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Confluent’s IPO brings a high-growth, high-burn SaaS model to the public markets

Confluent became the latest company to announce its intent to take the IPO route, officially filing its S-1 paperwork with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission this week. The company, which has raised over $455 million since it launched in 2014, was most recently valued at just over $4.5 billion when it raised $250 million last April.

What we can see in Confluent is nearly an old-school, high-burn SaaS business. It has taken on oodles of capital and used it in an increasingly expensive sales model.

What does Confluent do? It built a streaming data platform on top of the open-source Apache Kafka project. In addition to its open-source roots, Confluent has a free tier of its commercial cloud offering to complement its paid products, helping generate top-of-funnel inflows that it converts to sales.

Kafka itself emerged from a LinkedIn internal project in 2011. As we wrote at the time of Confluent’s $50 million Series C in 2017, the open-source project was designed to move massive amounts of data at the professional social network:

At its core, Kafka is simply a messaging system, created originally at LinkedIn, that’s been designed from the ground up to move massive amounts of data smoothly around the enterprise from application to application, system to system or on-prem to cloud — and deal with extremely high message volume.

Confluent CEO and co-founder Jay Kreps wrote at the time of the funding that events streaming is at the core of every business, reaching sales and other core business activities that occur in real time that go beyond storing data in a database after the fact.

“[D]atabases have long helped to store the current state of the world, but we think this is only half of the story. What is missing are the continually flowing stream of events that represents everything happening in a company, and that can act as the lifeblood of its operation,” he wrote.

That’s where Confluent comes in.

But enough about the technology. Is Confluent’s work with Kafka a good business? Let’s find out.

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