May 17, 2004 2:39 PM PDT

Salesforce's stock debut delayed

Salesforce.com has delayed its high-profile initial public offering, which had been set for next week, according to sources.

The customer relationship management software vendor was initially set to go public during the week of May 24, but the debut has been put on hold, said sources. The company will likely go public with its stock sometime next month.

"It'll be less than a month's delay," one source said. "It's a pretty insignificant delay."

Marc Benioff, Salesforce's founder, chairman and CEO, was profiled in a lengthy New York Times article on May 9. The article covered Benioff's background, the birth of his company and his charitable work. In the article, Benioff side-stepped questions relating to the pending IPO because the Securities and Exchange Commission enforces a "quiet period" ahead of a stock offering.

But because the article was a high-profile piece and published within two weeks of the company's IPO date, the SEC and Salesforce "reached a mutual agreement" to delay the offering, a source said.

The delay recalls another SEC-imposed cooling-off period on a dot-com IPO. In 1999, the SEC delayed Webvan's offering for a month after allegations that Webvan executives told analysts information not included in its prospectus.

Salesforce was also featured in a smaller New York Times article on Friday, which raised questions about Benioff selling his own shares prior to the company's anticipated IPO--without disclosing when he sold the shares or to whom in the IPO filing.

"The delay wasn't related to the second story," a source said. "The reporter didn't uncover anything the SEC didn't already know about."

David Menlow, president of the IPO Financial Network, said Benioff's sale of his personal shares raised questions.

"We need to know the details of his sale, before conjecture runs out of control on who he sold to and why," Menlow said. "Why would a principal sell his own shares, rather than company-owned stock?"

In at least one instance, Benioff sold some of his personal shares to a person affiliated with the company to avoid further diluting the company's shares, a source said.

The decision to push back the IPO follows an earlier delay from the SEC. Last month, an SEC review of the IPO filing was prolonged by accounting issues. The agency required the company to apply its current accounting methods to its past financial statements in an "apples-to-apples" comparison.

CNET News.com's Paul Festa contributed to this report.

 

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