has six: online surveys, event marketing, social media marketing, local deals, and digital storefronts for small businesses. Each of these products target large addressable markets inside the company’s existing customer base, as well as new segments, which are receptive to the company’s affordable pricing. The new products have thus far been modest revenue contributors, yet signs are pointing in the right direction, as the company has demonstrated that its customer retention rate is 20 percent higher among customers that opt for two or more products, and 40 percent higher among customers who subscribe to three or more products.
CTCT has been slow to address overseas markets, but its products are used in the English language in over 100 countries. We believe the company will have a large addressable market overseas once it begins to roll out foreign language versions of its products.
Constant Contact, despite having made a dilutive acquisition, which cost the company over $65 million in cash, maintains a stellar balance sheet with nearly $100 million in cash, no debt, and negligible receivables. The company anticipates generating over $20 million in free cash flow this year, and not long ago initiated its first-ever share repurchase program, with an authorization for $20 million.
Constant Contact’s improving prospects coincide with a recent acceleration of M&A activity in the marketing automation sector led by Salesforce.com’s purchase of ExactTarget, and Oracle’s recent acquisition of Eloqua. Constant Contact’s large installed base, improving business model, growing portfolio of products, and untapped potential at the mid-range of the email marketing market are among its most alluring attributes, which may yet lift it above, rather than below many investors’ radar screens.
With annual sales of more than $420 million and a market cap of just over $200 million, Lionbridge provides a unique investment opportunity in global translation services. The 15 year-old company, based in Waltham, MA, provides services to translate written content across many languages in order to help corporations penetrate global markets.
Lionbridge’s blue chip customer base includes many of America’s leading global brands in technology and industrials, such as Microsoft, Google, Adobe Systems, Oracle, PTC, Hewlett Packard, as well as the two largest world wide manufacturers of smartphones.
A second key vertical market for LIOX is manufacturing, where the company works with industry titans such as Caterpillar, Rolls Royce, General Motors, Porsche, and Cummins. Lionbridge recently acquired a Mid-west technical documentation and illustration services company that will help expand its US mid-western manufacturing sector focus in accounts like GM, John Deere, Cummins, and Navistar.
Lionbridge draws upon a globally distributed full-time translation work force, as well as a part-time work force of over 120,000 translators to perform language translation and “last mile” localization for its customers, which include search engine leaders Google and Microsoft. LIOX’s unique business model allows it to staff projects efficiently and cost-effectively, according to customer demand.
In the last year, Lionbridge introduced its Global Marketing Operations service, which helps companies manage their global marketing campaigns and product launches, along with the translation, localization, content management, and search engine optimization for their websites.
We see four catalysts that lie ahead for Lionbridge:
Demand for translation services and software continues to rise as global corporations seek to expand their markets around the world. No longer simply a language translation and platform testing company, new services introduced in the last 24 months are helping to drive revenue growth and improve margins as Lionbridge expands its customer base outside of technology to address the needs of industry leaders in manufacturing, health sciences, and consumer products.
For Immediate Distribution
Monday, April 2, 2012
(WALTHAM, MA) Battle Road Research (www.battleroad.com), an independent stock research firm focused on the technology, health science, consumer, and renewable energy sectors, has announced that company President Ben Z. Rose will participate in the Bloomberg Technology Roundtable, a featured event at the annual Investorside Research Conference in New York City on Tuesday, April 3rd. The conference showcases thought leadership from the industry’s leading independent research companies, all of whom refrain from investment banking, and research for hire.
This year’s conference will feature a Technology Sector Roundtable hosted by Anand Srinivasan, semiconductor and hardware analyst at Bloomberg Industries. The panel theme is entitled The Emergence of the Technology Sector from the Prolonged Recession: What has Changed and What Hasn’t? Topics to be discussed include consumer electronics and social media, corporate Capex and ROI Measurements in hardware and software, unstructured “Big Data,” and the implications for various companies throughout the technology landscape.
Battle Road’s technology research is focused on internet, software, and hardware companies that are poised to capture growth opportunities in ecommerce, online advertising, cloud computing, social media, and digital manufacturing. Through its impending launch of Small Cap Snapshots, Battle Road is also on the lookout for stocks that have been overlooked by Wall Street and regional investment banks, as well as IPOs from the last two years that have fallen off the radar, or may have little coverage beyond the research reports written by their underwriters.
About Battle Road Research
Battle Road Research, an equity research firm, provides an independent voice on technology, health science, consumer, and renewable energy stocks. Our research process combines rigorous financial analysis with insights gleaned from industry sources. Since our inception in 2001 we have refrained from investment banking, company-paid reports, and personal investment in the stocks we research. Battle Road has been a member of the Investorside Research Association since its inception in 2002. Investorside monitors and certifies that its members do not perform investment banking or research for hire, thus avoiding the conflicts of interest elsewhere rampant within the equity and fixed income research business. For each of the last three years, Battle Road has received an award for its research coverage from Investorside, including the Thought Leadership in Technology award.
Ben Z. Rose, President
Battle Road Research
781-894-0705, ext. 204
Data backup, storage, and recovery systems, once affordable for only the largest corporations and elite government agencies, are now accessible to mid-sized corporations, small businesses, and every day PC users. The sea change has occurred largely as a result of falling storage costs. Six years ago, the storage cost per gigabyte (GB) was $10.00. The price fell to $4 per GB in 2008, and to $2 per GB in 2011, according to data gathered by IDC. As an insurance policy against hard drive failure, accident, and theft, low priced hard-drives, flash drives and discs have become common for consumer and small business data back up.
The falling cost of storage has made it compelling for consumers to store more data on their computers, including storage intensive media, such as pictures and videos. At the same time, the proliferation of mobile computers, including laptops, notebooks, netbooks and tablet computers, coupled with smart phones have created a need for more frequent backup, as the probability of loss or theft has risen significantly. 247 million laptop, notebook and netbook computers were shipped around the world in 2010, along with 146 million desktop PCs, according to market researcher IDC. Tablet PCs have quickly arisen to contribute another 10 million –plus units annually.
The rising use of the internet for all things digital, and the increasing trust that consumers and small businesses place in cloud computing, with its data encryption technologies and storage on remote servers located in often far away data centers, has created a new market for data backup, based in the cloud, and accessible at an affordable price.
Carbonite’s initial focus and by far the lion’s share of revenue that drives the business today is the home-based Windows and Mac market, where consumers pay a nominal $59 per year fee for an insurance policy against the aforementioned risks. Competition is widespread in this market, with some companies offering free storage, or storage bundled with other products. Nevertheless, Carbonite has developed a series of competitive advantages based on its brand awareness, which emphasizes trust, as well as its technology infrastructure, and, thus far, management execution.
Carbonite has many competitors in both the consumer and small business segments, as the barriers to entry to the market are quite low. However, just like in the early days of cloud-based salesforce automation, when Salesforce.com amassed a large market position based on the simplicity of its solution, combined with strong sales and marketing, so too does Carbonite have the opportunity to gain share in its addressable market, despite the existence of many competitors at this stage of the market’s development.
In the consumer market, Carbonite faces competition from a large number of little known players, as well as large behemoths, that have seized upon data storage as a way to keep customers in the fold. Thus, Apple, through its iCloud service, Microsoft, through its SkyDrive service, and Amazon.com, for its Kindle Fire tablets, is bundling free storage services with their products. While this poses a threat to Carbonite’s rate of growth, the company’s affordable, easy to access service, which emphasizes backup and restore –not just storage—across multiple computer platforms, should enable the company to achieve solid growth.
In the small business market, competitors include Symantec, McAfee (now a division of Intel). Both companies bundle backup and restore capabilities into their security software suites, but the products are not easily accessed, and are often difficult to use. EMC’s Mozy division delivers cloud-based backup, and currently serves over 70,000 small businesses through its subscription-based services. While EMC has made more than a symbolic entry into the cloud-based backup and storage market, the company continues to derive the lion’s share of its sales from large disk storage systems which it sells to large corporate customers that utilize their own data centers, rather than harness storage in the cloud. Rackspace Hosting also competes in the market, and other competitors include Dropbox, Box, CommVault, Databarracks, and Zamanda.
With its new $229 and $599 small business backup service, Carbonite will be quite competitive with other small business offerings on the market, including those offered by Mozy, Backblaze, and DropBox. The Carbonite offerings will be anywhere from 20 to 75 percent less than equivalently packaged configurations from these competitors, based on current prices.
In a brief but crystal clear announcement Monday morning, old school software giant Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL) announced that it would acquire customer service software pioneer RightNow Technologies (NASDAQ: RNOW) for $43.00 per share or roughly $1.5 billion. Oracle’s generous valuation of 6.6 times RNOW’s projected 2011 revenue provides the latest evidence of old school, client software companies’ interest in cloud computing.
Founded by CEO Greg Gianforte in 1997, and based in Bozeman Montana, RightNow Technologies sells a suite of software products that help companies improve customer service, while reducing support costs. From its heritage in website customer support, RNOW expanded into several adjacent segments, including marketing automation, call center management, online chat, and, most recently, social computing for customer service. With an average order size of about $100,000 per customer per contract, RightNow provides hosted, or what is more commonly referred to as cloud-based services for its customers. Thus, there is no need to purchase the software outright.
Over the years, RightNow has developed a solid presence in online customer service, a critical component of customer relationship management, and can now boast the leading market position in this segment. The company serves a broad array of roughly 2,000 customers.
In November of 2010 RNOW closed a $170 million convertible debt offering, and, more recently completed the acquisition of Q-Go.com, a Dutch-based company, for which it paid $34 million. Q-Go.com offers natural language search technology that helps large banks, travel services, and telecommunications companies improve the quality of customer service on their websites.
Ironically, Right Now began fourteen years ago as a client server software company, selling on premises perpetual license software. Several years ago the company began a painful and courageous transition to adapt its core technology to harness the many benefits of cloud computing. Over the last two years, RNOW managed to grow steadily and predictably, with a top-line growth rate of roughly 20 percent, across a broad number of industries.
Oracle’s generous valuation of 6.6 times RNOW’s projected 2011 revenue, and roughly 5.4 times projected 2012 revenue, indicates the length to which client server software companies may go to improve their prospects in the public cloud. The valuation appears to be on par with other publicly-traded cloud-based software companies, such as Salesforce.com (NYSE: CRM) , athenahealth (NASDAQ: ATHN), SuccessFactors (NASDAQ: SFSF), and others.
We do not doubt that there may have been other interested bidders for RNOW, such as Salesforce.com and/or SAP—both of whom seek to extend their presence in cloud computing. However, our sense is that Oracle’s generous offer leaves little chance for an alternative bidder to emerge successfully.