Marc Andreessen's rookie season was one for the ages. Now, after suffering through a long sophomore slump, his latest company, Opsware
At the tender age of 21, Andreessen helped develop Mosaic, one of the first Internet browsers, way back in 1993. He then founded Netscape and became an instant multimillionaire when the company went public in 1995. After that, he left Netscape with a few colleagues in 1999 to start Loudcloud, which is now Opsware ... and what a ride it has been. Going public at the tail end of the dot-com boom in 2001, the company had to quickly abandon its original strategy of helping to launch and manage websites, and today it does IT automation software. With today's increasingly complex systems, it's quite a valuable niche to be playing in.
That value is finally starting to show. Opsware reported first-quarter earnings on Wednesday, and while it still lost $5.8 million, top-line growth was impressive -- up 74% year over year, to $22 million. The business seems to be picking up momentum, raising its annual revenue estimate from $92 million to $100 million. With gross margins of roughly 75%, it appears to be hitting the point where it can scale effectively and let incremental revenue drop to the bottom line.
Andreessen has stuck through it all. Seven years of unrelenting losses and $490 million of accumulated losses later, the clouds obscuring his company's path to profitability are beginning to part, with annual earnings expected to come in at $0.04 per share this year.
I don't think too many companies could have survived such a tough start, what with the dot-com bust and the difficult business-model transition. Fortunately for the company, its IT automation software serves a great need. The idea is that instead of wasting valuable tech time to troubleshoot a server or network going down, Opsware's software will intelligently babysit the servers for you, fixing data bottlenecks and the like. It also frees the techies from a lot of the tedious and repetitive tasks they have to perform, such as patching, audit reporting, and making backups. That all helps the average break-even return on the software cost fall between six and 12 months.
The company has scored some other big wins, including its recent three-year distribution deal with Cisco
But while the stock does seems to bear a Marc Andreessen premium, keep in mind that Opsware is not the only company in this space. IBM's
Opsware should be a fascinating story to watch as it stands seemingly on the cusp of basking in profitability. Investors should continue to watch from the sidelines, since the business model is still a bit undeveloped. But to this point, Andreessen and Co. deserve a hearty congrats for a job well done.
Stephen Ellis does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.