Despite the pandemic rankling the economy in the first half of the year, 2020 proved to be healthy for enterprise software investing.
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Some of that likely is due to the virus itself, as the pandemic changed the way people worked and led to an increased need for collaboration tools like Zoom and Slack, accelerated cloud adoption by employers, and left IT departments scrambling to secure a wider attack surface as millions more employees worked from home.
Investment in SaaS and enterprise software and applications dropped to $29.8 billion year-to-date globally, according to Crunchbase data, as compared to $34.5 billion in 2019. Venture funding for SaaS and enterprise software and applications companies in the U.S. dropped from $24.5 billion in 2019 to $22.7 billion.
What’s ahead in 2021 is always hard to predict, but venture capitalists and advisers do have their eyes on certain sectors as we near the end of 2020.
Collaboration and work from home
Not surprisingly, many still see collaboration platforms as a place to invest with so much of the world still trying to recapture the in-office experience while dealing with remote work.
“Working from home has become normal, and moving forward people will work in a hybrid fashion, both working at home and the office,” said Jai Das, managing director, president and co-founder at Sapphire Ventures.
Das said companies that can solve the multitude of issues caused by working from home—including collaboration, security and productivity—will continue to be attractive. He also anticipates more and more applications being built around platforms that have become popular such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
Matt Garratt, managing partner at Salesforce Ventures1, said the industry will see the stacking of services on communication and collaboration platforms. Certain sectors also could look for cloud-native platforms specific to that industry.
“You need that collaboration built into these platforms,” said Garratt, whose firm is an investor in Propel, which helps companies design and launch products.
Systems of record
While data is valuable, moving around that data also is becoming increasingly important. Nothing may illustrate that better than Salesforce’s planned acquisition of Slack for $27.7 billion announced earlier this month.
“I think one thing that’s very interesting is historically, a lot of the value resided in systems of record,” said Mark Sherman, managing director at Telstra Ventures. “And so who owned the data was king or queen. I think what Slack and other companies show is data in movement is incredibly important.”
Systems of record will obviously continue to be very valuable, but are getting commoditized relative to being able to move that data around more quickly, Sherman said. The fact Salesforce is willing to pay $27.7 billion for Slack may signal a shift in that value equation.
“The value of moving that data around and moving it quickly, I think, is on the rise,” he added.
Garratt said he sees the shift from systems of record to systems of engagements as “Digital Transformation 2.0,” as we already are seeing an uptick in SaaS applications and complex tools to move data around.
Data is not only becoming more valuable, but with so much automation it is becoming easier for people to use and move, Garratt said. He pointed to a data structure where companies like Snowflake serve as the management layer, and it flows to tools that manage and catalog it like Alation and platforms like BigID that help keep the company in data compliance. Lastly there are tools like Tableau—a $15.3 billion Salesforce acquisition back in 2019—to publish that data.
“The amount of data in the enterprise has never been great,” he said. “You have to be able to use that data to make strategic decisions.”
Cloud and containers
The broader enterprise technology stack continues to undergo a transformation as companies adapt to the flexibility of the cloud and containers change the way we build modern applications.
“Anything that helps companies move to containers is interesting,” said Ubaid Dhiyan, a director at investment bank Union Square Advisors, which focuses on tech.
Interest in containers, and more specifically Kubernetes—the open-source software platform that allows users to deploy and manage those containers—has been noticeable in enterprise tech. In July, enterprise software giant SUSE bought Kubernetes straup Rancher Labs for a reported $600 million. That deal was followed by Pure Storage ponying up $370 million in September to buy Portworx, which handles data storage and management for Kubernetes.
Containers and virtualization technologies remain attractive to investors in the space because they make a company’s applications and other assets more portable to other cloud services, not locking them into one provider.
Dhiyan said hybrid cloud players such as IBM and Hewlett Packard Enterprise could eye container technology as they continue to build their clouds. IBM has been increasingly acquisitive of late, making six deals this year after only one in 2019.
Even with funding remaining around pre-pandemic levels and large first-day pops on the public market, not every investor remains convinced the market will keep chugging along.
Problems brought on by the pandemic such as high unemployment and an accumulation of back rents combined with a sector that has watched values skyrocket, could turn the market bearish, Butler said.
He sees a flight to quality right now in venture capital, and 2021 could see a return to investors looking more closely at company fundamentals.
However, with interest rates and bond yields remaining low, both private and public markets could continue to look toward enterprise software for returns.
“It could go either way because of that pent-up demand we are seeing,” Butler added.
Illustration: Dom Guzman
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