Riding Apple’s coattails to an IPO

Steve Jobs famously hated the “enterprise” business, the glad-handy market for selling computers to companies. Enterprise computing meant hawking wares to IT departments, who then bestowed beige boxes, and worse, on the captive multitudes who had no choice but to take what they were given. Jobs wanted to sell directly to his customers, known in commercial terms as consumers.

Thus a prejudice was born at Apple. In the glorious second reign of Steve Jobs, roughly 1997 until his death in 2011, companies that wanted to buy Apple devices mostly could go to the damn store and buy them like anyone else. This wasn’t strictly true. Apple didn’t ignore powerful customers. But the focus was on selling high-priced equipment—Macs, iPods, iPhones, and iPads—to consumers willing to pay a premium.

Tim Cook, an IBMer by upbringing, didn’t look down his nose at the enterprise and began emphasizing Apple’s interest during his tenure as CEO. A company called Jamf, in Minneapolis, sprung up in the early aughts to do something Apple wouldn’t: Make it easy for corporations to manage all the Apple devices their employees wanted them to buy.

That history lesson is relevant because Jamf, now owned by the voracious private-equity firm Vista Equity, is going public. The company has more than $200 million in annual revenues—all from managing Apple devices for corporate clients. (I had no idea what Jamf was, beyond as an annoying prompt that appears when I boot up my Mac, before it filed to go public.) The company doesn’t make money because Vista loaded it up with debt, which the IPO will lessen if it goes off as planned. Apple also recently acquired a small rival of Jamf called Fleetsmith, so things could get interesting.

In its IPO filing, Jamf estimates that Apple recorded more than $40 billion of enterprise revenue in 2019. That’s 15% of the total. Not bad for a business the company once shunned.

Adam Lashinsky

@adamlashinsky

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