Venture Capital

Fidelity Writes Down Value of Corporate Software Startups

The fund manager marked down Dropbox and CloudFlare while keeping expectations high for Airbnb, Pinterest and other consumer-tech startups.

Dropbox Inc. Chief Executive Officer Drew Houston Interview

Dropbox CEO and co-Founder Drew Houston.

Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

Fidelity Investments slashed the value of its holdings in several corporate software startups in January, while taking a more optimistic view of private consumer-technology companies such as Snapchat Inc. and Uber Technologies Inc.

The value of Dropbox Inc. shares were marked down 10 percent in January from the price in December, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from public filings. Fidelity also wrote down its stake in the cloud storage company last year. The fund manager periodically readjusts the value of its private stock holdings, based on a variety of factors, and is required to disclose the new values publicly.

CloudFlare Inc., maker of Web performance and cybersecurity software for businesses, took a much bigger hit. Fidelity marked down its holdings in that company by 31 percent. CloudFlare Chief Executive Officer Matthew Prince blamed the writedown on market conditions and said Fidelity had marked up the company's value twice before. "When the market recovers, we'll recover with it," he said. Although Prince wasn't happy about the decrease, he saw it as a "baby step" toward becoming a public company, when a company's stock price fluctuates constantly.

DocuSign Inc., which makes electronic signature technology for contracts and other documents, and Nutanix Inc., a maker of software and hardware for data centers that filed to go public in December, were each written down by 17 percent. Fidelity also marked down Twilio Inc., which makes tools for app developers, by 13 percent.

Consumer apps fared better in January. Fidelity did not change its valuations for Airbnb Inc., Pinterest Inc., Snapchat, and Uber, despite a rough month in the public markets and signs of a slowdown in private investments. About a quarter of mature startups raised money at lower valuations in the fourth quarter than in previous rounds, according to a study by Silicon Valley law firm Fenwick & West LLP. More than half of those later-stage deals included terms that guarantee new investors get their money back before other shareholders.

Fidelity's markdowns of corporate software startups came after a brutal month for their publicly traded peers. International Business Machines Corp. and VMware Inc. reported disappointing earnings forecasts in January. Many technology companies said they expected a tough IT climate for 2016 and often cited a deteriorating macroeconomic environment as a factor.

The Standard and Poor's 500 Index was down 5.1 percent in January, but several enterprise software companies were well below that. Box Inc., a Dropbox rival, plunged 23 percent. Workday Inc. fell 21 percent. Salesforce.com Inc. dropped 13 percent.

Despite the dismal climate, Fidelity didn't write down every enterprise startup. For example, the fund manager kept the value of its shares in Cloudera Inc., a Silicon Valley Big Data company, unchanged in January.

Investors still have high hopes for corporate software companies to go public this year. But in some cases, the expectations may have lost touch with reality at many startups raising money in 2014 and 2015, said Scott Nolan, a partner at venture firm Founders Fund, declining to comment on specific companies. "We felt some of these companies were priced too high in recent rounds," he said.