As a number of startups get back into fundraising in earnest, one that is on a growth tear has closed a substantial debt round to hold on to more equity in the company as it inches to being cash-flow positive. MemSQL -- the relational, real-time database used by organisations to query and analyse large pools of fast-moving data across cloud, hybrid and on-premise environments (customers include major banks, telecoms carriers, ridesharing giants and even those building COVID-19 tracing apps) -- has secured $50 million in debt, money that CEO Raj Verma says should keep it "well-capitalised for the next several years" and puts it on the road to an IPO or potential private equity exit.
The funding is coming from Hercules Capital, which has some $4.3 billion under management and has an interesting history. On the one hand, it has invested in companies that include Facebook (this was back in 2012, when Facebook was still a startup), but it has also been in the news because its CEO was one of the high fliers accused in the college cheating scandal of 2019.
MemSQL does not disclose its valuation, but Verma confirmed it is now significantly higher than it was at its last equity raise of $30 million in 2018, when it was valued at about $270 million, per data from PitchBook.
Why raise debt rather than equity? The company is already backed by a long list of impressive investors, starting with Y Combinator and including Accel, Data Collective, DST, GV (one of Google-owner Alphabet's venture capital vehicles), Khosla, IA Ventures, In-Q-Tel (the CIA-linked VC) and many more. Verma said in an interview with TechCrunch that the startup had started to look at this fundraise before the pandemic hit.
It had "multiple options to raise an equity round" from existing and new investors, which quickly produced some eight term sheets. Ultimately, it took the debt route mainly because it didn't need the capital badly enough to give up equity, and terms "are favourable right now," making a debt facility the best option. "Our cash burn is in the single digits," he said, and "we still have independence."
The company has been on a roll in recent times. It grew 75% last year (note it was 200% in 2018) with cash burn of $8-9 million in that period, and now has annual recurring revenues of $40 million. Customers include three of the world's biggest banks, which use MemSQL to power all of its algorithmic trading, major telecoms carriers, mapping providers (Verma declined to comment on whether investor Google is a customer), and more. While Verma today declines to talk about specific names, previous named customers have included Uber, Akamai, Pinterest, Dell EMC and Comcast.
And if the current health pandemic has put a lot of pressure on some companies in the tech world, MemSQL is one of the group that's been seeing a strong upswing in business.
Verma noted that this is down to multiple reasons. First, its customer base has not had a strong crossover with sectors like travel that have been hit hard by the economic slowdown and push to keep people indoors. Second, its platform has actually proven to be useful precisely in the present moment, with companies now being forced to reckon with legacy architecture and move to hybrid or all-cloud environments just to do business. And others like True Digital are specifically building contact-tracing applications on MemSQL to help address the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The company plays in a well-crowded area that includes big players like Oracle and SAP. Verma said that its tech stands apart from these because of its hybrid architecture and because it can provide speed improvements of some 30x with technology that -- as we have noted before -- allows users to push millions of events per day into the service while its users can query the records in real time.
It also helps to have competitive pricing. "We are a favourable alternative," Verma said.
“This structured investment represents a significant commitment from Hercules and provides an example of the breadth of our platform and our ability to finance growth-orientated, institutionally-backed technology companies at various stages. We are impressed with the work that the MemSQL management team has accomplished operationally and excited to begin our partnership with one of the promising companies in the database market,” said Steve Kuo, senior managing director technology group head for Hercules, in a statement.