If you can't beat them, buy them: Salesforce.com is snapping up SteelBrick, a startup that builds quoting and billing functions for SMEs on the Salesforce cloud platform.
Apps built natively on the platform allow Salesforce.com customers to add functionality to their CRM systems with fewer integration hassles than they might face with software hosted elsewhere.
SteelBrick makes configure-price-quote and subscription-billing apps for small and medium-size enterprises, and recently added subscription billing functions with the acquisition of U.K.-based Invoice IT. The apps automate much of the process from establishing a customer's requirements to collecting payment. Customers for the software include Japanese manufacturing company Mitsubishi Electric and Silicon Valley neighbors Cloudera and Nutanix.
Salesforce's cloud platform provides it with a captive environment in which startups like SteelBrick shoulder the risk of identifying new markets or developing additional functions customers will want -- but at the same time, it's also a source of competition for Salesforce as the startups may go on to port their tools to rival CRM systems.
In the case of SteelBrick, Salesforce.com took an early bet that the company's software would add value to its platform, taking an initial stake through its investment arm Salesforce Ventures a couple of months ago. Now it plans to shell out $360 million in stock to acquire the rest of the company, hoping to close the deal by the end of April.
SteelBrick CEO Godard Abel said he plans to continue delivering the same services following the acquisition.