UiPath: Blazing A Trail Toward Delivering Robotic Process Automation To The Enterprise
- UiPath is one of the creators and a market share leader in the field of Robotic Process Automation.
- The company has grown prodigiously and growth was accelerating at the end of the last fiscal year.
- The rapid growth for UiPath was accompanied by one of the more spectacular leaps toward profitability I have seen in the enterprise software space.
- Robotic Process Automation has been and will remain one of the highest growth segments of the enterprise software space.
- There are very few enterprises that do not want to automate their business process. UiPath has been one of the pioneers in creating software bots for that purpose.
UiPath - A summary of the S-1
In one of the largest software IPOs of the year thus far, a company with the jaw-breaking name of UiPath (NYSE:PATH) went public on April 20. The IPO price was set at $56; the shares closed their first day of trading at $69 and are trading about 18% higher as of Monday morning, April 26. ARK has so far bought 2.74 million shares - in many ways this is the quintessential Cathie Wood type of name.
The offering consisted of 24 million shares of which 9.4 million were offered by the company, while the other 14.5 million were sold by the founder, Daniel Dines, VC firm Accel and Google’s (GOOG) (GOOGL) investment fund. Including the green shoe option, PATH will have about 523 million shares outstanding. The company will have approximately $625 million of cash proceeds. The company’s pro-forma cash balance, including the shares issued in connection with the underwriter’s option is about $1.9 billion, and that brings the estimated enterprise value to about $45 billion.
The outstanding share count excludes potential option shares and RSU equivalents of about 40 million shares. That does represent potential dilution, but I do not include it as part of the outstanding share count as is customary.
This is another IT IPO in which there are different classes of shares, and the chairman will wind up with a controlling interest in the business. Based on current share prices, the company has a market cap of about $47 billion and an enterprise value of $45 billion. This is a bit different than the metrics shown on Yahoo Finance as I have used the outstanding shares shown in the company’s S-1.
The company’s latest ARR metric as of 1/31/21 was $580 million, which was 65% growth over the past year. The company’s latest reported quarter ended 1/31/21. The annualized revenue run rate at that time was $830 million, and the sequential quarterly growth for Q4 was 41%. That is actually a noticeable acceleration from the results in the prior year Q4 when sequential revenues grew by 37%.
It is unusual, to say the least, to see a reacceleration in a quarterly sub-headline estimate such as this when a company has reached this scale - this is a function of very strong expansion on the part of current users as much as any other factor.
The reported revenue growth rate last quarter came to 82%. The rapid growth in revenues coupled with leverage at scale, allowed the company to report a quarterly profit with a non-GAAP operating margin of 17%. The company reported a rather fantastic metric that shows its top 50 customers had an ARR multiple of 81x. Basically land and expand on steroids. Probably a more germane metric in analyzing future growth is the 145% DBE ratio reported by the company.
As of the end of January, the company already had 89 customers with an ARR of greater than $1 million and those customers represent 35% of the company’s revenue. The large customer count more than doubled last year and the contribution of the largest customers to revenue continued to grow at a steady cadence. That said, there is no noticeable customer concentration. The company has already landed at many major enterprises.
A partial list of some better known customers includes Uber, NYU Langone, Bank of America, ConocoPhillips, Nissan, Toyota, Nippon Life and Ericsson, to name but a few. The company basically has been worldwide since it started selling its software and currently while 43% of its revenues come from the US, 31% come from Europe/Middle East and 26% come from the Asia/Pac region. This is quite unusual for a company at this stage of development and an artifact of the company’s genesis in a very small country in southeast Europe.
This is a land/expand story on steroids. One reason I have to temper my neutral recommendation is just that. The expand component of this company’s revenue growth is significantly exceeding forecasted values - the company has reported a DBE ratio of 145% which inevitably would lead to a 3-year CAGR beyond the estimate of 54% that I have used in determining the relative valuation. It can be difficult for an analyst such as this writer to come up with a comfortable estimate for a company whose offering has no direct analogs - there are many point competitors but, to an extent, that makes the growth estimate exercise more fraught.
The company has shown some seasonality; revenue additions have peaked in Q4 and declined in Q1. It seems likely that the relatively lower growth rate of 47% reported in last year’s Q2 was influenced to some extent by the impact of the pandemic on the economy. Sequential growth in Q3 last year rose to 23% and year-over-year growth rose to 81%. As mentioned above, Q4 sequential growth rose to 41%.
UiPath - the leader in the Robotic Process Automation space
This is the quintessential company in a software industry category that is called the Robotic Process Automation (RPA) space. The following link describes RPA in relatively straightforward terms: What is RPA? – Robotic Process Automation – ThinkAutomation. The robots in the RPA name are not the robots of science fiction lore. No R2S2 or C-3PO here. If you have heard of bots - which is short for robot, this is where they are used these days.
Here is a link to a more complete discussion of bots and their applications: What are Bots and How Do they Work?. Basically a bot is a piece of software which has an identity and what are described as personified aspects. It is a program that is designed to run/automate simple, routine and repetitive tasks and it does so far more rapidly and with fewer errors than would be possible using humans. Not all software bots use AI, but it is becoming more and more of a requirement these days in order to enhance functionality.
UiPath uses elements of AI in many of its bots - but many bots do not feature machine learning and it is really not necessary for many tasks to incorporate AI in order to be executed. Chatbots are fairly widespread at this point and are used to respond to customer service queries. Their use can be maddening - but the savings they offer users often override other considerations. PATH’s bots are often used to manage simple workflows to parse emails and to retrieve data and enter it into required fields of an application.
I have linked here to a G2 review of the competitors in the space: Best Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Software 2021: Compare 70+ RPAs | G2. As can be seen, PATH garners top honors in the space, but there are plenty of other competitors. While UiPath is recognized as a leader, and its solutions have proven their worth by the strong “expand” component in the revenue model, there are simply too many companies to call one a dominant supplier with an unscalable competitive moat.
It is not necessary to become an expert in the field of RPA to understand what this company does and why it has a competitive moat. Later on in this article I will explore some of the use cases that have been implemented on this company’s platform. Even at this writing, after years of installing application software, enterprises have a long way to go before they automate repetitive manual processes. While the TAM suggested may be a bit stretched in terms of the methodology used to derive it, neither this company is, nor its competitors are, going to have problems finding use cases and inefficiencies that can be solved using RPA software.
The major risk in buying these shares is that of valuation. Currently, PATH has an EV/S valuation of around 35x - and that is derived using what doubtlessly will be above consensus revenue and growth estimates. The current relative valuation leaves almost no room for any miscues. And the fact is, given the recent nature of the IPO, there is as yet no established consensus forecast which can be beaten.
To a certain extent, the very strong improvement in operating expense ratios last year may suggest that the company should be investing more than has most recently been the case or that margin growth is likely to be muted going forward. As I point out later in this article, some of the expense ratios that were reported in Q4 are outliers in terms of the expenses seen for many other enterprise software companies competing for and closing large deals.
This company is a pioneer in its space and continues to achieve growth rates greater than those of its competitors. It has a stellar list of users, and continues to acquire additional customers. The customers it has continue to buy more of its products at rates that are rarely seen in enterprise software.
That said, the challenges of managing growth at hyper levels and with current scale are non-trivial. In particular, the pool of development talent in Romania, which has been a major development site for this company, is probably finite and it seems that demand is exceeding supply.
The company’s CEO has never before had to manage a large enterprise such as this is becoming. While the company has embarked on a program to deepen its bench, that doesn’t mean that all of its senior hires will be successful.
Most of these are quibbles - I would, however, like to know a bit more about the ability this company had to achieve such stunning leverage at scale, and I am concerned that hyper-growth going forward is going to require more Romanian developers than can readily be hired.
What’s the growth?
No, not where is the growth, but what is the right growth percentage to estimate and to use as a baseline in forming some kind of valuation expectation.
I am not recommending the shares at this time or this price. The reason, quite simply, is valuation. Even using a reported revenue estimate for the current year of $1.2 billion, which will almost certainly be greater than the consensus when it is ultimately established, the EV/S comes to 35.6x. That is a considerable premium to the best fit average EV/S ratio for a company growing in the mid-50% range.
It can be difficult to project three-year growth rates for a company such as this - the historical trends are of less use than would be the case for a long-established company in a field with some historical data. Here is a market research commentary on the potential growth of the RPA market: Robotic Process Automation (RPA) Industry Projected to Reach 18339.95 Million in 2027, Says Brandessence Market Research.
This study says the space will grow by 9x between now and 2027. That is a CAGR of 31% - but in looking at these kinds of reports, it is important to note that the methodology tends to err in out years by reverting growth to a mean. While of course I can’t find many validation points, I think growth of the RPA space will be greater than 31% over the next three years and I further expect to see this company gain share. That is why I feel a three-year CAGR estimate of 54% is prudent and is based on similar judgements that have to be made for almost all relatively newer software names.
Like many other names that have achieved hyper-growth, it is my opinion that UiPath shares will be closely correlated with risk-on/risk-off trading. If there were to be a renewed bout of sector rotation, these shares would suffer along with the other well-known names that were crushed between mid-February and early April. On the other hand, if high growth names return to favor - a consummation not yet quite visible, that trend will provide a material tailwind to the performance of these shares. I am not trying to forecast a return to the markets of earlier this year but to look at the prospects for UiPath in terms of its growth and profitability.
Why might you want to read this article? Basically, UiPath like several other names such as Snowflake (SNOW) is destined to be a large company with a leadership position in a huge space. I do not recommend companies just based on their leadership role in a space - but at some point, my expectation is that there will be an opportunity to buy the shares and readers might have an interest in learning about another corner of the enterprise software space.
To be sure, there are no shortage of enterprise software companies whose EV/S ratio is quite elevated as well, such as Shopify (SHOP), Bill.com (BILL) and Cloudflare (NET), but I do not currently recommend those shares either. PATH’s valuation is actually better than those 3, indicating to me that potentially there might be an opportunity to acquire a position at a somewhat less elevated relative valuation in the foreseeable future.
At this point, most of the company’s software is consumed via subscriptions of various terms. The company also offers a modern, multi-tenant SaaS option that it calls Automation Cloud. Given the trends in the software market, I think it is reasonable to anticipate that the SaaS consumption model will become increasingly popular amongst the customer base of PATH. The transition to SaaS from subscription is going to create some headwinds for reported revenue metrics as well as margins - at least in the next year or two. It is one reason I have forecast a three-year CAGR substantially less than current growth rates although there is no evidence that apples to apples growth is slowing.
Should investors buy PATH shares at this point? Simple answer: not at this price. There are lots of high growth alternatives that have become more attractive due to sector rotation and the operational performance of the sector. The PATH opportunity is enormous. I have chosen to use a three-year CAGR of 54%. That’s more or less a guess - obviously the company is achieving growth of its topline and of its ARR metric at faster rates currently. And growth percentages reaccelerated last quarter. But PATH would have to achieve a three-year CAGR of more than 65% to at least have an average, best fit valuation. Or, its share price would have to be more like $56, than its most recent close of $75 to be at an average valuation.
The shares are hardly cheap from an EV/S perspective. I imagine that revenues for the full year of FY ’22 are going to be greater than $1.2 billion. That computes to a current EV/S estimate of 35x; I have made a three-year CAGR estimate of 54%. That leaves PATH shares about 30%+ in terms of valuation, above the average EV/S metric for its growth cohort. Or put another way, PATH and CRWD have about the same EV/S ratio.
I believe CRWD will grow at a higher percentage, longer than PATH - although like many things having to do with the future, that is a judgement call. I just am more comfortable with the security space and particularly the specifics of CRWD’s technology than is the case for PATH.
Less subjective is that CRWD’s free cash flow margin at 30% is far greater than the free cash flow margin for UiPath, which has just had a single positive free cash flow quarter. My advice: this is going to be a great company for many years to come. Put it on your watch list and be prepared to buy some if the valuation becomes more attractive.
What does UiPath do and why is it growing?
While UiPath is a relatively sizeable software company, I doubt that it is particularly well known by investors at this point. This is a company whose mission is centered around business process automation - or what it calls “ the enabling of the fully automated enterprise”. Indeed, the company is one that sells its solutions by focusing on the automation of routine, repetitive tasks. That doesn’t sound like something exciting, perhaps, but a further look suggests why enabling BPO is producing strong growth for this company and will animate hyper growth long into the future.
The company’s technology is actually enabled through the use of AI-based learning of repetitive processes. The company’s set of solutions allows for a broad range of users to build “automations” without substantial technical intervention.
The company’s revenue model is based on a charge per seat, as well as the number of “automations” that run on the PATH platform. This kind of a revenue model has been one of the factors in driving the very high DBE rates. Users keep discovering more automations and those are then deployed across additional divisions, departments or enterprises.
There are lots of companies in the BPO/RPA space - one of them is Pega (PEGA) which I have recommended for a considerable time now. Even after reviewing the data to hand on UiPath, I continue to own Pega shares and I still recommend the name.
To an extent, UiPath would appear to be a company offering a more encompassing, next generation of Pega’s technology - although some of that claim is really marketing hype. In reality, PEGA’s latest offering is totally in sync with the latest technology trends in the space. There are nuances in terms of workflow management and ease of set-up, but this technology can be done in many ways by different vendors; the market space is enormous - $60 billion of TAM according to PATH - and there will be multiple successful vendors. There is no evidence to speak of suggesting that Pega’s growth rate has been impacted by competition from PATH. Here is a comparison between the two services: Compare Pega Robotic Process Automation vs UiPath.
Of course, PATH is growing far more rapidly than PEGA - part of that is the optics of the Pega transition to a SaaS model, and part of that is marketing. I think UiPath has done a better job of explaining its functionality to potential users than has Pega which, according to sources, can come across as highly technical and more difficult to work with than comparable technology from PATH. When it comes to functionality, there isn’t all that much to separate the two. At this point, and at current relative prices, I would rather participate in the RPA space with Pega than with UiPath - they are both solid companies run by visionaries - one has a terribly high valuation; the other, despite strong recent share price performance, not so much.
The company believes its TAM to be greater than $60 billion. I have no particular way of validating such a large number which is derived from multiplying an assumed ARR metric by the number of enterprises in a particular employee cohort. Whatever the precise number ought to be regarding this company’s TAM, the available market is of such a large size and growing so rapidly as to leave this company with hyper growth opportunities for the foreseeable future.
I am not going to discuss the UiPath platform in any detail. Here is a link to the company’s various product offerings: UiPath Platform – Automation Software | UiPath. The company has solutions grouped in several categories. These include Automation Hub, a facility that allows employees to crowdsource ideas; Task Capture, a tool that automatically captures and documents product; a Process Mining tool that continuously analyzes line of business apps to understand and optimize processes; and Task Mining, which helps identify specific tasks that are repetitive and which can be readily automated.
One of the attributes of the UiPath solution is the ubiquity of both use cases, but equally the number of potential robot creators. UiPath Studio essentially has different levels of complexity that are the equivalent of low code, no code and regular code. Just how much non-professional (Citizen) developers choose to participate in the development of bots is something I really do not know at this point. After looking at the demo, suffice to say, it seems straightforward - so long as this writer isn’t tasked with attempting to create an automation. The following demo from PATH portrays a fairly simplified process; it is an interesting potential: No Code Platform – No Code Drag & Drop Automation | UiPath.
UiPath enables business users to roll their own automations without having to become RPA experts. It is one way, amongst many, that this company has been able to sustain such strong expand rates amongst its users. It is unlikely that the company will run out of opportunities to automate tasks within the lifetime of this writer.
I think it is important to look at some of the use cases in which UiPath has been able to help its customer achieve high ROI with a rapid time to benefit. Very often, RPA solutions are implemented by partnerships with IT consultant organizations.
One fairly typical engagement has to do with procurement and contract administration. In this case, a pharmaceutical company was using procurement software from Ariba. The data for Ariba had to be entered manually - yes people still do such things - and inevitably backlogs were created and critical items sometimes didn’t get procured on a timely basis. One of the most typical RPA solutions is extracting information from documents.
A bot checks incoming emails and extracts scanned contract documents. Humans are still part of the process - they validate and verify the output that has been extracted. Another bot then creates a standard contract and enters the relevant data into the Ariba system. The result of this process was to eliminate contract backlogs and a 71% reduction in the manual effort required to process contracts. The individuals freed from data entry have been redeployed to higher value activities, but inevitably, this kind of automation reduces the required number of entry-level clerical jobs.
Another typical use case is related to automating the activities involved in on-boarding and classifying insurance contracts. Not terribly surprisingly, insurance companies are one of the principal targeted markets for automation software. Insurance is a highly regulated industry and requires adherence to multiple regulations in different jurisdictions, and compliance with privacy regulations is a key element of the overall process. And information about policies and addendums comes to the main office in a wide variety of formats and occasionally in different languages.
In this case, the consultant conducted a needs assessment survey which determined which processes would benefit the most from automation. The robots were deployed to automate tasks associated with broker mandates, claims, salary reviews, policy terminations and different service requests.
The results of automating these seven specific tasks with the bots resulted in much greater accuracy and a 65% reduction in the hours spent on the seven tasks. The user got its projected results essentially from day one, and has gone to automate more repetitive tasks. The success of initial projects such as this almost inevitably leads to the creation of additional projects and users wind up spending several multiples of their initial purchase - that is how PATH’s DBE ratio has remained at such strong levels.
RPA is frequently used to automate customer data management and the processing of leads from contact centers. Some users have deployed bots to manage their receivables and payables processes. Others use it to automate process involving employee onboarding and terminations, as well as vacation payroll calculations. Banking is one of the largest target markets for RPA with workflows seeming built around repetitive processes. Fraud detection based on the observance of certain anomalies is another process ripe for automation.
I could spend hours writing about all of the automation opportunities there are to streamline clerical processes and workflows. These opportunities transcend verticals and occur at many different points in workflows. There really are very few industries and users who cannot benefit from RPA solutions, even if they have bought some other kinds of automation solutions from the providers of application software. It is the ubiquity of the opportunity that has kept me involved in the space, although not yet involved with the shares of this company.
The UiPath business model
Unlike many other high-growth IPOs, this company came close to non-GAAP profitability in its latest fiscal year (ended 1/31). The company’s quarterly growth has been at such strong levels that looking at a full-year presentation really distorts the business model significantly. Further, the economic impact of the pandemic on revenues further distorts expense ratios when looking at the 2021 fiscal year. Therefore, I have focused on expense ratios for the latest quarter, although there are issues with that as well, given that Q4 does have substantial positive seasonality.
As revenue growth continues at very strong levels, the company achieved positive operating income in its latest quarter. Non-GAAP operating margins reached 16% last quarter. Gross margins were 90%. I do anticipate that, as more business moves to a SaaS model, gross margins will not maintain such lofty levels, but at the moment, the contribution of SaaS consumption to total revenues is described as immaterial. Rule 606 tends to accelerate the recognition of license revenues compared to a purely ratable model, and that has been part of the reason why PATH has been able to achieve such extraordinary gross margins.
The company’s largest expense category, not surprisingly, is Sales and Marketing. Sales and Marketing was 48% of revenue on a GAAP basis last quarter. Sales and marketing expenses were actually lower in dollars than in the year-earlier quarter and were unchanged from the prior sequential quarter. Exactly how that happened is not really detailed in the S-1/A. Some of the decline was due to the travel and exhibition expenses that were not incurred because of the limitations on such activities during the pandemic. Presumably, some of these expenses will resume in the current fiscal year, although the commentary in the prospectus implies that sales and marketing costs as a percentage of revenue will trend lower over time.
Research and Development expense followed similar patterns to sales and marketing in terms of the ratios that were reported and the dollars spent in the category. It hasn’t grown or grown much in recent quarters - it was up 21% year on year in this latest quarter and was 14% of revenue. The S-1 cites the pandemic and its effects as a cause for the decline in research and development expense as well as a restructuring plan dating to fiscal 2020. The company is getting a pretty substantial bang for its research and development spend, which is at far lower levels in terms of percentages than most of the other IPOs at which I look. The company has a significant number of patents that have been recently established.
General and Administrative expense fell noticeably last quarter from the prior sequential quarter, and was 21% of revenues. General and administrative costs rose by 29% year on year and can be expected to decline as a percentage of revenues.
This company was founded in Bucharest, Romania in the apartment of its CEO, Daniel Dines. While the company is now domiciled in New York City, it still has 1,000 out of 3,200 employees in Bucharest, even after a significant restructuring at the start of calendar 2020. It is perhaps interesting to note that the company in NY is occupying the space once the headquarters of investment firm JW Seligman - whose corporate successor is now headquartered in Menlo Park, CA. Software, as the saying goes, is really eating the world when a financial institution gives way in NYC to an enterprise software business.
I assume one reason why the company’s research and development spend ratio is so low has to do with the depressed levels of compensation for Romanian technical employees. Perhaps surprisingly, there are more than 100 Romanian software development organizations that are listed, suggesting that the talent pool for UiPath’s likely expansion plans is deeper than might be anticipated, although so too is the competition for that talent.
Overall, operating expenses last quarter were 83.5% of revenues on a GAAP basis and 74% of revenues non-GAAP. Operating expense actually fell by 3% year on year, mainly because of the decline in sales and marketing expense. As mentioned, the company called out factors relating to the pandemic as a principal cause for the rapid improvement in overall operating expense which fell from 196% of revenue non-GAAP to 94% of revenues non-GAAP for the full year. It is not often, if ever, that I have seen an improvement of more than 100% in operating expenses over a full year, with improvement continuing in the final quarter of the fiscal year. I would have been happier to see a more complete explanation for all that must have happened to achieve this extraordinary result.
The company became free cash flow positive in its latest fiscal year. Its free cashflow margin was a bit less than 5%. The sizeable improvement in cash flow was a function of falling GAAP losses and improvement in balance sheet items. The company had a sizeable increase in deferred revenue balances which rose by $106 million from $166 million or by 64%, roughly in line with the growth of reported revenues. The S-1 does not carry information about RPO balances which is a metric I like to track; perhaps it will be reported in quarterly numbers.
Some final thoughts and comments about valuation
It sometimes takes me a couple of days to prepare an article, especially one that is a deep dive. It can be frustrating to see a day like Thursday, April 28th, in which a risk-off bias reasserted itself for no apparent reason. A day like that has this writer questioning if sector rotation has really come to an end. PATH shares weren’t caught in that downdraft, but that simply means that their valuation premium got a bit larger. I confess that I find it a bit strange to see PATH with a higher EV/S ratio than CRWD and a comparable EV/S ratio as ZS.
I do believe that UiPath is the leader in the RPA space with a share of perhaps 20%, or possibly a bit more. And the RPA space is one of the fastest growing spaces in enterprise software and seems likely to remain so for years to come. There are very few enterprises who don’t want to automate repetitive clerical tasks - the ROI for most automations is exceptional and self-evidently, with a 145% DBE, the experience most users are having with deploying RPA solutions based on the PATH platform is very favorable.
I wanted to be able to recommend these shares. The story of the founding of a company such as this in a Bucharest apartment is inspirational. The CEO letter in the S-1, which talks about humility as a value of this company, resonates strongly with this writer. There are many, many companies in the IT space and many leaders as well who are guilty of extreme hubris. It seems possible that UiPath will avoid that pitfall.
That said, as an analyst, I have no way of valuing humility as an attribute. So, I simply have to look at the numbers I have estimated, knowing that I was quite generous with those estimates compared to the likely consensus, and I come up short in terms of being able to recommend this name and at this price. My advice to subscribers and other readers is to put this on a watch list and see if and when it grows into the valuation it currently enjoys. I imagine that will be the case at some point down the road.
As I have mentioned several times in this article, I do not recollect seeing another company whose growth has been at these levels with as much leverage at scale as UiPath reported for its last fiscal year, and indeed the last quarter. While PATH's free cash flow margin is not great, it is at the least positive. Can it be sustained at these levels? I imagine most analysts are going to estimate losses for this company and a regression to free cash flow burn. That would make the case for the shares even more difficult than it currently is.
At the end of the day, the issue in terms of recommending the shares of this company is going to be growth sustainability. My estimates for revenue this year and for the three-year CAGR are almost certainly going to be generous in terms of what the consensus is likely to be. It is going to be hard for analysts to be uniquely enthusiastic about this name given its relative valuation, even according to some strong growth expectations. I feel that there are better high-growth investments than PATH shares to be made at this point and even better investments in the RPA space.
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