• Zuora: The Hottest Company You Don’t Know

    images (1)Zuora isn’t a household name, but the six-year-old is becoming kind of a big deal as private companies go. Its high-touch subscription-billing platform already counts as customers dozens of established corporate giants (HP, Dell, News Corp), newer corporate giants (Box, Docusign, ZenDesk), and up-and-comers (Dollar Shave Club) for whom its technology handles everything from pricing to order management.

    Unsurprisingly, investors love the 300-person company. Zuora has raised $128 million to date, including from Benchmark, Index Ventures, Vulcan Ventures, and Marc Benioff of Salesforce.com, where Zuora’s cofounder and CEO, Tien Tzuo, was employee number 10.

    Still, Zuora isn’t planning to go public any time soon, say Tzuo. We talked about why earlier this week.

    You’ve said that you’d like at least another year or two before tapping the public markets, but it seems like you’d get a warm reception right now.

    The private markets are assigning valuations that are as strong if not stronger than pubic markets; there isn’t a lot of inherent value right now to going public. Staying private also allows us to work more on ourselves and to make big bets.

    Do you mean acquisitions?

    We haven’t made any acquisitions but our private valuation is getting to the size now where it’s starting [to make sense]. I suspect [we’d look at] more adjacent areas, as technology tuck-ins. It’s not a strategy of ours, but staying private gives us more flexibility.

    So what kind of big bets are you making?

    We’re kind of in a land grab [having recently opened offices in London and Australia, with plans to move into Asia-Pacific]. If we can raise money and focus on [expanding], then it just makes more sense to do that. Our big challenge is evangelizing the shift from a product to a subscription-based economy.

    Meaning the renting versus buying economy?

    Right. Eighty or 90 percent of companies getting funded now have a subscription model because of [cloud-based servers and other things]. Medical device companies that [used to spend a fortune on equipment] now use services hosted at Amazon and pay as they go for processing power.

    Everyone will wake up across the world and realize their business is a subscription-based model. Product-driven society, where you ship as many cars, pens, and computers, is no longer sustainable.

    Assuming that’s true, you’re probably as aware as anyone of the types of subscription-based companies that VCs are funding. What are you seeing?

    I’m seeing massive niches. Take GoodMouth, which sells toothbrushes. It’s kind of a no-brainer. You’re supposed to change your toothbrush every month or two; GoodMouth sends them to you. With the Internet, you can pick something that has traditionally been too small and scale it to the whole country.

    Another example is point-of-sale systems. It might seem like Square has the point-of-sale market locked up, but that’s not so. There are half a dozen companies focused on point-of-sale systems: there’s one that’s focused on grocery stores, another focused on dry cleaners. Very specific vendors can scale to a very large size today, unlike five to ten years ago, and smart VCs know it. Peter Fenton [of Benchmark, who sits on Zuora’s board], has a company in his portfolio called Revinate. It does hotel management systems. That can’t be further afield from the masses, but it’s a multibillion-dollar vertical.

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