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Salesforce acquisition: nobody rings a bell at the top

14 May, 2015

Yesterday rumors broke out that Salesforce is entertaining buyout offers and has hired investment bankers to consider “strategic options”. My first thought? What a great time to sell! My second thought: please don’t jinx it – not when someone is coming up on a $50-$60 billion payday at 10x forward sales. The P/E of course is incalculable since there is no E.

Nobody rings a bell at the top of the market. But we gotta admit – Marc Benioff is the best salesman in software the cloud, ever. Now, I am trying hard not to think of Steve Case and AOL and Time-Warner, because this time it will be different, of course.

In the past few weeks, BlackRock’s chief Larry Fink released a letter addressed to the CEOs of S&P 500 companies talking about the need for a long-term view. That may not be a good idea, because it is no fun to think about write-downs and kitchen-sink quarters. Only spoilsports talk about a hangover when the party is in full swing.

Consolidation

Consolidation is coming to the cloud; we at Zoho recognized that a long time ago. Our entire strategy has been dictated by our desire to stay independent (as I have explained before), even as consolidation alters the landscape around us.  Even CRM, a very significant industry just by itself, doesn’t make much sense as a stand-alone product. The proof is that Salesforce (hint: their stock ticker is still CRM) has been on an acquisition rampage over the past few years trying to complement its product portfolio and show growth by acquiring revenue.

But even with the more than $3 Billion spent on acquisitions in the past 3 years, and even with their market cap of $40 billion $50 billion dollars, Salesforce finds itself the target of a takeover.

Why do we expect consolidation? Simple – there are too many companies not making money. Why don’t they make money? Again, simple – they spend way too much on sales and marketing. Let’s consider a hypothetical combination of Box and Zendesk – both “Post-IPO Non-profits”  as we call them – you could cut the combined sales and marketing spend by half, and that may just be enough for them to turn a profit. That is the classic case for consolidation; a case that looks compelling on a spreadsheet – you know, the tool that Box actually doesn’t know how to build.

If only company cultures were modeled as cells in a spreadsheet, where people stay in their neat little boxes and hairy code-bases magically combine to produce beautiful children.

Take the case of Salesforce acquisitions for the past 3 years – here is the extensive list. How many of them have been integrated even at a single sign-on level, let alone at a product level? In fact, to solve that problem, Salesforce recently acquired a single sign-on company.

Winner’s Curse

When you escape the jinx, there is still the curse – the winner’s curse. Most acquisitions fail and silently get written down or written off entirely – see for example, Zimbra’s acquisition by Yahoo. Salesforce has written down a bunch in the last few years, after overpaying by hundreds of millions of dollars – at least, the money didn’t come out of their profit!

Jinxes and curses? No, we don’t want these to befall our customers. Since consolidation is coming, if you are a customer of cloud companies, it’s time to get used to being traded around.

Except, of course, if you are a Zoho customer. With us, you will not underwrite any acquisition premiums or bloated sales and marketing costs. You will get a broad suite of deeply integrated products that helps you run your business on the cloud. Private and bootstrapped since our founding – we don’t answer to anyone but you. We never will. We aren’t going anywhere.

(Sridhar Vembu is Founder at Zoho Corporation Pvt. Ltd.)  


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2 Comments
Raj . 2 years ago

Good one. A fitting reply by a true product company to financial engineering with stockholders money by the so called software business guys from Silicon Valley.

Venu . 2 years ago

A true warrior does not declare victory but instead waits for others to acknowledge it! I have respect for Mr.Vembu, but in this case it seems could have jumped the gun. Every enterprise stays in business because of some competitive advantage. In the case of ZOHO it could be “cost arbitrage” owing to the less costs on Product Development and may be even Sales & Marketing. How long can that be sustained, well that’s for Mr.Vembu to think about. What cannot be achieved with cost arbitrage can be addressed with value generation and that might mean able to integrate with others to offer a bigger pie, and that also could mean redefining the product, the value proposition, etc. I am sure you will agree if we were to step back and offer a benefit of doubt on how bigger that pie can get you might see a win and not a defeat per se….

Salesforce acquisition: nobody rings a bell at the top

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