C3.ai, the AI startup founded and led by billionaire Tom Siebel, filed the paperwork for a potential IPO on Friday — a listing that would make it one of the relative few public companies in the space.
Siebel himself is best-known as the founder of Siebel Systems, a one-time titan in the customer relationship management (CRM) space that was purchased by Oracle for $5.8 billion in 2005.
The company's filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission shows that it posted revenues of $156 million for the fiscal year that ended in April, growing 71% over the year prior. However, it also posted a loss of about $69 million over the same period, almost doubling its loss of $36 million the year before. In the filing, the company attributes the widening loss to increased investments in research and marketing.
The company — which was last privately valued at $3.3 billion in 2019, according to PitchBook — provides industry-specific, artificial intelligence-based applications for sectors like manufacturing, banking, and retail. JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Bank of America were among the financial firms listed as underwriters for the IPO. The filing lists Royal Dutch Shell, the US Air Force, and a "Fortune 50" bank as customers.
In a recent interview, Siebel told Business Insider that while the COVID-19 pandemic was initially a drag on C3.ai's business, the rush towards digital transformation by companies large and small proved to be a tailwind. Still, C3.ai expects "to continue to incur net losses for the foreseeable future," per the filing. Overall, it had a deficit of $293 million at the end of April.
Large market, strong fundamentals
In the filing, C3.ai says that it has a large potential market and strong fundamentals that place it in good position for future profitability. It also shows that the company posted a modest profit of $150,000 in the quarter that ended on July 31st, just better than breaking even.
"You can expect us to operate a highly disciplined, professional business that is engineered to become structurally profitable and structurally cash-positive in the long term," Siebel wrote in a founder's letter included in the filing. "Our singular focus is to leverage our technology leadership, first-mover advantage, and management leadership to establish and maintain a global leadership position."
C3.ai gets the bulk of its business from AI Suite, a platform to help IT departments more quickly deploy and scale the tech. It typically sells three-year subscriptions that "do not provide for a right to terminate," according to the filing.
Relatedly, the company noted that "a limited number of customers" accounted for a sizable portion of the overall revenue over the past two year. More specifically, three clients were responsible for 44% of the revenue for the fiscal year that closed in April, it said in the filing.
In terms of risks, C3.ai says that it would drag down its business were the digital transformation trend to slow, and also notes that the pandemic is making some deals more difficult to close and lengthening sales cycles. In terms of competition, however, C3.ai doesn't seem worried about heavyweights like Amazon, IBM, or Microsoft, who are also its partners.
"Our primary competition is largely do-it-yourself, custom-developed, company-specific AI platforms and applications. These tend to be very costly complex software engineering projects, often fail, and, if successful, usually require many years to realize economic return," the filing said.
"We are unaware of any end-to-end Enterprise AI development platforms that are directly competitive with the C3 AI Suite."