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Why Cloudera Is In No Rush to Go Public Anytime Soon

There's no way Cloudera can do an IPO by May.

Studio DMM Photography, Designs & Art/Shutterstock

There’s no question that Cloudera, the big-data software company that is partially owned by Intel, is headed toward one of the most highly anticipated initial public offerings in recent memory. But don’t hold your breath.

People familiar with the company’s plans are pushing back against reports that Cloudera could pull the trigger on its IPO plans this spring, even though speculation has intensified in recent weeks. One persistent rumor that made the rounds about three weeks ago claimed a Cloudera IPO filing would materialize on Feb. 17 — yesterday — in connection with the Strata + Hadoop Conference taking place this week in San Jose, Calif. Cloudera sells a version of the open source Hadoop software, used to manage and analyze business data. A VentureBeat report on Tuesday even said an IPO filing is expected as soon as May.

That’s unlikely. Instead of filing for an IPO, on Tuesday Cloudera put out a momentum press release that included the disclosure that its revenue topped $100 million in 2014.

That press release suggests that Cloudera’s IPO is in no way imminent. Practically every company that goes public these days first files to do so under the JOBS Act, a federal law which gives companies that meet certain criteria the ability to file confidentially while regulators at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission review its documents without subjecting them to public scrutiny. If a Cloudera IPO were to happen before the end of May, it implies that the company would have already filed confidentially under the JOBS Act, and would thus be subject to quiet period rules, and not publishing financial press releases.

Cloudera founder and chief strategy officer Mike Olson put it simply in an interview with Re/code today: “We have no timeline for an IPO, period.” He declined to rule out whether Cloudera might complete its offering this year or wait until 2016. “We want to have the ability to do it when it makes sense,” he said.

A more likely motivation for the press release is a battle of optics between Cloudera and its primary rival, Hortonworks. Both are significant players in the business of selling and servicing Hadoop, open source software used for managing and analyzing huge troves of corporate data.

Hortonworks, backed by venture capitalists including Benchmark Capital’s Peter Fenton, completed its own IPO on Dec. 12 and is a week away from reporting its first quarterly results as a public company. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expect Hortonworks to report revenue for the 2014 fiscal year of about $48 million, which would make it about half the size of Cloudera by revenue. In that light Cloudera may simply be seeking to remind the marketplace which Hadoop company is bigger.

Meanwhile, Cloudera doesn’t need to raise money. Last year it landed a massive $900 million investment which included a $740 million strategic investment from Intel that gave the chipmaker a 17 percent stake in the company at an implied valuation of more than $4 billion. The majority of that cash is still in the bank, allowing Cloudera the luxury to pick the moment of its IPO carefully.

As Olson, Cloudera’s CEO until 2013, put it: “There are a lot of advantages that go with being a private company and we intend to keep taking advantage of them for as long as it makes sense for us.”

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