With Nutanix IPO on shelf, founders and investors fund ThoughtSpot

Ajeet Singh, ThoughtSpot
Source: Thoughtspot
Ajeet Singh, ThoughtSpot

Venture capitalists and technology CEOs are waiting — somewhat impatiently — for cloud company Nutanix to go public and end the 2016 IPO stalemate.

Meanwhile, Nutanix's founders and early investors are putting hefty money into what they expect to be the next big thing.

ThoughtSpot, a business intelligence software vendor started in 2012 by Nutanix co-founder Ajeet Singh, announced on Thursday a $50 million financing to accelerate its sales growth.

The Palo Alto, California-based company's backers include Nutanix investors Lightspeed Ventures and Khosla Ventures as well as Nutanix co-founder and CEO Dheeraj Pandey. The new funding round was led by General Catalyst Partners and included money from Geodesic Capital.

Investments of this size were commonplace in 2015, the biggest year for venture deals since 2000. Then the IPO market seized up in the fourth quarter. No venture-backed tech company has gone public in the U.S. since December, and the first quarter marked the slowest period for new offerings broadly since 2009.

Nutanix, a provider of cloud-based storage and computing, has been on file since December, but there's been no public update except to report its quarterly financials. Sources told CNBC.com in February that the company was holding off on an offering until stock market volatility wanes.

The Nasdaq has bounced back sharply since a miserable start to 2016 and is up 5.6 percent over the past three months, but investors are still waiting for newer tech companies to test the waters.

Aware of that backdrop, ThoughtSpot was out raising money in the private markets. Singh said the process started in mid-February and took six to seven weeks to complete. Singh said that had he approached the market with the same data last year, he probably could have landed a price 20 percent to 30 percent higher.

Still, the valuation, which is not being disclosed, doubled from the last round in 2014, and the company avoided any terms that could punish existing investors in the future, Singh said. By waiting until the first quarter to pitch investors, Singh was able to show a full fiscal year of selling the product.

"I knew the environment was changing, but rather than rushing to raise money on arbitrary terms last year, I wanted to hit certain business milestones," Singh said. "If you're building a company for the long run, it takes at least 10 years to build a meaningful company, and you're going to go through some macro cycles in the process."

ThoughtSpot is attacking the business intelligence market with a product designed for rank-and-file employees rather than engineers. The idea is that anyone can use the search engine, which the company describes as "search-driven analytics," to find and make sense of relevant data on various servers and disparate spreadsheets with hundreds of thousands of columns.

An online retailer, for example, can quickly pore through data to determine what are the best products to feature on its website, what to buy more of and to understand the seasonal trends. Commerce sites need these tools because they're all trying to stay relevant in a world dominated by Amazon.com, which builds all of its own tools.

"Amazon is eating their lunch," said Singh. "They're heavily investing in next-generation technologies that can help them compete with Amazon."

Singh said that customers have been doubling or tripling their investments in ThoughtSpot over the past six to nine months, and some of them are now spending close to $1 million a year with the company.

Ravi Mhatre, a partner at Lightspeed, is a board member at Nutanix and ThoughtSpot. In addition to their personnel, Mhatre said the two companies share an important trait. They're both attacking existing markets with a new approach reflective of the way that companies are now doing business.

When Lightspeed led Nutanix's first institutional round in 2011, the company was a little-known start-up trying to sell against massive legacy storage vendors like EMC and NetApp. Now, it's generating close to $400 million in annual revenue and sells its converged storage technology to the likes of Amgen, Best Buy and eBay.

"In a large existing market, with many large companies that rightfully should have owned that piece of real estate, it speaks to the fact that some technical vision and a disruptive technology-driven product approach can allow you to grow rapidly," Mhatre said. "With ThoughtSpot, it's very similar."

In the business intelligence market, ThoughtSpot has to vie with traditional players like SAP's Business Objects and MicroStrategy as well as data visualization provider Tableau Software and start-ups Birst and Domo.

As for Nutanix and its IPO prospects, Mhatre couldn't talk about specifics or timing. But he did say that after such a lull and with investors clearly on edge, it's risky to be the first one out of the gate.

"My sense is that public investors do have an appetite for new emerging tech companies," Mhatre said. "Nobody wants to be the guinea pig."