Workday: From venture darling to venture investor

Workday co-founders and co-CEOs Aneel Bhusri (left) and Dave Duffield (center) applaud their company's first trade after their IPO at the New York Stock Exchange on Oct. 12, 2012.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters

Three years ago Workday was a venture capitalist's dream, having created a fortune for its early investors in a blockbuster initial public offering.

Now, the cloud software developer is returning a bit of the favor, introducing an investing group of its own called Workday Ventures.

Workday said Tuesday that it's making early strategic bets on start-ups focused on data science and machine learning in the enterprise. The venture unit has already done four deals and expects to complete between 10 and 12 by the end of the year, though it's not saying how much money it plans to invest.

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Unlike big tech corporate investing groups such as Google Ventures and Intel Capital, Workday is not seeking financial returns from its dealmaking. Instead, it's looking to stay plugged into the next generation of entrepreneurs.

"We believe we can learn from these companies and we believe we can help them," said Adeyemi Ajao, Workday's vice president of technology strategy and head of the venture team. "We're not looking for control."

Workday, which is competing with Oracle and SAP by bringing finance and human resource applications to the cloud, has a stock market capitalization of $15 billion, about triple its value at the time of its October 2012 IPO.

Workday expands the cloud
Workday expands the cloud

Ajao joined Pleasanton, California-based Workday last year, when the company bought his start-up Identified, a developer of big data tools to help businesses with their recruiting.

In November, after introducing a suite of applications that customers could use to apply big data and machine learning to their decision making, Workday started getting approached by start-ups working on related problems.

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With no venture group in place, there were only two directions for those conversations.

"We could either buy the company outright or have no further relationship with them," said Dan Beck, Workday's vice president of technology products.

By backing select companies, Workday can gain visibility into emerging trends and keep its customers aware of new complimentary products.

Workday's four investments to date are in Jobr, a job discovery app; Metanautix, a big data analytics company; ThinAir, a data security start-up; and Unbabel, a web translation service.