Software maker MuleSoft shows promise of 'meat-and-potatoes' tech IPOs

(Reuters) - Software firm MuleSoft Inc kicked off what is expected to be a string of technology offerings from relatively obscure companies that sell business software and promise to satisfy the appetite of public investors after a protracted IPO drought.

San Francisco-based MuleSoft on Friday closed out its first day on Wall Street with shares trading at $23.80, a 40 percent pop that valued the company at nearly $3 billion, about double the valuation it commanded at its last private financing event in 2015.

The offering of 13 million shares was priced at $17 each on Thursday, above the expected range of $14 to $16. Shares opened Friday up 43 percent, debuting at $24.25 apiece.

The strong debut signals robust investor appetite for what are referred to as “meat-and-potatoes” technology offerings – enterprise software firms with moderate valuations but solid business models – and confidence in their ability to perform well in the public markets.

Snap Inc, the owner of the popular social media app Snapchat, grabbed attention when it went public earlier this month at a stunning $24 billion valuation.

But “meat-and-potatoes” firms are a more accurate barometer of how so-called “unicorn” technology companies – firms worth $1 billion or more – will fare in the public markets, say investors and analysts. Snap’s debut was an outlier in many respects and dwarfs any technology IPO expected this year.

“There is significant demand for enterprise software companies with a good track record and private valuations between $1 billion to $5 billion,” said Rohit Kulkarni, managing director and head of research for SharesPost, an online marketplace for secondary transactions.

That bodes well for the dozen or so enterprise software companies prepping to go public this year, according to sources and IPO filings.

Cyber security company Okta and Yext, which helps businesses manage their location-based internet profiles, both filed for an IPO this week. Data analytics software company Alteryx Inc filed in February.

Reuters has identified about a dozen other companies preparing to go public this year, including cyber security firms Carbon Black Inc and ForeScout Technologies Inc, flash storage company Tintri, sales software firm Apttus, advertising technology company AppNexus and big-data company MapR.

“There is a significant backlog,” Kulkarni said.

MuleSoft makes software that automatically integrates disparate data, devices and applications to help businesses networks run faster. The company is not profitable, and last year shaved its losses to $50 million from $65 million the year prior, according to IPO filings. Its revenue in 2016 was $188 million, a 70 percent jump from the year before.

The company has more than 1,000 customers, including Coca-Cola Co, McDonald’s Corp, Inc , Spotify and Unilever.

MuleSoft raised $221 million in its public offering, a modest sum next to Snap, which raised $3.4 billion, making it the largest U.S. technology debut since Facebook in 2012.

Coming on the heels of Snap may have lessened the limelight for MuleSoft, but some investors say Snap’s unusual corporate governance and slowing user growth that rattled IPO buyers helped position MuleSoft for a successful debut.

Snap did not provide voting rights to new investors and required that some investors keep their shares for a year, unusual stipulations that did not sit well with many investors. By comparison, MuleSoft offered voting rights and its subscription business model makes revenue more predictable, which investors like.

“Investors will see them and say ‘Yes, this is what we were looking for,” said Kate Mitchell, co-founder and partner at Scale Venture Partners, which did not invest in MuleSoft. “If I were a meat-and-potatoes company, it would be great to follow Snap.”

Additional reporting by Liana Baker in San Francisco