Deals

For early oPower investors, 'ecosystem' approach finally pays off

Opower president and cofounder Alex Laskey

Above: Opower president and cofounder Alex Laskey

Image Credit: Opower

“I wrote a check after one meeting, when it was so early they didn’t even have a name yet, let alone a bank account, so I had to leave the check blank.”

These are the words early oPower investor Ali Partovi sent VentureBeat in an email yesterday, ahead of oPower’s IPO on the New York Stock Exchange today.

The company is trading under the “OPWR” ticker and is offering 6.1 million shares initially priced at $19 each. The IPO is a $116 million deal.

oPower makes software that uses data and a little social trickery to help its customers conserve electricity. In short, it shows customers how their energy consumption compares to their neighbors’. Its revenue comes “from utilities by selling primarily multi-year subscriptions to our software,” as we previously reported.

“As of December 31, 2013, oPower has collected energy data from 52 million households and businesses and serves 93 utility customers in 8 countries, including 28 of the 50 largest utilities in the U.S.,” according to a company spokesperson.

But oPower’s story is one of a venture capital ecosystem that generated trust between smart people and one really good investment that is part intuition and part luck.

“The second largest VC shareholder is a little-known firm called MHS Capital, who got a huge stake in the company as its seed investor at a time when nobody else saw the potential,” Partovi shared with us. (Disclosure: Mark Sugarman, who runs MHS Capital, is also an investor in VentureBeat.) 

oPower chief executive Daniel Yates was previously a limited partner in MHS Capital, and before that, both Partovi and MHS managing partner Mark Sugarman had invested in Yates’ first company, Edusoft. They built up a high opinion of Yates from early on, according to Partovi.

“Hence both our willingness to make bold bets where others were not,” he added.

And the bet seemed to have paid off. When oPower raised $50 million in 2010, the company claimed it didn’t even need the cash as it was already profitable and just wanted to use it to accelerate its growth.

Moreover, the company’s stock price has been above $22 all day so far.

However, the company’s S-1 filing lists a “history of losses and [anticipated] continued losses and negative operating cash flow for the foreseeable future” as well as “sales cycles and implementation times can be lengthy and unpredictable.”

These are certainly some red flags and bring up the question of what exactly happened since the sunny and cash-filled days of 2010.

The Arlington, Va.-based oPower was founded in 2007 by Daniel Yates and Alex Laskey and previously raised a total of $65.5 million in venture capital from investors that include Accel Partners, New Enterprise Associates, and Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers.