Infosec's one and only exit

In just the past month, four different information security (infosec) startups have all pulled in single rounds of funding that typically would have only been available from an IPO. In addition to filling company coffers, however, the roughly $100m slug of capital raised by each of the quartet – CrowdStrike, Tanium, Netskope and Illumio – may also influence company strategy, at least when it comes time to seek an exit. Rather than pursue a sale of the business, which is the most likely outcome for any startup, these infosec unicorns will likely eye the door that leads to Wall Street.

In other words, when it comes to the two exit options available to these security startups, they should be modeling themselves more on Okta than on AppDynamics. The reason? Of the 17 sales of VC-backed vendors valued at more than $1bn since January 1, 2014, not a single startup has come from the infosec market, according to 451 Research's M&A KnowledgeBase. Mandiant came close to a 10-digit exit in its early 2014 sale to FireEye, but the announced value of that deal stands at $989m. (Of course, FireEye paid for the vast majority of that in stock, which lost half of its value within four months of the transaction and has never regained its early-2014 level.)

Infosec is conspicuous by its absence among the big-ticket purchases of venture-backed companies. Virtually every other major tech sector has realized some unicorn exit, including mobility (WhatsApp, AirWatch), e-commerce (Jet.com), storage (Cleversafe), the Internet of Things (Jasper Technologies) and cloud (Virtustream). The largest sale of a VC-backed infosec firm over the past three and a half years, according to the M&A KnowledgeBase, is Trustwave's $810m sale to Singtel in April 2015. (Although Trustwave did raise venture money, notably from FTV Capital, it hardly fits the classic definition of a startup. Instead, it is more accurately viewed as a rollup, having consolidated 16 other businesses since its founding in 1995.)

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