A fast-growing enterprise tech upstart claiming a blue-chip customer base and a leading position in a promising but competitive market shot higher following its IPO, leaving its shares trading at steep multiples and giving hope to other enterprise "unicorns" thinking of going public.
Sound familiar? That was basically the story for Nutanix's (NTNX - Get Report) very strong IPO in September. That debut led Nutanix, a maker of "hyperconverged" server/storage systems and related software, to sport a $6 billion-plus market cap after factoring in stock awards, and to trade around ten times trailing billings.
Since then, however, Nutanix has shed about half its value, thanks largely to the plunge it took a month ago after providing disappointing April quarter guidance to go with a January quarter sales/earnings beat. That outlook heightened fears that competition from the likes of Cisco Systems (CSCO - Get Report) , HP Enterprise (HPE - Get Report) and VMware is taking a toll.
Okta (OKTA - Get Report) , which is seeing big post-IPO gains today, isn't necessarily the next Nutanix. However, the companies' backstories do have some similarities that would-be investors should keep in mind.
After pricing its 11 million-share IPO at $17, the high end of a $15 to $17 range and above an initial $13 to $15 range, Okta opened at $23.56 and closed at $23.51, up 38%. That leaves the company valued at around $3.1 billion after factoring stock options and restricted stock units (RSUs) due to vest, or a lofty 16 times its calculated billings for fiscal 2017 (it ended in January).
Okta is the top player in the market for cloud-based identity & access management software (IDaaS). Among other things, its subscription-based offerings let a company's employees sign on to various cloud/mobile apps through a common login, manage mobile access, authenticate users trying to log in, automate the provisioning of app access for employees and groups, and build a universal directory for authorized users and devices. It also provides developers with tools to manage logins for customers and partners across multiple apps.
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In a nutshell, Okta makes it easier to securely manage access to the burgeoning number of cloud/mobile apps supported by the average enterprise, and for employees and others to be granted access to and log in to those apps. The company claimed over 3,100 customers as of January 31. The list includes enterprises such as Pitney Bowes (PBI - Get Report) , News Corp (NWSA - Get Report) , MGM and Broadcom (AVGO - Get Report) , as well as major business app developers such as Adobe (ADBE - Get Report) , Splunk (SPLK - Get Report) , ServiceNow (NOW - Get Report) and Workday (WDAY - Get Report) .
Revenue rose 87% annually in fiscal 2017 to $160.3 million, and billings 65% to $194.5 million. Like many other growth-stage enterprise tech names, Okta is still losing money -- net losses totaled $83.1 million, and free cash flow was negative $53.8 million. Heavy sales/marketing spend ($118.7 million, up 52%) had much to do with those numbers.
The company's numbers for the seasonally big January quarter suggest its momentum remains strong for now. Billings rose 69% annually to $62.7 million, topping the full-year growth rate, and free cash flow improved a bit to negative $9.8 million from negative $11.3 million.
But it's worth remembering that Microsoft is a big player in the IDaaS space, cross-selling its many customers on its Azure Active Directory Premium solution, which complements the standard Active Directory service that's long been used by many businesses to manage access to their on-premise apps. And Microsoft's pricing is fairly competitive: While Okta charges a combined $14 per user per month for its five enterprise offerings prior to discounts, Microsoft charges $6 and $9 per month, respectively, for its Active Directory Premium P1 and P2 plans.
In addition, Microsoft bundles Active Directory Premium with its Enterprise Mobility Suite (EMS, mobile device/app management software), which has been seeing growing adoption. Microsoft claimed its EMS customer base rose 85% annually in the September quarter to over 37,000.
Salesforce.com (CRM - Get Report) and IBM (IBM - Get Report) are also notable IDaaS players, with the former bundling its offering with the popular Lightning Enterprise edition of its Sales Cloud (cloud salesforce automation) software. Covisint (COVS) , EMC's RSA Security unit and a slew of startups also compete.
In Gartner's June 2016 Magic Quadrant report for the IDaaS market, Okta and Microsoft were two of the three firms placed in the coveted "Leaders" quadrant, with privately-held Centrify being the other. Okta received the highest position on the quadrant's "Ability to Execute" axis, but Microsoft got the highest on the "Completeness of Vision" axis.
Gartner praised the effectiveness of Okta's sales/marketing efforts, as well as its developer platform investments. But it added that Okta needs to improve its products' user provisioning features and reporting abilities, and notes that Okta's sales (like those of many other cloud software upstarts) skew heavily towards the U.S.
Microsoft, not surprisingly, is praised for its sales and support abilities, as well as its international reach. Gartner also likes the company's broader "strategy to secure identities, data and devices," which has been strengthened by acquisitions. At the same time, Gartner cautions some of Microsoft's offerings for providing a common login and letting non-employees access apps need to mature, and that it trails rivals in terms of the number of apps it can provision.
It's a safe bet that Microsoft, intent on growing its cloud footprint, will invest what's needed to address the current limitations of its IDaaS solution. And that it will continue pricing aggressively to land deals. That, together with the efforts of Salesforce, IBM and others, guarantees stiff competition will exist in the coming years.
For now, Okta seems to be dealing with this competitive environment pretty well. But the same could've been said about Nutanix last September. And at current multiples, any sign that the competition is making life tougher for Okta could result in a harsh reaction.