Is Tableau a "Rule-Breaker" Stock?

Once again, Tableau Software (NYSE: DATA  )  hit a home run with its first-quarter earnings report, continuing to show that it's head-and-shoulders above peers Qlik Technologies (NASDAQ: QLIK  ) and Tibco Software (NASDAQ: TIBX  ) . Thus, with its rule-breaking approach, is it time to buy this stock?

Tableau continues to shine
Tableau has beaten both revenue and EPS expectations in each of the four quarters since its IPO last year. In its most recent quarter, the big data analytics company once more proved that it's one step ahead of Wall Street analysts.

The company sells a platform used to view and interact with large amounts of data, competing with the likes of Tibco and Qlik, but growing substantially faster. In the first quarter, it grew revenue by 86.4% year-over-year to $74.6 million. Furthermore, excluding stock-based compensation, the company reported operating income of $6.1 million, profitability that is rare for fast-growing companies in this space.

More importantly, Tableau reported that it signed 1,800 new customers in the quarter, with 120 sales in excess of $100,000. The company's deferred revenue also rose to $69.9 million, representing a nearly $3 million increase over the three months prior.

Maintaining an advantage
Motley Fool co-founder, David Gardner, often talks about "rule breakers," stocks that present enormous long-term upside, presenting six key signs. One sign of a rule breaker is a first-to-market advantage, or a similar advantage in a growth industry, which allows the company to thrive.

Essentially, Gardner's rule is Tableau in a nut shell. Tableau has thrived by stealing market share from competitors and offering a service with unmatched speeds that is also easy to use, which is what gives Tableau an advantage.

Tableau is secure, allows all employees to interact, access data, and make better decisions in a simple manner. Complexity is the major complaint that has hindered peers like Qlik and Tibco in recent quarters, which has left both companies trying to implement changes similar to those that made Tableau so popular.

Specifically, Tibco and Qlik are expected to grow at an annual rate of 8% and 15%, respectively, far below that of Tableau. Qlik, who like Tableau, is considered a next-generation analytics company, saw licensing revenue grow just 2% in its last quarter. However, Tibco's Spotfire platform licensing revenue fell 7% in the same period, while Tableau's licensing revenue rose 83%. Clearly, Tableau is on a different level.

The problem for companies like Tibco and Qlik is that both try to mirror what has worked for Tableau, along with implementing individual services, but Tableau continues to evolve as well. In particular, Tableau has created a cloud/mobile version, increased its scale, and is constantly adding new features to its platform, along with creating alliances to process more data in all industries. This pace of innovation, and its lead with a transcendent platform in a growth industry, that Gardner talks about when finding a rule-breaking stock.

Valuation concerns are not abnormal
In addition to the rule previously noted, David Gardner also says that a rule breaker's valuation, at some point, will also come into question. Furthermore, rule breakers often operate in high-growth industries and, therefore, are volatile in the short term. But, this is also why long-term investors are often rewarded for their patience, or by waiting for a prime opportunity to buy.

In this particular case, Tableau's valuation has consistently remained in question, as Tableau -- and big data in general -- are investments for tomorrow, and not necessarily for today. Research firm IDC estimates that big data is growing six times faster than the $16.1 billion IT market, which includes Tableau, while Pac Crest notes that next-generation analytics companies account for only 6% of this market. Therefore, investors see great long-term fundamental upside in this space.

Final thoughts
Tableau has a great opportunity to be the fastest-growing company in the industry. Earlier this year, shares topped at over $102. However, today, the stock trades at just $57, and at 13 times sales with improving margins, this is a company that might very well be a rule breaker, as its valuation has already come into question and the stock is now priced for long-term rule-breaker-like gains.

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Brian Nichols

Brian Nichols is the author of "5 Simple Steps to Find the Next Top-Performing Stock: How to Identify Investments that Can Double Quickly for Personal Success (2014)" and "Taking Charge With Value Investing (McGraw-Hill, 2013)". Brian is a value investor, but emphasizes psychology in his analysis. Brian studied psychology in undergrad, and uses his experience to find illogical value in the market. Brian covers technology and consumer goods for Motley Fool. Brian also updates all of his new and current positions in his Motley Fool CAPs page. Follow Brian on Twitter and like his page on Facebook for investment conversations and recent stories.

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