Investors discovered MicroStrategy Inc. in 1999.
The Vienna-based company's revenues have been roughly doubling since its start a decade ago, thanks to software that helps companies develop strategies by analyzing vast amounts of their own information about sales or products. "Data mining," it's called.
Michael Saylor, MicroStrategy's flamboyant founder and chairman, won't discuss his revenue goals for 2000 except to say, "We don't feel any worse about the coming year than we have about any other year."
The company's stock has appreciated at a head-snapping pace, from a low of $15.50 last April to just over $210 a share last Friday.
MicroStrategy clearly has joined the Internet club, and its stock is catching the same updraft that has boosted other Web players to sky-high valuations. As of Friday, MicroStrategy's share price was 640 times expected earnings in 2000.
"There are two distinct businesses, in essence," noted analyst Thomas F. Neuhaus of Scott & Stringfellow in Richmond.
Growth in the core software business is above the industry average and continues to accelerate, he said. That's the business that most analysts believe can double its revenue again in the coming year.
MicroStrategy's second front -- and a key reason for investor excitement, said Neuhaus -- is an Internet-based site called Strategy.com. It is designed to send personalized data to customers and receive their responses over PCs, Palm hand-helds and "smart" phones. It can be used to deliver weather reports or traffic information and to carry out stock market or air travel transactions.
"It means I know enough to wake you up in the middle of the night when Japan's market is down," Saylor said, "to interact with you when your plane is canceled, and to send messages to your pager if there's something urgent that's going on. That's a pretty interesting business."
And one that investors appear fascinated by, even if its value to MicroStrategy is virtually impossible to quantify right now, analysts say.
"We believe that the majority of the stock performance in the past six months can be attributed to the Strategy.com network," Neuhaus said.
Although most financial analysts who follow the company are bullish on its prospects, there are some skeptics.
"It's growing fast, no doubt," said Bert Hochfeld of Josephthal & Co. in New York. "But I don't believe they're going to necessarily achieve the kind of growth needed to support the valuation they currently have."
"Will people pay $10 a month to find out if a tornado is passing over their house or to learn that the Beltway is backed up at rush hour?" he asked. Hochfeld will believe it when he sees it.
And that gives investors another way to track MicroStrategy in 2000 -- track the subscriber growth on Strategy.com.
"What is absolutely predictable is that five years from now, everybody on this earth who can afford a cell phone today -- that's 500 million to 1 billion people -- will be getting wireless programming," Saylor said.
"We think we'll get our fair share. We already have in excess of 100,000 users [on the network]. I expect we'll get to 10 million users in the next 24 to 36 months."