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Oracle is paying up to $1.075 billion for Cambridge's Endeca Technologies

Posted by Scott Kirsner  October 24, 2011 10:32 AM

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Last Tuesday, Oracle bought Endeca Technologies, a Cambridge company that sells business intelligence and online merchandising software. But not much was disclosed about the deal, beyond the usual manufactured quotes in the press release about the combination of the two companies being "extremely compelling in this changing data environment."

According to documents I've seen, and conversations with several people close to the deal, Oracle is paying up to $1.075 billion for Endeca. (Of the total purchase price, $176 million is being put into escrow for three years, presumably in the event Endeca doesn't hit certain performance targets.) The company had raised $75 million in venture capital since it was founded in 1999; it's pretty safe to assume the investors owned about half the company. Endeca's backers include Bessemer Venture Partners, Venrock, Intel, SAP Ventures, and local angel John Landry.

Oracle is also making it attractive for Endeca CEO and co-founder Steve Papa to stick around: he'll get a $5 million retention bonus on the one-year anniversary of the deal. (That's Papa on the left, with Endeca co-founder Pete Bell.) Several other company executives are also being incentivized to stick around, including CTO Adam Ferrari.

Papa wouldn't comment on the price or deal terms, but he did say that Endeca employees will remain in Kendall Square (as opposed to moving to Oracle's regional offices in Burlington), just as ATG, an e-commerce company Oracle bought last year for $1 billion, stayed put. Papa says in an e-mail that Kendall Square "will be the world's largest center of e-commerce expertise. Very exciting."

As for his intent to stick around after the deal, he adds, "I am committed to helping Oracle by making sure the Endeca 'DNA' is brought throughout Oracle, versus this being a simple acquisition of a product."

I wrote about the company most recently in January 2010, when it had about 400 employees and roughly $100 million in revenues, and was shifting its strategy toward business intelligence tools. From that piece:

Brian Walker, an analyst at Cambridge-based Forrester Research, notes that serving both business intelligence and e-commerce customers “risks some dilution, and brings up the question about what they’re focused on as a company.’’ Walker expects that morphing business intelligence marketplace “will be very competitive,’’ noting that giants like Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft intend to grab their share of it.

Papa says he’s confident that despite the $75 million put into Endeca thus far, “we’ll still be in the top 5 percent of returns on venture-backed companies.’’ But he says that he hasn’t been in a rush to get to the finish line. Too many companies allow the pressure to find an acquirer or go public cloud what’s best for the business, he says.

Papa seems to have found two exceptionally patient local investors: Tyrrell at Venrock and Felda Hardymon at Bessemer Venture Partners in Wellesley. (Hardymon taught a Harvard Business School course that Papa took.) “Would I like liquidity for this company? Of course,’’ says Tyrrell. “But I think being patient here is the right thing.’’

“There’s a structural problem in the venture industry when VCs have to sell their good companies early,’’ Hardymon says. “A great at-bat is something you have to treasure,’’ Hardymon says, adding that the company still sits on a large stockpile of cash.

“We’ve been investing in the technology and believing in the destination,’’ says Papa. “We’re in it to build something of consequence.’’

And here's the first story I wrote about Endeca in the Globe, back in August 2000, when the company was going by the name OptiGrab. It may have been the first media coverage the company ever received...

Web Navigation 2.0 (August 21, 2000)

How stealthy are they over at Optigrab, a Kendall Square start-up whose fall launch plans are surrounded by strong anticipatory buzz? There are certain employees whose job titles are classified because, as chief executive Steve Papa asserts, the titles would disclose too much about what Optigrab is doing.

The company name – a place-holder until the launch – is a sly reference to “The Jerk,” the 1979 comedy in which Steve Martin’s character comes up with a ground-breaking invention: a handle above the bridge of a pair of eyeglasses, to make it easier for the wearer to put them on and take them off. Unfortunately, Optigrab makes those who use it permanently cross-eyed.

The name isn’t a total joke, though. “We’re optimizing your ability to grab things [on the Net],” says Papa, a 1999 Harvard Business School grad who was an early team member at Inktomi, Akamai, and Into Networks. So far, he has raised more than $15 million for Optigrab, from firms like Bessemer Venture Partners and Venrock Associates, where Papa once worked, and from individuals like ex-Lotus execs Jim Manzi and John Landry.

Some further explanation: Optigrab aims to make Web navigation simpler by “dynamically adapting the user experience,” according to some of its recruiting ads. “If you type the word `Sinatra’ into eBay, you don’t want 15,000 results. You want a Sinatra store. When you go to a financial services site looking for international mutual funds, you want an international mutual funds store, not a bunch of random search results,” Papa reveals, grudgingly.

Optigrab will apply special tags to each piece of information in a database so that the company can structure results in an organized way. If you search on red wine, for example, results could be arranged by sweetness or dryness, or by the countries where the wine was produced. The company will offer the service to other sites as “navigational infrastructure,” much in the same way Inktomi syndicates its search database.

Optigrab now has 50 employees, with plans to grow to 200 over the next year. In late September, Papa hopes to announce a first set of customers, several senior executive appointments, and a new name for the company. Sticking with Optigrab could provoke the ire of Universal Pictures, which produced “The Jerk.” Guess that rules out, too.

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Innovation and technology news that matters, on a new website from the Boston Globe, featuring Scott Kirsner and other original reporting.

About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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