Private equity firms can offer enterprise startups a viable exit option

Four years ago, Ping Identity was at a crossroads. A venerable player in the single sign-on market, its product was not a market leader, and after 14 years and $128 million in venture capital, it needed to find a new path.

While the company had once discussed an IPO, by 2016 it began putting out feelers for buyers. Vista Equity Partners made a $600 million offer and promised to keep building the company, something that corporate buyers wouldn’t guarantee. Ping CEO and co-founder Andre Durand accepted Vista’s offer, seeing it as a way to pay off his investors and employees and exit the right way. Even better, his company wasn’t subsumed into a large entity as likely would have happened with a typical M&A transaction.

As it turned out, the IPO-or-acquisition question wasn’t an either/or proposition. Vista continued to invest in the company, using small acquisitions like UnboundID and Elastic Beam to fill in its roadmap, and Ping went public last year. The company’s experience shows that private equity offers a reasonable way for mature enterprise startups with decent but not exceptional growth — like the 100% or more venture firms tend to favor — to exit, pay off investors, reward employees and still keep building the company.

But not everyone that goes this route has a tidy outcome like Ping’s. Some companies get brought into the P/E universe where they replace the executive team, endure big layoffs or sell off profitable pieces and stop investing in the product. But the three private equity firms we spoke to — Vista Equity, Thoma Bravo and Scaleworks — all wanted to see their acquisitions succeed, even if they each go about it differently.

Viable companies with good numbers


By Ron Miller

Ping Identity files for $100M IPO on Nasdaq under the ticker ‘Ping’

Some eight months after it was reported that Ping Identity’s owners Vista Equity had hired bankers to explore a public listing, today Ping Identity took the plunge: the Colorado-based online ID management company has filed an S-1 form indicating that it plans to raise up to $100 million in an IPO on the Nasdaq exchange under the ticker “Ping.”

While the initial S-1 filing doesn’t have an indication of price range, Ping is said to be looking at a valuation of between $2 billion and $3 billion in this listing.

The company has been around since 2001, founded by Andre Durand (who is still the CEO), and it was acquired by Vista in 2016 for about $600 million — at a time when a clutch of enterprise companies that looked like strong IPO candidates were going the private equity route and staying private instead.

But more recently, there has been a surge in demand for better IT security linked to identity and authentication management, so it seems that Vista Equity is selling up. The PE firm is taking advantage of the fact that the market’s currently very strong for tech IPOs, but there is so much M&A in enterprise right now (just yesterday VMware acquired not one but two companies, Carbon Black for $2.1 billion and Pivotal for $2.7 billion) that I can’t help but wonder if something might move here too.

The S-1 reveals a number of details on the company’s financials, indicating that it’s currently unprofitable but on a steady growth curve. Ping had revenues of $112.9 million in the first six months of 2019, versus $99.5 million in the same period a year before. Its loss has been shrinking in recent years, with a net loss of $3.1 million in the first six months of this year versus $5.8 million a year before (notably in 2017 overall it was profitable with a net income of $19 million. It seems that the change is due to acquisitions and investing for growth).

Its annual run rate, meanwhile, $198 million for the first six months of the year, compared to $159.6 million in the same period a year ago.

The area of identity and access management has become a cornerstone of enterprise IT, with companies looking for efficient and secure ways to centralise how not just their employees, but their customers, their partners and various connected devices on their networks can be authenticated across their cloud and on-premise applications.

The demand for secure solutions covering all the different aspects of a company’s IT stack has grown rapidly over recent years, spurred not just by an increased move to centralised applications served through the cloud, but also by the drastic rise in breaches where malicious hackers have exploited vulnerabilities and loopholes in companies’ sign-on screens.

Ping has been one of the bigger companies building services in this area and tackling all of those use cases, competing with the likes of Okta, OneLogin, AuthO, Cisco, and dozens more off-the-shelf and custom-built solutions.

The company offers its services on an SaaS basis, covering services like secure sign-on, multi-factor authentication, API access security, personalised and unified profile directories, data governance and AI-based security policies. It claims to be the pioneer of “Intelligent Identity”, using AI to help its system analyse user, device and network behavior to better identify potentially malicious activity.

More to come.

 

 


By Ingrid Lunden

Ping Identity acquires stealthy API security startup Elastic Beam

At the Identiverse conference in Boston today, Ping Identity announced that it has acquired Elastic Beam, a pre-Series A startup that uses artificial intelligence to monitor APIs and help understand when they have been compromised.

Ping also announced a new product, PingIntelligence for APIs, based on the Elastic Beam technology. They did not disclose the sale price.

The product itself is a pretty nifty piece of technology. It automatically detects all the API IP addresses and URLs running inside a customer. It then uses artificial intelligence to search for anomalous behavior and report back when it finds it (or it can automatically shut down access depending on how it’s configured).

“APIs are defined either in the API gateway because that facilitates creation or implemented on an application server like node.js. We created a platform that could bring a level of protection to both,” company founder Bernard Harguindeguy told TechCrunch.

It may seem like an odd match for Ping, which after all, is an enterprise identity company, but there are reasonable connections here. Perhaps the biggest is that CEO Andre Durand wants to see his company making increasing use of AI and machine learning for identity security in general. It’s also worth noting that his company has had an API security product in its portfolio for over five years, so it’s not a huge stretch to buy Elastic Beam.

With this purchase, Ping has not only acquired some advanced technology, it has also acqui-hired a team of AI and machine learning experts that could help inject the entire Ping product line with AI and machine learning smarts. “Nobody should be surprised who has been watching that Ping will drive machine learning AI and general intelligence into our identity platform,” Durand said.

Harguindeguy certainly sees the potential here. “I think we can over time bring a high level of monitoring and intelligence to Ping to understand whether an identity may have been used by someone else or being misused somehow,” he said.

Elastic Beam interface. Photo: Elastic Beam website

Harguindeguy will join Ping Identity as Senior Vice President of Intelligence along with his entire team. Neither company would divulge the exact number of employees, but Durand did acknowledge it fell somewhere between the 11 and 50 mentioned in the company Crunchbase profile. The original team consisted of around 10 according to  Harguindeguy and they have been hiring for some time, so fair to say more than 11, but less than 50.

Harguindeguy says they were pursued by more than one company (although he wouldn’t say who those other companies were), but he felt that Ping provided a good cultural match for his company and could take them where they wanted to go faster than they could on their own, even with Series A money.

“We realized this is going to be really big. How do we go after the market really strongly really fast? We saw that we could could fuse this really fast with Ping and have strong go- to market with with them,” he said.

Durand acknowledged that Ping, which was itself acquired by Vista Equity Partners for $600 million two years ago, couldn’t have made such an acquisition without the backing of a larger firm like this. “There was there was no chance we could have done either UnboundID (which the company acquired in August 2016) or Elastic Beam on our own. This was purely an artifact of being part of the Vista family portfolio,” he said.

PingIntelligence for APIs, the product based on Elastic Beam’s technology, is currently in private preview. It should be generally available some time later this year.


By Ron Miller