You might call it the Mindbody-Appfolio effect.
The pair of $100 million-plus initial public stock offerings filed last month has caught the attention of dealmakers from the Bay Area to Los Angeles. Add to that the stunning, $1.4 billion sale of Lynda.com to Linkedin and you have the most buzz in the region since the dot.com era.
Which is in part why the private-equity oriented group Association for Corporate Growth brought its Westlake Village based chapter to the South Coast on June 9 for a rare session in Santa Barbara.
The topic du jour was whether this is another tech bubble like 2000 or a sustainable change in profile for the region. The stakes are not small.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the story of Mindbody and Appfolio, both are large, fast growing niche companies in cloud computing. Mindbody, a major employer in San Luis Obispo, provides management tools and payment processing for yoga studios and health clubs worldwide. Increasingly it is producing new content to promote and track employee wellness and its revenue more than doubled from $30 million to $70 million in the past two years. On June 8, the company amended its prospectus, announcing a preliminary price of $15 per share and an offering of 7.15 million shares to raise as much as $123 million.
Appfolio is a software-as-a-service company that has built an impressive following in providing a suite of cloud-based services for small to medium-sized companies, with an emphasis so far on real estate investors. The company’s revenue has ramped up quickly from $12 million to $26 million to $47 million during the past three years and although it has racked up losses, the ability to grow sales at that clip make it attractive in the hot IPO market. The lead underwriter for both offerings is Morgan Stanley.
On the dot.com redux side of the debate, there’s a lot of evidence. Lofty valuations claimed by Netflix and Tesla are part of it. The fact that Mindbody and Appfolio could attempt an IPO in the face of big losses brings the conversation back home to the region. And exhibit A for the market peak scenario is that the Nasdaq stock market has pretty much reclaimed the plus 5,000-summit it hit before the dot.com collapse sent it tumbling by more than 50 percent.
On the sustainable growth side of the argument, is the fact that Mindbody and Appfolio have scads of customers who are paying real cash for their services. They are in a business-to-business niche that’s broad and b-to-b customers tend to be fairly sticky. And not every tech boom ends in a bust — the innovative companies that went public in the first wave of the tech boom in the early 1980s didn’t all make it but a few of them are still around, Apple and Microsoft to name two.
The stakes are fairly large for the region. Further integration of the Central Coast tech sector into the Silicon Valley and emerging Santa Monica tech sector would really take the Highway 101 corridor to the next level. It could mean that for the first time, technology graduates from Cal Poly, UC Santa Barbara and CSU Channel Islands have a clear path to great jobs in the region.
And a rising tide would help lift cities that have been left behind by the tech surge — Lompoc, Santa Maria, Oxnard and Paso Robles.
In my chat with Semtech CEO Mohan Maheswaran a few weeks ago, he held out a broader vision for the technology corridor, stating flatly that he believes “the opportunity is huge.”
Of the more than $200 million in outside capital that MindBody and Appfolio could be raising in the next couple of months, a lot of the money will be spent right here on the Central Coast to hire people, develop new services and attract new customers. That will tell us a lot about how huge the opportunity really is.
• Reach Editor Dubroff at [email protected]