Sunday, February 23, 2014

Veeva Las Vegas - How A 7 Million Dollar Wager Became A 5 Billion Dollar Jackpot

Enterprise software company Veeva Systems had been a relative unknown in broader venture capital circles since it was founded with $7 million of angel and venture capital in 2007. Six year later, Veeva has reached a peak market capitalization of close to $5 billion and has turned into a massive jackpot for its early investors. Here are some observations on the strategies the team and its investors used to bust the bank.

1. Keep cost of customer acquisition low by focusing on a concentrated industry

Focusing on one industry allowed Veeva to quickly reach a tipping point and generate $129.5 million in revenues in year five of its existence. At the time of the IPO in August 2013, they served approximately 170 life sciences customers, including 33 of the top 50 pharma companies. Since the pharma industry is highly concentrated, it has been estimated that it only takes 80 customers to dominate the market. In fact, in 2013, Veeva’s top 10 customers accounted for 54% of total revenues.

2. Lower the execution risk by signing up industry experts

There was nothing generic about the Veeva board of directors: Two angel investors provided more than 35 years of deep software life sciences expertise gained at Siebel, Oracle and Pharmasystems. They also brought in the future president of the company, and their inside knowledge helped significantly increase the deal win rate and shorten the sales cycle. The CEO and the lead investor both gained deep Software-as-a Service experience at the platform businesses of Peoplesoft and

3.  Focus on the application by leveraging existing technology platforms

Veeva decided to build its sales automation software on Salesforce’s platform. Leveraging Salesforce’s investment allowed Veeva to replace upfront platform development efforts with operating expenses linked to revenues. However, the non-compete agreement prevents Veeva from selling sales automation to other industry verticals: Veeva is only allowed to use the Salesforce platform to sell sales automation solutions to drug makers in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. Veeva had to develop their proprietary Veeva Vault and Veeva Network to expand their offering beyond sales automation.

4. Play in an industry with high barriers to entry for horizontal software providers

The life science industry’s highly regulated environment requires industry specific functionality for areas such as sales and marketing, new drug submissions,and quality management, which in turn limits the attractiveness and raises the barriers to entry for horizontal software providers. As a competitive analysis has shown, the sales automation market for life sciences was dominated by products and services from Siebel and Cegedim. Veeva essentially replaced Siebel with a product that offered a more features and a mobile app at a lower price.

Using these four levers, Veeva was able to achieve profitability after year three. Gross profit margins were 58% of revenues in 2012, and net income reached 14%.

Can other start-ups replicate this strategy? Veeva's success in life science sales automation was likely a one of a kind event. While there may not be any opportunities left in sales automation, there may be other lines of business in global, complex and heavily regulated industries where on premise legacy software is ready to be replaced by on demand applications built on a general technology platform.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Best Deals Are Yet To Come: Coupons Are Disappearing But Coupon Companies Are Thriving

Two recent blockbuster IPOs are evidence that the once sleepy coupon industry has transformed into a hotbed of new activity: Groupon has pioneered mass couponing for local retailers and convinced consumers to pre-pay. RetailMeNot has aggregated a large online coupon offering, and has made it easy for online shoppers to save money. At the time of this writing other digital coupon companies such as and eBates and are making plans to go public. And yet, it is only early days in the consumers' transition from clipping printed coupons to receiving relevant offers. The industry is still stuck in an age where 95% of coupons are printed, and the majority of those printed coupons is distributed to consumers as Free Standing Inserts (FSI). Less than 1% of FSI coupons are being redeemed, and worse, there is no easy way for consumer product manufacturers to track when and by whom they were purchased and redeemed. And while couponing as a category is moving online, paperless coupons presented at the point-of-sale accounted for only 2.2% of all coupon redemptions in 2012. Clearly, this is a highly inefficient situation.

Starting with Coca-Cola, coupons have served multiple purposes: To help consumer product manufacturers and retailers acquire new customers, increase the number of purchases of the same item, and incentivize customers to return. Specifically, manufacturers want consumers to switch to their product, while retailers want to increase shopping basket size and increase the number of trips to the store. Going forward, the digitization of coupons promises to make this a more seamless experience for the consumer and demonstrate ROI for manufacturers, in part by directly connecting to loyalty cards and credit cards. This digitization will also broaden the base  of coupon users and deliver coupons that are relevant: Traditionally, couponers tend to be consumers with low opportunity costs of couponing relative to income. With direct targeting, coupon manufacturers will be able to offer coupons to other user groups. It will also affect the coupon mix and physical locales for redeeming coupons: As consumption patterns and retail spaces continue to change, the shift away from food and grocery coupons towards other categories will continue. Already, the share of food coupons has declined from 70% in 2008 to about 60% in 2012.

Couponing marketplaces are two sided markets which require significant investments to acquire large audiences. In these ‘winner take most’ situations the race to dominate local couponing has been won by Groupon.  Livingsocial, once a major Groupon competitor, is struggling to survive, and other local coupon competitors such as BuyWithMe have been acquired or have folded. The rewards of scaling fast are tremendous: Even at this early stage in the digital transformation, and despite short operating histories, companies like Groupon and RetailMeNot are commanding market capitalizations worth billions of dollars.

So while it may appear that the couponing space is consolidating already, there are three reasons why early stage  investors should pay close attention

  • Couponing is still in its infancy: Relationships between consumers, manufacturers and retailers continue to migrate online, and existing players occupy only small segments of the couponing space.
  • Value networks are continuing to change: RetailMeNot and Groupon have emerged out of nowhere to become public companies in less than five years, and the impact of players like Pinterest on the landscape is only beginning to be understood

  • Plenty of exit opportunities exist: The viability of IPOs in the coupon space has been demonstrated, and public companies have proven to be active acquirers.

In couponing, RetailMeNot and Groupon are akin to the first wave of Web 1.0 portals. There are many opportunities of start-ups like Ibotta, Shopmium and Aisle50 to take the consumer experience to the next level and demonstrate ROI for consumer product manufacturers and retailers.

Disclosure: I was one of the first investors in BuyWithMe, an early Groupon competitor. I am an early investor in Aisle50, a leading provider of prepaid coupons for grocery stores and consumer products manufacturers.