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Salesforce.com Seeks IPO
By Susan Kuchinskas

December 18, 2003

Salesforce.com is looking for a fat $115 million in a proposed initial public offering. The company Thursday registered with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The announcement named Morgan Stanley as sole book runner, with Deutsche Bank Securities Inc., UBS Securities, Wachovia Capital Markets and William Blair & Company pitching in. The company gave no date for the IPO, and a company spokesperson pled “quiet period.”

Just four years ago, San Francisco-based Salesforce.com was a little no-name with one odd idea: offering cheap and basic sales force automation over the Web. Partnerships with other emerging players and a few majors, along with customer disenchantment with huge, complicated enterprise customer relationship management projects, have made it a strong contender in the customer relationship management (CRM) market.

“Part of their success is listening to the customer,” said Tom Taulli, author of “Investing in IPOs” and a professor of corporate finance at University of Southern California. He said that a big reason companies aren’t buying technology is that new projects are too expensive and too time-consuming. “Putting in a Siebel installation could take a couple years out of your life.”

Salesforce.com’s most recent partnership, announced this fall, was with BEA Systems (Quote, Chart) to deliver a co-branded on-demand version of BEA’s WebLogic Workshop 8.1. In February, it formed a strategic alliance with professional services giant PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The company is famous for trash-talking and brash promotion. Its “end of software” ads, which often feature disgruntled customers of other vendors, raised hackles. However, the company had to back out of a high-profile event in which it bought out tickets for a San Francisco speech by the Dalai Lama as a treat for employees and customers. When Salesforce.com put out a poster featuring the Dalai Lama praying under the message, “There is no software on the path to enlightenment,” the event sponsor, American Himalayan Foundation returned the $75,000 and asked the company to apologize.

But there’s no such thing as bad publicity for this profitable company.

“The time has come to see the emergence of a new approach to enterprise computing,” Taulli told internetnews.com. “And so far, [Salesforce.com is] one of the leaders.”

While the IPO process may take a few months, Taulli’s betting on a hot opening day for the stock some time in February and looking forward to a strong IPO market in 2004. That’s when all eyes will be on search engine upstart Google. The Mountain View, Calif., company is moving ahead and may be in the process of choosing investment banks to lead an IPO that could value Google at up to $25 billion — a range evoking nostalgia for the dot-com heyday.

The moves come as the search industry is undergoing changes sparked by paid placement, which reinvigorated the sector and raised the value of the companies in it.

Like Salesforce.com, Morgan Stanley has been mentioned as the frontrunner for the much-anticipated offering, although it’s not uncommon for more than one investment bank to handle an issue of this size. Google is mum on its IPO plans.

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