M&A, IPOs & Exits

The Simple Reason Why There Will be 10-20 Great CRM IPOs in the Next Few Years


Jason Lemkin

I wrote a while back about Room at The Bottom, and how once a space gets big enough (~$100m) or so … the biggest guys end up abandoning many of the smallest customers and segments in their space.  And once a space is at, say $100m in market size, that can open up a $10m hole for new small guys at the bottom of the market.   As the space grows further, that hole and room at the bottom gets bigger and bigger.

Screen Shot 2014-03-16 at 3.29.46 PMNow imagine we’ve talking about a much bigger space, like CRM.  Salesforce alone will be at $10 billion ARR in just a few years.  $10 billion.

Now at that scale, Salesforce is now working on as many $100m+ deals as it can try to close.  Because once you adding > $1 billion in ARR a year, you need a few Really, Really Big Enterprise deals to move the needle.  And a handful of $50m-$100m deals are, by definition, the new target to really move the needle at that scale.

Given that … does it make any sense to pursue the $9 a month market?  Or the $2000 ACV market?  I mean, not really.  And Salesforce isn’t.

So the bottom 10% of this $10 billion market, or $1 billion, isn’t even being addressed by Salesforce.

And the next bottomest 10% of this $10 billion market, maybe is being addressed, but isn’t being prioritized.  It can’t be.  There’s too much to do to get to $10 billion in ARR.

>> So what that means is there are 10-20 $100m+ ARR opportunities in CRM that exist, either today, or Will Very Soon.

We’ve seen Veeva IPO as a Pharma-specific CRM.  But that unicorn didn’t even come from the bottom of the market, but rather, an adjacent piece of it, a vertical.  We’ll see SugarCRM IPO this year, but while that’s partly the bottom of the market, it’s really more of a vertical (open source + highly customizable + international) play in a sense.  And Zendesk will IPO this year, a CRM focused on supporting existing customers instead of potential ones.  All three are already > $100m ARR.  And we haven’t even seen a Bottom-of-the-Market play IPO yet.

And we’ll see another 10-20.  It’s just the basic math of the $2 billion in market space that Salesforce isn’t really addressing.  And with today’s multiples — All 20 Can Be $Billion+ Market Cap Unicorns.

CRM got a little sleepy for a while.  It seemed pretty tapped out around ’08/’09, in fact.  But the interesting thing is it turns out it’s just Getting Good.

My take-aways:

  • The Idea There is Only One Big Winner in a Space in SaaS is getting Pretty Dated — Even If It’s True.  Maybe Salesforce will continue to capture 70-80% of the market cap value in CRM over time.  But goodness, even if that’s true, the other 20 all can be $1 billion+ Unicorns.  The fact that all SaaS markets are exploding means there are far more ways to get to $100m in ARR than ever before.
  • Never Quit if you have Real Customers in a Good Market and Something Potentially Great.  Because TAM is What You Make of It.  Everyone thinks TAM is smaller than it ends up being — if you have a great and long-term committed team.  You’ll add features, extensions, new product lines.  Salesforce grew into Marketing Cloud and Service Cloud, and finally grew Force.com into a $1 billion business on its own.  Where will you grow?  Probably somewhere great over the long-term.
  • You Don’t Have Dethrone the Winner to Win.  Got a better take on Box?  Don’t fear its $10 billion IPO and $200m run rate.  Relish it.  Because just the wake behind that can create another Billion Dollar (Market Cap) Winner.  You don’t even to take anything away from Box.  Just win in the Bottom 20% of the market, and/or ride the next wave in the segment.  Again, because it’s just a huge market.  See, e.g., Egnyte which is now killing it.
  • All These Categories Are Going to Turn Over Again.  Secret and Medium are just the next versions of Twitter and Quora, Tumblr supplants Blogger and grows perpendicular to WordPress.  You can see new players in a space evolve relatively quickly in consumer, with a new spin each time the web changes (mobile, social, etc.).  The themes change much more slowly in the Enterprise, but they do change every 3-5 years.   Mobile is, for example, eventually, going to totally change CRM.  It’s starting to happen already.  And that will create huge new opportunities for new players.  Etc, etc.
  • Net net my #1 point: Judge Yourself By Yourself.  There’s more than one way to Build a Unicorn — at least these days.  It used to be there was only one unicorn (if any) in a space, in enterprise software.  But today, the SaaS markets are simply exploding.  We’re only in the second or third inning of an incredible change in the way enterprises buy and use software.  You can build a $100m ARR and Billion Dollar (Market Cap) Business by riding the next wave.  And Salesforce, DropBox, Successfactors, whomever — they really can’t do anything about it.  They won’t even really care.

Carpe Diem, my friends.

Published on March 16, 2014


  1. Love this post, confirms a lot of what I have noticed and been thinking but in a much more well thought out and eloquent way. Been a long time reader and this is a first time comment.

    The other aspect that I think is important to note is the big boys are also educating the market and that’s a MASSIVE and EXPENSIVE effort. For example, Salesforce has helped SaaS companies all over the world get over the objection of moving client data to the cloud. So the cost to enter the market behind the big boys and enjoy the wave they have created is easier for the companies you mention above.

    1. The “massive” and “expensive” thing is certainly true, however, it also creates some barriers to entry or at least, creates barriers to passing someone and becoming #1 and makes it also much harder to enter a space if you don’t have a clearly differentiated offering that at least for some customers, is clearly better. I’m 100% in agreement that the Big Investment By the Prior Guy helps the fast followers and new entrants overall, I just think sometimes entrepreneurs confuse this with the guy before you automatically giving you some sort of boost.

      You have to get into the wake to take advantage of it 😉 Once you do, though, it really helps.

  2. I agree and indeed this is probably true for many verticals, not just CRM.

    However isn’t the reason for this:

    “And we haven’t even seen a Bottom-of-the-Market play IPO yet.”

    that most SaaS companies starting at the bottom of the market are slowly moving upstream into the enterprise segment over the company’s lifetime? So by the time they would IPO, there might be no trace of their ‘grassroots heritage’. Zendesk could become such a case for instance.

    The subsequent question would be, how many levels of a market are there? 🙂

    1. It’s true most successful SaaS products tilt upmarket, we’ve talked about this a lot in the past. I agree most of the 10-20 that go IPO will go upmarket a bit or even a lot. Hubspot, e.g., is now very clear on its Enterprise Marketing at it’s getting ready to IPO. It’s just many will start at the bottom of the market where incumbents can’t spend enough time.

      1. Yes, and every time an incumbent moves upmarket there is an opportunity for a new entrant.

        It will be interesting to see whether these ‘SMB-focused’ SaaS plays can gain enough momentum to do a ‘bottom-market-IPO’ without serving (many) enterprise clients in the future though, as it could change the rules of the game.

  3. Completely agree with your premise. The only question I would add, is whether or not a low end/better/faster/cheaper service ends up being a stand alone business or if the front runners end up purchasing new entrants in order to take advantage of market coverage. Yes, it has been rare for application companies to purchase “redundant apps,” opting instead to purchase market expansion applications. SaaS appears to be following this same market expansion pattern, however, at $500m+ ARR? with better user experience, margins and ops than the incumbent had when it was small? Could get interesting.

  4. Interesting article. So you’re saying that many companies can make it big – even in the one that gave you your best exit? Yes, I’m looking at going into the eSignature space but integrating it with preceding areas of the sales cycle.

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