Since going public last week,
has managed to keep both bull and bear riveted.
For the naysayers, the market remains hostile to even promising tech companies, like this Orem, Utah-based Web analytics leader, in the wake of the
fiasco. Even with the company backed by a top underwriter like Morgan Stanley, the going for venture-backed tech companies looks as if it will continue to be rough for a while.
For more sunny thinkers, the fact that this stock -- with a history of operating and net losses, and an uncertain future in a highly competitive market -- even made it public is a sign that investors are growing less judicious about stocks. That the shares have closed for three straight days above its opening price may be a small miracle. The stock, which priced at $6.50, closed Friday at $7.29.
And that's a good illustration of the schizoid thinking these days among tech investors. Whether you think new tech stocks popping into the market are undervalued gems or signs that a bubble mentality is creeping back into the sector (and if you are typical, you're probably thinking both -- maybe even on the same day), the back-and-forth can be confusing.
That's where Omniture can be helpful, even if you don't trade the stock. It's the IPO market's equivalent of that famous drawing that shows either the profile of a young girl or an old woman, depending on your perspective. Take a good look at Omniture -- do you see a healthy young company with a bright future, or a battered dot-com survivor struggling in a maturing market?
Omniture is, in fact, a survivor, having changed its name from MyComputer in a 2002 restructuring to one of those hybrid names (it's supposed to be a cross between "all" and "future") that ends up meaning nothing and quickly becomes indistinguishable from other hybrid names.
The company is riding two trends that have been popular among investors in the past couple of years. It's a key player in Web analytics, the study of online behavior with an eye to improving a site's experience or a company's marketing ability.
But Omniture also employs an on-demand model, handling all the data and software on its servers so that its clients need just a browser to access it.
A report from Forrester Research earlier this year listed Omniture as one of the four leaders of the Web analytics industry, and the only one of them that is publicly traded. The others --
-- each had their own strengths, but the report's author, Nate Root, praised Omniture for "its all-around solid product and training offerings."
"Omniture is poised to challenge WebTrends for market leadership within the next two years," Root wrote. "All-around solid offerings in product, service and support make the vendor a safe bet for large enterprises that want to deploy Web analytics broadly within their organization."
Other publicly traded rivals, such as
, as well as
SurfAid, received lower rankings.
Meanwhile, Omniture was signing up big-name clients like
and Major League Baseball.
Omniture's revenue has more than doubled for three years in a row. And the first quarter showed it's on track to make it four in a row: Revenue in the quarter rose to $16.4 million from $8 million. That quarter also showed operating expenses, which went from 69% of revenue in 2004 to 93% in 2005, fell back to 79% in the first quarter of 2006.
So, there you have the portrait of Omniture as a pretty young girl. But squint and concentrate a little more and the tired old woman starts to become more apparent.
Omniture isn't exactly a startup. It was founded in 1996, making it about as old as eBay and
, if not nearly as well known. Like many Web analytics companies, Omniture's fortunes began to pick up in 2003 as the industry moved from crude spreadsheets with site user stats and usability tests in company labs to a more sophisticated parsing of what a site's visitors were doing in real time.
As the technology improved, Omniture remained competitive. But it also faced stiffer competition. The Forrester report noted that with more than 20 viable vendors to choose from, the average company had already signed up three analytics firms to make sense of their site's traffic.
"The decade-old Web analytics market has yet to settle down," Root wrote. "The proliferation of vendors has put buyers on a seemingly never-ending quest to find the one package that will finally answer all the questions that they can think up."
This is a 10-year-old industry that is still acting like it was created a few years ago. There's no telling when a clear leader will emerge, let alone whether it will be Omniture or someone else. This is also reflected in the stock of WebSideStory, which is down more than 30% this year.
The on-demand ASP model of Omniture is also being used by WebSideStory, Coremetrics, SurfAid and
new Web analytics unit. On top of that, it's not favored by companies preferring instead the old-fashioned licensed software allowing easy integration -- or the ability to switch to another vendor entirely.
Then there is that nagging problem of Omniture's sustained losses. The company has an accumulated deficit of $35 million. So, while it's good news that operating expenses shrank to 79% of revenue in the first quarter, it's still disconcerting to realize that Omniture is spending that much of its revenue on sales and marketing and other costs.
Sales and marketing expenses are likely to remain high. Omniture says much of the $70 million it raised in the IPO will go toward "expansion of our domestic and international sales and marketing organizations."
Last year, venture capitalist John Hummer, whose firm Hummer Winblad helped fund Omniture, told the newsletter
Private Equity Week
that Omniture is "easily going to be a $500 million IPO." Omniture was valued at two-thirds that figure this week. It raised a little more than half the $120 million it said it planned to back in April.
In light of its reduced offering price, Omniture went out the gates looking more like an old hag than a young colt. But if it continues to hold up and grows its share of the Web analytics market, it could find itself buffeted by a second wind.