Insiders tell us that big-data startup Domo, which burst into the public eye about a year ago with a $2 billion valuation, isn’t all that it appears to be.
Domo has been called an “insta-unicorn” meaning that by the time the tech world was paying attention, investors had already poured so much money into it that it was worth more than $1 billion.
Domo was founded in 2010 and as of March, the company says it has 1,000 paying customers and $100 million “in billings” meaning revenue that has already been billed to customers. Those customers are served by 800 employees, it says.
That’s fast growth by any standard.
But former employees we talked to tell a different story. These insiders say Domo is a very promising company, but it’s currently equal parts hype and reality. In particular:
- Its products are immature and expensive compared to competitors such as Tableau.
- The enterprise sales team, the one that’s responsible for selling big contracts to big customers, didn’t do well in 2015 and quite a number of sales people left.
- It’s a bit of an “Omniture club,” in that a lot of the top execs and best-regarded salespeople came from Omniture, the company James previously founded and sold to Adobe for over $1 billion in 2009. (Domo acknowledges about one-third of its exec team worked at Omniture, and says it’s “a great club to be a part of.”)
- Employees have been pumped up about an eventual IPO. That’s the same for many startups. But because Domo has raised a lot of venture money, some question how much equity employees have versus how much has been sold off to investors.
Domo has answers for these criticisms, while acknowledging some fundamental differences between it and competitors in terms of features and price. A company spokesperson tells us, “Domo is for the 99% of the organisation looking to better leverage data and the people in their org to optimise their business results.”
Fast car, slow car
Domo offers cloud software for businesses in an area called “business intelligence and analytics.”
It takes a company’s data from virtually any source like Twitter, Facebook, Salesforce, corporate databases, spreadsheets, and over 300 other applications, and turns the data into charts and graphs. It competes with a whole slew of other business intelligence (BI) tools, most notably Tableau.
One former Domo employee who has worked as a consultant in the BI industry and is familiar with multiple business analysis tools tells us that the product is reasonably good, for how young the company is.
“One of the impressive things about Domo to me was how quickly their product was changing. Some people that don’t know Domo super well would say that it’s vaporware or that they don’t have a real product and that’s definitely not the case. They do have a real product. I would say it’s a good product. I would not say it’s as good as Tableau,” this person told us.
This person compared the two products to a car:
“Domo can go 0-60 in 4.5 seconds, really fast. You plug in a couple of credentials and can have something with Domo really quickly. But I would say that the max speed is like 70. You can get going quickly, but it ultimately doesn’t go that fast. Tableau might take longer to get going, but it’s top speed is a lot higher.”
A nice guy full of bluster
While the people we talked to all describe CEO and founder Josh James as”charismatic” and a “nice guy” they also say he’s full of hype and bluster.
“A few things to know about Josh James, he’s an old marketeer,” one told us.
“He is charismatic. He’s a good leader from a motivational standpoint, but maybe not as much from an execution standpoint. He’s the type that will over promise and under deliver a little bit. And people can see that with Domo and that’s kind of the concern.”
One former employee likened James to Marc Benioff, the outspoken founder CEO of Salesforce.
Benioff spent a decade using guerrilla marketing tactics and PR stunts to claw out name recognition and a market for his company. For Benioff, it paid off. Today, 18 years later, he’s still fond of hype and pomp, but Salesforce is an $8 billion-in-revenue company, and Benioff is a billionaire and the crowned king of cloud computing software.
So, not a bad role model.
We also hear that within Utah’s cosy startup community, Domo is considered a hip, cool company to work for.
Missed sales targets
While Domo says it is growing very fast and revenue from some customers is on pace to double this year, one insider says the company’s most important sales team, the one that sells to big enterprise customers, is not doing well.
As far as big deals with big customers, “They’re not even close. Not even in the wheelhouse. The enterprise [sales] team whiffed really bad.”
Consequently, many salespeople have left. The sales compensation structure changed, and management recently replaced the head of the enterprise sales team.
Domo confirmed that some fine-tuning took place.
“Mark Dillon took on the interim job of Enterprise Sales VP until we were ready to hire specifically for the position. We found Peter Black out of Ariba and moved Dillon 100% to Channel, which was what he was hired for when he joined the company,” a spokesperson explained.
But the former salesperson we talked to believes these changes won’t help. He says Domo is simply overpriced for what it does.
“It’s really hard. Salespeople are not going after six-figure deals. They are chasing these small deals to try to get a foothold, doing divisional deals,” this person said.
“Domo is like another dashboard service and you’re not that different from everyone else, you guys are just way more expensive. That’s all Domo is, it’s a dashboard. Tableau, as bad as their finances are, they won [this market],” this person said.
Tableau’s product marketing manager Dan Kogan claims that they don’t often see Domo in competitive situations.
“We see Domo come up every once in a while during sales calls, mostly due to them being such a new offering on the market. We haven’t seen their presence make much of a change.”
As for pricing, Kogan compares: “Tableau Online, our cloud option, is $500 per user per year, Domo Enterprise will cost a company $250 per user per month.”
Domo counters that its product is actually less expensive overall because companies don’t need to hire expensive employees with business intelligence skills to run it. It also points out that the “land and expand” strategy, in which enterprise companies sell to divisons of big companies first, then the whole company later, is well-tested in the enterprise space.
Another criticism we heard over and over was how Domo overpromised what its product can do.
For instance, the consultant told us that Domo makes a big deal about how many “connectors” it has, meaning ways to import data, but Domo is focusing on quantity over quality. “They check a box, we have another connector,” this person says.
We heard a similar criticism about its new product, Business Cloud. Domo says it has 1,000 apps in its app store that will do all sorts of new things with the data. One former employee finds such claims laughable.
“The whole ‘Business Cloud’ nonsense makes me chuckle,” this person told us.
“Many of those ‘apps’ are a bunch of Excel data, mocked together in sample dashboards. For instance, one app is a template app for Fraternity house recruitment. So a frat can use Domo to keep track of their recruits? Another one is for Taser incidents, I’m guessing, to monitor incidents at protests. Those are apps that count as part of the 1,000 apps in the app store. That stuff bothers me. It’s very disingenuous,” the person said.
Domo confirms that not all of its apps are fantastic, just like any app store. A spokesperson told us:
Our Appstore is similar to the Apple App Store with apps being generated and populated by third party developers. Just like you can find low-value iPhone apps like iBeer (that makes your iPhone look like a glass of beer so you can pretend to have a drink) and Abacus (so you can do a very old fashioned method of calculating by moving the beads) in the Apple Appstore, there are some Domo Apps created by publishers that are low or no value to the general Domo population. (User ratings will help guide users on value of what’s in the Domo Appstore.)
We also heard criticisms over how Domo keeps a lot of product features secret. For instance, it has a new “freemium” version, but you can’t actually try it out or even look at it unless you submit a request. And a salesperson will call.
Domo calls it “metering” and says it hasn’t opened the product up for the world to try because it’s monitoring the experience.
A spokesperson said the freemium version will become available in the next couple of months “without metering.”
Still, it’s not clear if prospective customers will ever be able to explore the service without agreeing to a formal sales pitch.
“Domo is much more a sales culture than it is a tech company,” a former employee told us. “Once it lands on a lead it squeezes it to death. They will call you 20 times before they stop calling you. It’s a sales-driven culture. They care a lot more about how other people see them, more than what is there to be seen.”
IPO could leave some employees out
There’s one set of folks who seem to love Domo: investors.
The company has raised nearly $600 million, according to startup-tracking site Pitchbook.
Domo became a darling of the VC world in part because founder CEO Josh James is known for his previous company, Omniture. Omniture measures and analyses website traffic. He took it public and then sold to Adobe in 2009 for $1.8 billion.
Most recently, Domo did an unusual massive $366 million round, Pitchbook says. It started as a $200 million round in 2015, led by private equity investor BlackRock, and it valued the company at $2 billion.
The company then opened up the round again, sold off more equity, and announced it had raised another $131 million, which meant that Domo’s valuation stayed at $2 billion.
In other words, to get more cash, James sold off a bigger chunk of the company. It’s not exactly a down round. But it’s close.
Insiders we talked to say that employees inside the company are being hyped up on an eventual IPO, but new employees at this point likely won’t have much of a stake.
“Domo raised so much money, there’s not a ton of equity to new employees if any. They are not going to cash out. The C-level people will get a lot and even the C-level might not even get ton,” one person told us.
If Domo winds up selling itself in an acquisition, employees could be left out entirely.
Investors took a “1x liquidation preference,” Pitchbook says. That’s considered a standard, “clean” term, not sharkish. But it also means that if Domo sells itself for less than what it wants, investors are entitled to get every dollar of their investment back before anyone else gets anything.
A Domo spokesperson implied that James hasn’t given investors the reins and can’t be forced out or forced to sell.
“Josh has control of the company and has said over and over again that he’d love to be doing this when he is 70, which is why the control is so important.”
Word leaked in April that Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse might be getting ready to help Domo do its promised IPO sooner rather than later.
If it does plow ahead with an IPO this year, it will be interesting to see Domo’s books. From what we’re hearing, the company isn’t quite as mature as it wants the world to believe.