Netezza heads to market

The forthcoming Netezza IPO will be closely watched by those interested in the health of the technology space, and the business intelligence market in particular. Netezza has been a great success story in the data warehouse market. From being founded in 2000 its revenues have risen dramatically. Its fiscal year ends in January. Revenues have climbed from $13M in 2004 to around $30M in 2005 to £54M in 2006, to $79.6M in fiscal year ending January 2007. Its revenues in the quarter ending April 2007 were $25M. Hardly any BI vendors can claim this kind of growth rate (other than Qliktech), especially at this scale. Its customer base is nicely spread amongst industries and is not restricted to the obvious retail, telco and retail banking. So, is this the next great software (actually partly hardware in this case) success story?

Before you get too excited, there are some things to ponder. Note that in 2006 Netezza lost $8M despite that steepling revenue rise. In the latest quarter it still lost $1.6M. This is interesting, since conventional wisdom has it that you can only IPO these days with a few quarters of solid profits, yet Netezza has yet to make a dime. Certainly, it would be fair to assume that if it can keep growing at this rate, profit will surely come (at least its losses are shrinking) but the past has showed that profits can be elusive in fast growing software companies. Also, the data warehouse market is certainly healthy, advancing at 9% or so according to IDC projections, but this is well below Netezza’s growth rate. More particularly, Netezza only attacks one slice of the data warehouse market, the high data volume one. If you have a small data warehouse then you don’t need Netezza, so only certain industries will really be happy hunting grounds for appliances like Netezza. This can be seen in the Teradata story, which is Netezza’s true competitor. Teradata has stalled at around $1 billion or so of revenue, growing just 6% last year (of course most of us wish we had this kind of problem). Certainly Netezza can attack Teradata’s installed base, but enterprise buyers are notoriously conservative, and will have to be dragged kicking and screaming to shift platforms once operational. So this to me suggests that there is a ceiling to the appliance market. If true, this means that you cannot just draw an extrapolation of Netezza’s current superb revenue growth. I have not seen this written about elsewhere, so perhaps it is just a figment of my imagination, and Netezza will prove me wrong. However you can look to Teradata to see that even it has entirely failed to enter certain industires, typically business to business industries where data is complex rather than high in volume. Fo example there is scarely a Teradata installation in the oil industry, which fits this category of complex but mostly low volume data (except for certain upstream data).

So, bearing this in mind, what would be a valuation? Well, solid companies like Datamirror are changing hands for 3x revenue or so, though these are companies with merely steady growth rather than the turbo-charged growth demonstrated by Netezza. So suppose we skip the pesky profitability question, accept this is a premium company and went for five times revenues? This would lead to a valuation of $400M on trailing revenues, maybe $500M on this year’s likely revenues. Yet the offer price of the shares implies a market cap of $621M, virtually eight time trailing revenues, and six times likely forward revenues.

This is scarcely a bargain then, though it is a multiple that will bring joy to the faces of other BI vendors, assuming that the IPO goes well. Of course such things are generally carefully judged, and no doubt the silver tongued investment bankers have gauged that they can sell shares at this price. However for me there seems a nagging doubt, based mainly on what I perceive to be this (in my view) effective cap on the market size that appliances can tackle, and to a lesser extent that lack of proven ability to generate profits. The markets will decide.

The performance of Netezza shares will be a very interesting indicator of the capital market’s view on BI vendors, and will show whether enterprise technology is coming in from the cold winter that started in 2001. Anyway, many congratulations to Netezza, who have succeeded in carving out a real success story in the furrow that for so long was owned by Teradata.

Postscript. On the first day of trading, no one seems troubled about any long term concerns.