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Thoma Bravo Co-Founder Talks Debt and That Giant New Fund

Orlando BravoOrlando Bravo
Orlando BravoNancy Warner; photographer © 2013 Nancy Warner

Thoma Bravo, a private equity firm focused on software and tech-enabled services companies, this week announced that it has closed its twelfth flagship fund with $7.6 billion in capital commitments. So I spent some time on the phone with managing partner Orlando Bravo, and here are a few takeaways:

Big jump: This fund is significantly larger than past Thoma Bravo efforts, although not quite to the extent you might think. The firm raised about $1.3 billion for Fund X and nearly $3.7 billion for Fund XI, but then later buttressed both of them with “opportunities funds” in order to take advantage of increased deal-flow (due largely to cloud-driven market consolidation).

Bubble trouble? Bravo acknowledges that the multi-year NASDAQ run could mean his firm risks buying near a market top ― “the private equity index for buying software companies has been increasing on a straight line since 2000, save for the financial crisis” ― and adds that areas like “plain vanilla ERP software” are at a peak. That said, he still remains optimistic that there is still significant value upside for companies in areas like cybersecurity and service verticals.

Gutting guidance: Thoma Bravo has been among the firms that occasionally busts through the Federal Reserve’s leverage guidance, so I asked for his thoughts on the 6x quasi-rule. His reply: “In general I believe the concept is a good concept, since there are times when people are willing to take crazy, undue risks… but leverage multiples are not really clean, because a company you’re buying may have $60 million in current EBITDA, but you believe your strategy will mean the company has $120 million in EBITDA if you buy it, and another firm maybe sees $80 million. I hope the regulatory environment and lenders themselves can adjust to that reality.”

Avoid crowds: Bravo says that his firm has intentionally stayed away from the growth equity market, disliking the lack of control in such deals and the current competitive environment.

Recent Thoma Bravo deals have included the $3 billion acquisition of visual analytics company Qlik, and the $544 million purchase of healthcare IT security company Imprivata. The firm also reportedly bid to purchase the software business of HP Enterprise (HPE), but was beat out by Micro Focus (MCRO).