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Enterprise tech giant Salesforce said Wednesday that its co-CEO and Vice Chair Bret Taylor will step down from his roles. Salesforce co-founder Marc Benioff, who had been co-CEO alongside Taylor, will continue running the company and serving as board chair, the company said in a news release.
Taylor had worked at Salesforce (CRM) for six years, most recently as president and COO before being elevated to co-CEO last November. He will officially exit his position on January 31, 2023. Benioff, in a statement, called Taylor’s decision to step down “bittersweet.”
“After a lot of reflection, I’ve decided to return to my entrepreneurial roots,” Taylor said in a statement. “Salesforce has never been more relevant to customers, and with its best-in-class management team and the company executing on all cylinders, now is the right time for me to step away.”
Prior to Salesforce, Taylor founded and led collaboration platform Quip, which Salesforce acquired for $750 million in 2016. Taylor also worked as chief technology officer at Facebook during the company’s IPO.
Taylor’s move comes at a rocky time for Salesforce, whose shares have fallen around 40% since the start of this year amid the economic downturn. The announcement coincided with Salesforce’s third quarter earnings report, in which the company said it expected fourth quarter revenue at the low-end of analysts’ expectations.
Salesforce’s stock fell more than 6% in after-hours trading following the earnings and leadership change announcements.
Taylor also had a busy year outside Salesforce. As the former chair of Twitter’s board of directors, he was in charge of leading the company through Elon Musk’s tumultuous takeover deal and litigation. Musk officially closed his $44-billion deal to buy the company last month and quickly dissolved the board of directors.
(Bloomberg) -- Stewart Butterfield, chief executive officer of Salesforce Inc.’s Slack, is leaving after less than two years, another blow to the software giant that has been roiled by an executive exodus in accurate weeks.
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Two other veteran Slack executives also will depart, the company said Monday, shaking up the division that Salesforce purchased in July 2021 for more than $27 billion in its largest acquisition.
Butterfield’s resignation follows the news last week that Salesforce co-CEO Bret Taylor would step down from the post at the end of next month. Butterfield, who was seen as a possible successor to Taylor, also will exit in January, the company said. Both men were credited as lead negotiators in the deal announced in December 2020 that brought the business communications platform into Salesforce.
In a memo to staff, Butterfield said his departure is unrelated to Taylor’s. “Planning has been in the works for several months,” Butterfield wrote. “Weird timing!” Slack Chief Product Officer Tamar Yehoshua and Senior Vice President Jonathan Prince will also leave the company, Butterfield wrote.
Butterfield “is an incredible leader who created an amazing, beloved company in Slack,” a Salesforce spokesperson said. “He has helped lead the successful integration of Slack into Salesforce.” Salesforce, the top maker of customer relations management software, declined to comment on the departures of Yehoshua and Prince. Insider earlier reported Butterfield’s exit.
Lidiane Jones will succeed Butterfield as CEO at Slack, the spokesperson said. Jones most recently served as executive vice president of Salesforce’s experience cloud, commerce cloud and marketing cloud units and worked for Sonos Inc. and Microsoft Corp. before joining Salesforce in 2019. Butterfield was “instrumental in choosing” her as the next CEO, the spokesperson said.
In his memo, Butterfield praised Jones, writing that she “has a deep respect for our approach to product, our customer obsession, and our unique culture” at Slack, and has “enormous credibility inside of Salesforce.”
Butterfield’s exit “is a risk for the company, given other high-profile executive departures in the past few months,” Anurag Rana, a senior analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, wrote in a note. “This could put additional pressure on CEO and founder Marc Benioff to assure investors that the company still has a deep bench of leaders that can revive organic growth, which has seen steady decline in the past few quarters.”
The stock fell 7.4% to $133.93 in New York -- its lowest closing price since March 2020. The shares have tumbled 47% this year.
Salesforce is struggling with slowing growth and increasing pressure from investors to Boost profit. The company last week projected revenue would increase 8% to 10% in the current period — which would be the smallest year-over-year gain since Salesforce went public in 2004.
Salesforce also has been working to further integrate other large acquisitions, Mulesoft and Tableau, into a cohesive platform of services. Tableau, which Salesforce bought in 2019 for $15 billion, has seen a similar thinning of executive ranks recently. On Friday, Mark Nelson, the CEO of the unit, announced he would exit the company, about a year and a half after Adam Selipsky, who ran Tableau at the time of the Salesforce’s purchase, departed to lead Amazon.com Inc’s cloud-computing division. Tableau Chief Marketing Officer Jackie Yeaney and Chief Data Officer Wendy Turner-Williams also left in accurate months, according to their LinkedIn biographies.
Butterfield, 49, who is a co-founder of Slack, said his time at the company since it started more than 13 years ago has been “a long and wild run,” and, unlike Taylor, he isn’t leaving to return to his entrepreneurial roots.
“Though it may sound hackneyed, I actually am going to spend more time with my family,” he wrote in his memo. “We have a new baby coming in January. Can I tell you something? I fantasize about gardening. So, I’m going to work on some personal projects, focus on health, and try to learn as many new things as I can.”
(Updates with closing share price in the ninth paragraph.)
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Gartner estimates that by 2025, 70% of enterprise applications will be built on low-code and no-code platforms such as Salesforce and ServiceNow. But are these platforms providing a false sense of security?
When asked, Salesforce administrators often reply that the company is responsible for security. Security is a shared responsibility on SaaS applications. Your provider secures the infrastructure, and your administrators and developers are responsible for ensuring least privilege access rights.
Cloud misconfigurations are responsible for a three-fold increase in data breaches. Typically, misconfiguration occurs when security settings are allowed to default, inappropriate access levels are assigned, or data barriers are not created to protect sensitive data. Configuring a low-code platform is so easy that the low-code administrator often does not understand the impact of checking a box.
When looking at the impact of a simple checkmark, these are the top three riskiest misconfigurations on the Salesforce platform: Modify All Data (MAD) and View All Data (VAD), Sharing & Sharing Groups and Running Apex code without the “runAs” method.
Let’s look at each and the impact they can have.
Sharing Groups are very powerful, but they can potentially open up accidental access to unauthorized users.
We’ll start with the obvious and most dangerous. Modify All Data and View All Data permissions do exactly what they say. These are the super user permissions for Salesforce.
If a user has VAD, they have read access to every data record in the system. MAD means they can update and delete every record as well. These permissions should only be given to administrators and even then, to a very limited number of people.
Why would an admin be tempted to provide MAD or VAD to non-admins? The typical case is when a user is not able to access data that they have a need to see. The admin reviews the user’s profile and permission sets, all of the sharing rules and role hierarchy, and can’t determine why the user can’t see the information. As a “temporary fix,” they provide the user MAD or VAD and now the user can see the records — along with everything else in the system.
This mistake can also happen when developers run into the same dilemma. They temporarily turn on MAD in the user profile in order to make progress in their code and later forget that they turned it on.
Salesforce on Tuesday confirmed that it cut some employees this week after the enterprise software maker saw demand lighten in some countries and industries.
Protocol reported earlier on the cuts, saying they could affect up to 2,500 employees. One person familiar with the matter said Salesforce let go of fewer than 1,000 people Monday. At the end of January it employed 73,541 people. In August Salesforce said in a filing that headcount rose 36% in the past year "to meet the higher demand for services from our customers."
Marlena Sloss | Bloomberg | Getty Images
"Our sales performance process drives accountability. Unfortunately, that can lead to some leaving the business, and we support them through their transition," a Salesforce spokesperson told CNBC in a statement.
Several technology companies, Salesforce included, have announced plans to add employees at a slower rate than before this year to weather rougher business conditions as prices and interest rates move higher. Some of them have also gone a step beyond that and removed some existing employees, as experts debate the timing of a possible economic recession.
In August Salesforce issued full-year earnings and revenue guidance that came in below expectations, sending the stock down 3% the next day. Amy Weaver, Salesforce's finance chief, told analysts that demand slowed down among small and medium-sized businesses, particularly in North America and Europe, and in communications, consumer goods, media and retail. Marc Benioff, Salesforce's co-founder and co-CEO, said he expects longer sales cycles and greater scrutiny of corporate purchases to persist.
Salesforce cofounder and co-CEO Marc Benioff speaks during the grand opening of the Salesforce Tower, the tallest building in San Francisco, Calif., Tuesday, May 22, 2018.
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Salesforce reported earnings and revenue on Wednesday that beat analyst expectations. It also announced that co-CEO Bret Taylor is stepping down. CEO and Salesforce co-founder Marc Benioff will the be sole person in charge of the company.
Salesforce stock fell over 6% in extended trading.
Here's how the company did versus Refinitiv consensus estimates for the quarter ending in October:
Salesforce said it expected between $7.9 billion to $8.03 billion in revenue in the company's fourth fiscal quarter, lower at the midpoint than analyst expectations of $8.02 billion in sales in the fourth quarter. The company also said it would take a $900 million hit in sales because of foreign currency effects.
Salesforce's total revenue increased 14% year-over-year. Last quarter, Salesforce trimmed its year-end estimates for both revenue and earnings, citing a weaker economic cycle. It reaffirmed those estimates on Wednesday.
Salesforce said that its operating cash flow came in at $313 million for the quarter, which was a decrease of 23% year-over-year.
Subscription and support revenue, which includes the company's flagship Sales Cloud software and comprises the majority of the company's sales, came in at $7.23 billion, which was up 13% year-over-year.
The Platform and Other category that includes Slack reported $1.51 billion in sales, an 18% increase year-over-year.
Salesforce spent $1.7 billion on share repurchases during the quarter, the company said.
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Tech stocks have taken a nasty tumble this year, but some are doing even worse than others. Exhibit A: software giant Salesforce.
Shares of Salesforce (CRM) have plunged about 40% so far in 2022. That makes it the second-worst performer in the Dow, trailing only chip leader Intel (INTC). Salesforce (CRM) has lagged the performance of top cloud software rivals such as Microsoft (MSFT), Germany’s SAP (SAP) and Oracle (ORCL).
Salesforce isn’t really doing all that badly. In fact, the company reported sales growth of 22% from a year ago back in August, but it also cut its revenue and profit forecasts at the time.
Salesforce said it now expects earnings per share of about $1.20 to $1.21 for this quarter and sales of $7.82 billion to $7.83 billion. Analysts had been expecting earnings of $1.29 a share and revenue of nearly $8.1 billion.
So is Salesforce, led by co-CEOs Marc Benioff and Bret Taylor, due for a comeback in 2023? Or will the company remain in Wall Street’s penalty box as it absorbs and integrates a series of expensive acquisitions over the past few years?
Salesforce has spent nearly $50 billion since 2018 to buy application software company MuleSoft, data visualization software leader Tableau and workplace productivity suite Slack. The Slack deal cost Salesforce about $28 billion.
Investors will get an update on how all these deals are panning out when Salesforce reports its latest earnings after the closing bell Wednesday. Analysts are predicting that sales will be up 14% from a year ago but profits will fall slightly.
Salesforce president and chief financial officer Amy Weaver conceded during an analyst meeting in September that “we have seen increased risks and uncertainties” in accurate months. But she stressed that demand for the company’s software remains strong.
A majority of Wall Street analysts remain bullish on Salesforce. According to data from Refinitiv, 40 of the 50 analysts that cover the company have a “buy” rating on the stock. (The remaining 10 have a “hold.” There are no “sell” recommendations.)
And the consensus price target for the stock is nearly $216 a share, 40% higher than current levels.
Still, analysts are likely to have questions about what’s next for Slack under Salesforce’s ownership. Microsoft has stepped up its own competitive efforts versus Slack with its Teams product.
“Microsoft Teams continues to be the gorilla in the room, indicating that existing customers of Salesforce have been less responsive to picking up Slack,” said Daniel Morgan, senior portfolio manager with Synovus Trust Company, in a report. “Mounting competition from Teams and increasing pricing pressure create some headwinds.”
The year so far has been tough for investors as all markets have been falling so far this year. We are dealing with high inflation, rate hikes by the central banks, and a serious threat of a recession in the near term. It is therefore no surprise that markets are down by double digits. But where most investors might be down over 10% this year, it is not all just negative. The current market does offer us some very interesting buying opportunities as some companies keep growing earnings and pop up as very resilient. But even these companies are down significantly. The best thing we investors can do now is to identify the stocks that are undervalued as a result of the downturn (and of course don’t panic sell your existing holdings).
Technology stocks have been the winners over the last couple of years, or actually, for the last decade or so. Covid gave another boost to growth stocks as technology services became increasingly important as people were forced to stay at home and work from home. As a result, a lot of these technology companies were massively overvalued at the end of 2021, even though a lot of these companies were not even profitable. But the environment has changed drastically, and people are not willing to pay for unprofitable companies in the way they were a little over a year ago.
One of the companies that has been growing at a rapid pace is CRM software company Salesforce (NYSE:CRM). The big difference for Salesforce, of course, is that this company is profitable. Salesforce is down over 40% this year, despite the accurate rally. As a result, the stock price has only increased by 40% over the last 5 years. Meanwhile, revenue has grown from around $7 billion in FY16 to approximately $22 billion in FY22, meaning revenues have more than tripled over the last 5 years.
It is the drop in share price so far this year that caused me to start following Salesforce. I think it is a very interesting business and I like software companies in general. Generally, these companies have very high margins and are believed to be more recession and inflation-resistant. I cannot imagine businesses cutting on their CRM systems as these might even increase in importance when times get tough.
I currently do not own any shares in Salesforce. The company has always been a bit too expensive for my taste, while profits were almost non-existent. Now, as I mentioned earlier, the drop in share price so far this year for a quality business like Salesforce did attract my interest. For that reason, I will try to find out within this article whether Salesforce is a buy at current prices. This is my initial thesis on Salesforce and so I will do a company deep-dive.
Salesforce is an American cloud-based software company with its headquarters in San Francisco, California. Salesforce provides CRM software and applications with a focus on sales, customer service, marketing automation, and analytics. Salesforce made its IPO in 2004 and has grown to a market cap of $154 billion today. Salesforce is one of the largest cloud-based companies on the planet.
Customer 360 is the CRM software Salesforce offers to its customers and has been the #1 CRM system in the world for many years now.
Nowadays, more than 150,000 companies use Salesforce’s CRM platform and use it to grow their business and increase customer relations. What CRM does is help companies understand their customers’ needs and solve problems more effectively through an all-in-one platform that includes all information you need to serve your customers in the best way possible.
You can imagine from the introduction above that Salesforce still has a load of growth prospects. Their dominant position in CRM offers them the ability to expand their platform and upsell their customers or expand into other industries and services while using their huge existing client base to sell these products. In September Salesforce held its annual investor day and this gave us some new insights into the future potential for Salesforce.
Salesforce expects its total addressable market [TAM] to continue to grow at a 13% CAGR until 2026 and to reach a massive $290 billion.
One key point regarding Salesforce’s customer 360 is the change in the cloud environment. An increasing number of businesses use multiple cloud vendors. More cloud vendors mean more annual recurring revenue [ARR] for Salesforce. Salesforce provided a nice overview of the difference in ARR per number of cloud providers and this shows the massive potential as more and more businesses shift towards multiple cloud vendors as the cloud grows in importance.
This is reflected in Salesforce’s financial results as 20% of customers use more than 4 cloud vendors, but these customers account for 85% of ARR. Salesforce believes it can use its land-and-expand strategy to boost ARR growth over the longer term as it plans to upsell to existing customers.
Salesforce also still sees a lot of growth potential through geographic expansion. According to Salesforce, there is still a large part of its TAM untapped, and it sees potential to drive new market opportunities. Salesforce has seen its ARR grow at a 21% CAGR in North America over the last three years, while ARR from international markets has grown at a 27% CAGR. Despite this strong growth, Salesforce remains to believe it has plenty of room to expand at a similar pace over the next couple of years. ARR is the best kind of revenue for Salesforce as it is a predictable revenue stream and less sensitive to economic problems and a potential recession. The majority of revenue is subscription revenue and therefore recurring annually.
According to Salesforce, they should be able to grow their revenue to a massive $50 billion by 2026, growing revenue at a 17% CAGR and doubling revenue compared to last year. Salesforce currently projects $31 billion in revenue for FY23. I feel like the goals Salesforce is aiming for might be a bit too high. If we take into consideration the possibility of a potential recession, it seems unlikely that Salesforce is going to double its revenue by FY26. Yet, I would not say it is impossible as I feel like Salesforce has a relatively stable business that should not be hurt as much as many others.
In addition to significantly increasing revenue by FY26, Salesforce also wants to increase its margins. It believes it can do this by benefitting from its land-and-expand strategy, product innovation, an increase in brand awareness through networking, and system automation. This all should lead to a 25%+ non-GAAP operating margin by FY26.
Salesforce has been a great player regarding business innovation over the years and it is not planning on stopping now. Salesforce plans on bringing a whole bunch of innovations in 2023 which should boost platform attractiveness and upsell opportunities to increase ARR.
In addition to business growth, Salesforce confirmed it will stay active in M&A when they believe it will be a significant addition to its product portfolio. Also, Salesforce announced its first-ever share repurchase program. Management authorized a $10 billion share repurchase program. This is very good news for investors, although I am not sure whether I would rather see Salesforce invest this money into the business. Yet, it does confirm that management believes the stock is currently undervalued.
Of course, I already shared the outlook Salesforce presented regarding market growth by using their TAM. According to Allied Market Research, the CRM market is expected to grow at an 11.1% CAGR from 2020 to 2027 and will reach a market size of close to $100 billion. Since CRM is the main business for Salesforce and they are the largest player by a fair margin, as is shown by the graph below, I expect them to profit from this industry growth. Salesforce even grew its market share over the last 5 years to a massive 23.8% in FY21. This shows us Salesforce is in a great position to benefit from market growth. Now, how is this strength reflected in their accurate financial results?
On August 24th Salesforce presented its second-quarter results. Revenue came in at $7.72 billion, showing 22% YoY growth and 26% on constant currency. Subscription revenues for the quarter were $7.14 billion and grew 21% YoY. Non-GAAP EPS was $1.19, while GAAP EPS was significantly lower at just $0.07. Management stated the following:
Our results demonstrate the strength and diversity of our product portfolio across regions, industries and segments. In this more measured buying environment, our Customer 360 portfolio is even more strategic and relevant as our customers focus on productivity, efficiency and time to value.
Management confirmed what I said earlier and that is that its Customer 360 platform will be of increasing importance to businesses as it increases efficiency and productivity in times when this is crucial. This is also part of the reason I do expect Salesforce to remain relatively stable in revenue, even if we see a severe slowdown.
The operating margin for the second quarter came in at 19.9% non-GAAP and GAAP margin of only 2.5%. In addition, operating cash flow came in at $330 million, which is a 14% decrease YoY and free cash flow was just $130 million, 24% lower YoY. This might also immediately bring on a big problem with Salesforce, its profitability. Yes, there is a profit, but cash flows are low for a business earning over $30 billion in revenue annually and existing for over 20 years.
Growth for the quarter remained very strong on the top line, but the bottom line saw a significant decrease, which was disappointing. If we look at the revenue split by region, we see that the strongest growth was visible in the EMEA region, which grew by 23% YoY and 35% YoY on constant currency. APAC saw 17% growth and 31% constant currency. Growth in the Americas was a solid 22%. This does show that growth for the international markets is growing faster, most likely because of a lower penetration of the market in these regions.
The outlook for the third quarter is also not the most positive one. Salesforce will report its third-quarter results later this week on November 30th. For this quarter Salesforce expects revenue between $7.82 - $7.83 billion, representing just 14% growth YoY and a serious slowdown compared to previous quarters. Non-GAAP EPS is expected to be between $1.20 and $1.21.
As a result, Salesforce now expects FY23 revenue (current fiscal quarter) of $31 billion on the top end, up 17% YoY. FY23 margin is expected to be 20.4% on a non-GAAP basis.
Salesforce does have a solid balance sheet with total cash of $13.5 billion at the end of its 2Q23. This was an increase of 40% YoY. Total debt was $14.3 billion, meaning Salesforce has a negative net debt position of about $800 million. I really like the cash position of Salesforce as it does provide the company a lot of opportunities regarding M&A, but also investing in business opportunities. I am less of a fan of the debt position, but as this is almost fully covered by its cash, this should not be a problem for now. Salesforce is not generating loads of free cash flow at the moment, so debt should not go much higher for my taste. The 40% YoY increase in its total cash position is positive as it shows the business is fully capable of generating free cash flow.
Salesforce is currently valued at a forward P/E of 31.25 and is therefore 44% undervalued compared to its 5-year average, yet it is also not particularly growing at the same rate as it did the last 5 years. Salesforce receives a C- from Seeking Alpha for its valuation as the stock is still not cheap compared to its (slowing) growth rates.
Current analyst estimates are projecting 17% growth for the current fiscal year, in line with management expectations. For FY23 (or fiscal FY24 for Salesforce) analysts project 14.4% revenue growth and 16% for the two years after that. That would mean Salesforce would reach close to $48 billion in revenue by FY26, not reaching management's current goal of $50 billion. I am personally very curious to see whether Salesforce will be able to manage to grow the business by 14% over the next fiscal year. This will highly depend on the severity of a potential recession. I think analysts' estimates for revenue to come in around $48 billion by 2026 seem fair. Bottom line growth is expected to grow at a faster pace closer to 20% per year until 2026.
All in all, I still think Salesforce is richly valued, but the significant decline so far this year has made the stock a lot less expensive. If Salesforce would manage to grow its top line by over 14% next year, which I doubt, I think the stock is fairly valued at prices around $150/160 per share. I do want to add to this that if growth would come in closer to 10% or lower next year, there is still significant room for downside to around $120 per share. Personally, when comparing the growth outlook and current price, I would be comfortable with opening a small position or slowly adding to an existing position.
We have discussed the upside potential for Salesforce so far, but now it is time to turn to a bit more of a negative view and look at the risks of an investment in Salesforce. Of course, one of the main risks for a growth stock with a higher valuation in the current environment is the risk of more downside. Salesforce is, as discussed above, still not cheap and if the economy would make a turn for the worse, there would still possibly be significantly more downside for Salesforce through valuation contractions. Later this week Salesforce will report its 3Q23 earnings and it will be crucial for Salesforce to report solid numbers. The outlook is already guiding for slowing growth. Also, this quarter will provide us a better look at how resilient the business and growth are. In the case of a disappointing quarter, this could have a significant impact on the fiscal 2024 expectations as well.
On November 8th, CNBC reported that Salesforce reportedly laid off hundreds of employees, and job cuts could jump as high as 2500. So far, according to CNBC, less than 1000 workers lost their jobs. Salesforce did not respond to the matter so far but will probably provide us some information about it when they report their earnings next week. It could already point to lower expectations for growth by management and the need to save costs. Laying off personnel is never a good sign, but it could be a good move by management to increase its top line in the case of a slowdown. It is something to keep an eye on next week.
Finally, I want to point out that cash flows remain to be low, except for the fourth and first quarters. This does not leave much room for mistakes for Salesforce. I prefer companies with more of a solid bottom line, but I expect Salesforce to significantly increase their bottom line over the next years as less money will be needed for R&D.
Salesforce is a great company, with strong management, a dominant market position, strong growth ahead, and a solid balance sheet. The main issue for Salesforce remains its valuation as this creates the most risk for a lower share price. A lot will depend on what Salesforce will report later this week when they report their 3Q23 earnings. Despite all near-term weaknesses and uncertainties, I do think the long-term thesis for Salesforce is strong and the current share price is not a bad one to start a position in this dominant enterprise software company. Long-term growth will be supported by growth in cloud computing, CRM industry growth, and business expansion.
I feel like the company is a hard one to judge. I think the company is right in between a buy and a hold. Yet, as I do believe in the long-term potential of the business and the valuation has come down significantly to more acceptable prices, I rate the company a buy at current prices and under current growth assumptions.
I will keep a close eye on earnings later this week and will update the thesis if necessary. For now, I rate Salesforce a buy on a strong growth outlook driven by industry growth and business expansion. I recommend being careful with buying this stock and adding or buying small bits split over time as near-term problems might cause the share price to trade lower.
The city’s largest private employer could continue to downsize its office footprint, executives said in a accurate earnings call.
Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said there will continue to be flexibility for employees who want to work from home, while Chief Financial Officer Amy Weaver said the software company is continuing to evaluate its real estate holdings. Salesforce did not respond to a request for comment as of publication.
On Dec. 22 , C3.ai's (AI -5.43%) stock closed at an all-time high of $177.47, boosting its market cap to $17 billion. At the time, many investors were dazzled by C3's stellar revenue growth and the disruptive potential of its enterprise artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms -- which can be integrated into an organization's existing software infrastructure to cut costs, optimize workflows, Boost employee safety standards, and detect fraud.
But today, C3's stock trades at about $12.50 a share with a market cap of $1.4 billion. Investors fled as its growth cooled off and its losses widened, while other red flags -- including its customer concentration issues, the hiring of three CFOs in just two years, and an abrupt shift from subscriptions to usage-based fees -- hinted at an existential crisis.
Those issues also cast doubts on the notion that C3.ai could disrupt entrenched tech giants like Salesforce (CRM 0.75%), the world's top provider of cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) services.
C3's founder and CEO, Tom Siebel, has frequently compared his company to Salesforce, and he once even dismissed the CRM leader's integrated AI tools as "all marketing and very little technology." Yet Salesforce remains much larger than C3. It has a market cap of about $150 billion, and it's expected to generate nearly 120 times as much annual revenue as its tiny industry peer this year. So could C3 still evolve into the next Salesforce over the long term?
Siebel's previous company, Siebel Systems -- which was acquired by Oracle in 2006 -- notably created the first digital CRM platform in 1995, long before Salesforce launched its first cloud-based CRM services. However, C3 is a very different type of company and approaches the enterprise software market in a more flexible manner than Salesforce.
Whereas Salesforce locks users into its walled garden of cloud-based CRM, sales, marketing, and analytics services, C3 provides AI algorithms that can be plugged in to a wide range of software. For example, C3's CRM platform integrates its AI algorithms into Microsoft's Dynamics CRM platform and Adobe's Experience Cloud (marketing, analytics, advertising, and commerce tools) to create an AI-powered alternative to Salesforce. Alphabet's Google Cloud also integrates C3's AI algorithms into its own services. C3 even provides its AI algorithms as pre-built stand-alone applications.
C3 initially charged recurring subscriptions like Salesforce, but it pivoted to a usage-based model earlier this year. Salesforce's subscriptions are sticky, but C3's approach is more flexible and gives customers more options if they aren't willing to commit to subscription-based contracts.
Salesforce went public in 2004. Between fiscal 2005 and fiscal 2022 (which ended this January), its annual revenue soared from $176 million to $26.49 billion, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 34.3%. It grew so rapidly for four reasons: It established a first-mover's advantage in the cloud-based CRM market, it benefited from the long-term digitization of businesses, it expanded through acquisitions, and it locked in its users with sticky services and subscriptions.
C3 doesn't boast those same strengths. It's carving out a niche market instead of establishing a mainstream one, it's building open software solutions instead of walled gardens, and it doesn't have enough cash to make big ecosystem-building acquisitions yet. It also has a customer concentration issue: It generated 30% of its revenue from a joint venture with the energy giant Baker Hughes last year -- and that crucial deal will expire in fiscal 2025.
To make matters worse, C3's growth is already cooling off. Its revenue surged 71% in fiscal 2020 (which ended in April 2020), but rose just 17% in fiscal 2021 as the pandemic disrupted the energy and industrial markets.
Its revenue grew 38% to $253 million in fiscal 2022 as those headwinds dissipated, but it anticipates just 1% to 7% growth this year as the macro headwinds prompt enterprise customers to curb their spending. By comparison, Salesforce -- which faces many of those same headwinds -- still expects its revenue to rise 17% to about $31 billion this year.
Siebel believes C3's annual revenue growth will "revert to historical annual growth rates" of over 30% in fiscal 2024 "and beyond," but that's a tall order for a company that has repeatedly missed and reduced its own guidance over the past year.
It's highly doubtful that C3 will evolve into a tech titan like Salesforce. Instead, it will likely remain a niche provider of AI algorithms that is tightly tethered to the macro-sensitive energy and industrial markets. Investors who are looking for a long-term play on the digitization and automation of businesses should simply stick with Salesforce instead of betting on a poorly diversified AI software developer like C3.
Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Leo Sun has positions in Adobe Inc., Alphabet (A shares), and Salesforce, Inc. The Motley Fool has positions in and recommends Adobe Inc., Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Microsoft, and Salesforce, Inc. The Motley Fool recommends C3.ai, Inc. and recommends the following options: long January 2024 $420 calls on Adobe Inc. and short January 2024 $430 calls on Adobe Inc. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.