Venture Capital

Are enterprise tech VC valuations on their way down?

April 24, 2014: 11:42 AM ET

VC valuations for enterprise tech startups have been rising for years. But things are beginning to change.

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FORTUNE -- The private markets typically follow the public markets on the way up, and also follow them on the way down. And that seems to be what we're seeing when it comes to venture capital deals for enterprise software companies.

Take a look at the recent stock performance of some of VC-backed enterprise software companies that have gone public within the past several years: WorkDay (WDAY) is down 13.88% over the past three months. Talbeau Software (DATA) is off 15.48%. And Splunk (SPLK) is down 20.18%. In short, public market investors are moving a bit from growth to value.

It's far too early for us to have VC valuation data for the sector, but several investors tell me that they've already seen an impact of this downward shift. Not surprisingly, it's a cascade that first hit pre-IPO rounds, and is working its way through the venture lifecycle to earlier stages.

"There has been a real 'pay-it-forward' mentality when it's come to enterprise software valuations," explains Gordon Ritter, a partner with Emergence Capital Partners whose track record includes investments in Salesforce.com and Veeva Systems (VEEV). "So it's pretty natural that as public market valuations pull back, entrepreneurs and VCs have had to adjust."

Veeva stock, for what its worth, is down more than 30% over the past quarter.

Ritter adds that he knows of several situations in which entrepreneurs have accepted lower valuations than they might have earlier this year, just so that they can get their deals done faster.

Sean Dempsey of Merus Capital says that he has not yet seen much valuation change at the Series A level, but acknowledges that it's probably just a matter of time. "You've seen so many hedge funds and other firms like that get into the later-stage space, and you just know that it's not going to end well," he says. "We invest in Series A so we're at the end of the lag, but when some of these larger late-stage deals go bad we'll feel some repercussions."

It's also worth noting, however, that neither Ritter, Dempsey nor other VCs I spoke with seem concerned that the enterprise software sector could experience a long-term freeze. Not only because of confidence in continued macro economic recovery, but also because the value proposition of things like cloud make it unlikely that big corporations would resist spend on such new technologies, even if things slowed down (as they have done in the past).

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