In 2004, when Tableau Software was still a tiny spinout from Stanford University, the co-founders fell in love with Seattle and decided to build their data visualization software company here rather than in the San Francisco Bay Area.
On Monday, the Bay came calling in the form of Marc Benioff’s San Francisco-based Salesforce, which agreed to a $15.7 billion all-stock purchase of Tableau, the second-largest acquisition of a Washington company.
“With Tableau, Seattle will become our second headquarters of Salesforce. That’s going to be our HQ2, if you will,” Benioff said, speaking to financial analysts on a conference call.
That reference to HQ2 — an abbreviation made famous by Seattle-based Amazon in its search for a second headquarters — suggests the role Benioff imagines for Salesforce in the region. It already has more than 1,000 employees of its own here, and Benioff said he’s long wanted to make the Seattle area “a strategic part of Salesforce.”
As for Tableau, he said, “We’re going to plan to put that thing on overdrive.”
Apart from the local impact, the deal underscores how Seattle-area tech giants Amazon and Microsoft have come to dominate a new model of business computing. The giants of cloud computing have built capabilities that compete directly with the likes of Tableau and Salesforce, driving more industry consolidation as other enterprise software players look for scale and differentiation.
“Amazon and Microsoft have these tremendous cloud footprints,” said Paul Condra, a tech analyst with Seattle-based PitchBook Data. “They’re increasingly moving up the software stack” to provide business analytics and other software services on a foundation of cloud computing power and data storage.
“I think it’s very defensive,” he said of the acquisition.
The combination gives Salesforce what Benioff boasted would be “the leading products in [the] most important categories underlying digital transformation” — specifically, data analytics and visualization tools from Tableau and a broad suite of customer engagement services from Salesforce.
Tableau’s software helps people make modern graphs and charts from enormous data sets without the need of a computer science Ph.D. Salesforce found early success with the software-as-a-service model, in which companies subscribe to its web-based customer relationship management tools, rather than buying a license and running software on local servers.
Salesforce is paying a premium of about 13 times Tableau’s nearly $1.2 billion in 2018 sales — for a company that hasn’t posted an annual profit in four years. But Tableau continues to grow swiftly in a competitive space. Last week, Google said it was buying Looker, a private business intelligence software company, for $2.6 billion.
Benioff praised the talent available in Seattle, calling it one of the “very few places in the world today where you can put together a software company at scale.” Benioff, a fourth-generation San Franciscan, has another local connection to the region: His spouse, Lynne Benioff, nee Krilich, graduated from the University of Washington.
Tableau, meanwhile, grew from a small startup in the Fremont neighborhood to 4,286 employees as of March 31, about half of whom work from the company’s Seattle-area offices, including a sleek new headquarters near Gas Works Park (where employees had been instructed not to comment on the acquisition) and a growing presence in Kirkland.
Benioff said Tableau will operate as an independent unit of Salesforce, which plans to invest in Tableau’s already substantial sales and marketing capabilities.
Benioff and Tableau Chief Executive Adam Selipsky — formerly a top Amazon cloud computing executive — touted the similarities between their two companies in mindset, culture, customer base and, as Selipsky put it, a shared “dedication to giving back to our local and global communities.”
Salesforce has long pledged 1% of its profit, products and employee time to philanthropic efforts, and the Benioffs joined the Giving Pledge in 2016, committing to give away the majority of their wealth. Marc Benioff has a net worth estimated at $6.71 billion, according to Bloomberg.
Tableau, through its charitable foundation, last fall pledged $100 million in technology and grant funding to global health and equality organizations through 2025.
Benioff has been outspoken on the homelessness crisis roiling the cities that host Salesforce’s current and forthcoming headquarters. Lynne Benioff co-founded a program in 2011 to provide shelter to families experiencing homelessness in San Francisco.
Benioff and his company publicly supported a San Francisco proposition last year to tax city businesses with $50 million a year or more in revenue to fund housing and homelessness services. The measure passed.
“It’s absurd to claim that there is not enough money to deal with this crisis,” Benioff wrote in a San Francisco Chronicle Op-Ed a week before the election, noting the measure would increase Salesforce’s annual taxes by $10 million to $12 million a year. “We are one of the wealthiest cities in the world, with major corporations worth billions of dollars. Shouldn’t the same companies that have helped fuel soaring housing prices be part of the solution?”
Benioff did not respond to a request for comment.
Selipsky said during Seattle’s contentious debate over a similar proposal to raise taxes on businesses in the city that Tableau would have considered placing new roles in Kirkland and other satellite offices had the per-employee tax been implemented. But he also underscored that Seattle is Tableau’s home.
The tax was widely opposed by Seattle businesses, most prominently Amazon, and reversed by the City Council.
Selipsky took over the top job at Tableau in 2016 from Christian Chabot, who co-founded the company with Stanford colleagues Chris Stolte and Patrick Hanrahan, a leader in computer graphics whose other credits include the Pixar movie “Toy Story.”
When Tableau introduced its data visualization software, it was well-timed to take advantage of the rapid growth in digital data, which accelerated in the 2000s and continues today.
“Pat has always seen the future,” said Ed Lazowksa, a computer science professor at University of Washington.
He recalled a 2003 dinner with the Tableau co-founders when they were scouting Seattle, a move that “wasn’t at all an obvious thing to do” at the time.
Lazowska called Tableau’s software “clever and absolutely revolutionary in the way it lets you explore data in a way that a spreadsheet like [Microsoft] Excel traditionally didn’t.”
Underscoring that focus, when Tableau went public on May 17, 2013, at $31 a share, the company chose DATA for its New York Stock Exchange ticker symbol. The company’s shares were up 33.4% on Monday, finishing at $167.41 — more than five times the IPO price. It had previously raised $20.2 million in venture capital, according to PitchBook.
Tableau owners will receive 1.103 shares of Salesforce common stock for each share they own, a deal that values Tableau at $15.7 billion and which has been approved by both companies’ boards of directors. An exchange offer to complete the transaction is expected to be completed in Salesforce’s third quarter, which ends Oct. 31.
Seattle Times reporter Keerthi Vedantam contributed to this story.