Flush with funds, Fiverr among Israeli tech firms delaying exits

Fiverr, backed by large venture capital funds including California-based Accel and Bessemer, is among those hoping to follow the Check Point model.

January 5, 2017 16:25
2 minute read.
General view of Tel Aviv

General view of Tel Aviv. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Whenever potential buyers have approached Tel Aviv-based Fiverr, the technology firm has said no; like a growing number of Israeli start-ups, it has enough backing from private investors to stay independent for longer.

Traditionally, many of Israel's numerous tech companies have sold out at an early stage to global giants like Cisco, IBM and Microsoft. Only a few - such as cyber security leader Check Point Software - have reached a significant size.

But now start-ups are using a sharp rise in private investment to pursue growth, often aiming for eventual stock market flotations. With founders looking longer term rather than trying to make quick money, acquisitions of Israeli technology firms fell in 2016 to their lowest level in six years.

Fiverr, backed by large venture capital funds including California-based Accel and Bessemer, is among those hoping to follow the Check Point model.

Its online marketplace allows freelancers to offer services ranging from logo design to cartoons, and translations to psychic readings. Asking prices range from $5 to $10,000.

A consumer-oriented company focused on the US market, Fiverr raised $60 million in November 2015, bringing its total funding to date to $110 million.

"Fiverr should be a multi-billion dollar business. This is why we aren't looking to be acquired," Chief Executive Micha Kaufman told Reuters. "Eventually a company like ours will go public."

Fiverr declined to disclose the company's current valuation or name the would-be buyers that have approached it in the past couple of years.

Israel's high tech industry is well established, using skills of workers trained in the military and intelligence sectors. Tax breaks and government funding have encouraged start-ups, and also drawn in entrepreneurs from abroad.

But acquisitions of Israeli high-tech companies more than halved last year to $3.5 billion, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Stock market listings in the sector are also dwindling as investors increasingly prefer bigger tech companies. After eight initial public offerings valued at $3.4 billion in 2015, only two IPOs totalling $44 million took place in 2016 - one in London and the other in Tel Aviv.

Instead, private investment is rising. In the first nine months of 2016 Israeli start-ups raised $4 billion, up 27 percent from a year earlier, according to the Israel Venture Capital Research Center (IVC), which has forecast a record year in 2016.

Investment in more established late stage companies surged 47 percent to $1.6 billion in the first nine months, IVC said.

The Aleph VC fund said four of its 12 companies have declined offers from would-be buyers in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

"I'm seeing for first time that many founders are saying no to M&A. It's a good thing," Aleph partner Eden Shochat said. "These bigger companies create pockets of knowledge ... which is required to build an industry."

Aleph was structured to allow 12 years for investors to cash in, instead of the seven years typical for the venture capital sector, he said.

Accel, which has just opened an Israeli office, said it can invest $50 million in a growth stage company and has raised a fifth fund of $500 million to invest in Israel and Europe.

"The fact that money is available has clearly impacted the level of exits," Accel partner Philippe Botteri said.

Adam Fisher, a partner who manages Bessemer's Israel office, expects this trend of holding out to continue as long as growth funding, especially from new sources such as China, is abundant.

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