Uber Is Going Public: How Today’s Tech I.P.O.s Differ From the Dot-Com Boom




Technology I.P.O.s Since 1990

Technology I.P.O.s Since 1990

Technology I.P.O.s Since 1990

Note: Vertical scale is adjusted to orders of magnitude, making percentage differences comparable.
·Source: Refinitiv

When Uber begins trading on Friday, it will cap one of the largest ever tech I.P.O.s and join a crowd of big-name start-ups making their stock market debuts this year.

Not since the dot-com boom have so many richly valued tech companies gone public in such short succession: Lyft and Pinterest are now trading shares, and soon Slack, WeWork and Palantir are expected to follow.

But this crop of tech companies is markedly different from those that came up during the late 1990s.

Many rode the rise of mobile connectivity and cloud computing in the last decade to multibillion-dollar valuations. They are more mature, having spent years as private companies building their businesses. But a number remain deeply unprofitable, and the time they spent in the private markets, increasing in size and value, has ultimately raised questions about where they go from here.

By staying private for longer, tech start-ups have been able to avoid public scrutiny




Year of

company’s

inception

3 years avg.

age before

going public

10 years

avg. age

before

going

public

11 years

avg. age

before

going

public

Year of company’s

inception

3 years average age

before going public

10 years

average age

before

going public

11 years

average age

before

going public

Year of company’s

inception

3 years average age

before going public

10 years average age

before going public

11 years average age

before going public

When Netscape, Yahoo and Theglobe.com, a now-defunct online network of “virtual communities,” went public in the late 1990s, none had been around for more than three years. When Lyft began trading on the Nasdaq in late March, it had been in business for about seven, and it was young compared with others. Uber, PagerDuty and Pinterest have all been operating for at least a decade.

There are a number of explanations why companies are staying private for longer. Some point to increased regulation of public companies. Others note how record-low interest rates after the financial crisis pushed investors into private markets, increasing the amount of money available for funding rounds.

But by relying on venture capitalists and similar investors to finance their operations, start-ups have had more runway to figure out sustainable business models while avoiding the public eye.

Today’s start-ups going public have built big businesses as private companies




Earliest valuation

(seed/Series A)

Earliest valuation (seed/Series A)

Earliest valuation (seed/Series A)

Note: Vertical scale is adjusted to orders of magnitude, making percentage differences comparable.
·Sources: Dealogic; EquityZen

Not surprisingly, the start-ups in this I.P.O. wave are more valuable.

The average stock market valuation of the companies going public this year is $9.6 billion, according to CB Insights, a company that tracks start-ups. Their combined value could exceed $150 billion by year’s end.

Lyft, which raised about $5 billion, went public with a valuation above $20 billion. Investors handed Uber even more — about $15 billion in all — and the company expects to valued around $86 billion when it prices its public offering on Thursday.

Amazon and Yahoo, by contrast, were worth less than $500 million at the time of their I.P.O.s.

Much of the start-ups’ growth may be behind them




Change from the year before I.P.O. to the year after

Change from the year before I.P.O. to the year after

1 year leading up to I.P.O.

Source: EquityZen

Investors have long made bets on companies that promise to revolutionize how people shop, travel and consume media. Two decades ago, many ignored the relative youth and financial outlook of the start-ups they were backing. For some, the bets paid off: Amazon, eBay and Google trace their roots to the dot-com boom. But the period also produced a number of high-profile flops like Webvan and Pets.com.

Unlike those busts, highly valued tech companies today are more established, and many of them are drawing billions in revenue. Still, not all seem like sure bets.

Sales growth for several of the start-ups appears to be slowing. Last year, for example, Uber’s revenue rose 42 percent from the year before; in 2017, revenue more than doubled from 2016.

By comparison, Netscape, Amazon, eBay and Yahoo combined generated less than $100 million in revenue when they went public. But they were on the upswing, and in the three years after their I.P.O.s, their revenues surged by more than 10 times.

Slowing revenue growth doesn’t necessarily mean investors who buy in at the I.P.O. price will miss out on big gains. Some investors worried about Facebook’s slowing revenue growth when it went public in May 2012. But three years after the debut, its revenue had tripled and its share price had more than doubled.

But the slowing growth of this new generation has raised questions about whether some of them will become profitable soon.




12 months of earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization leading up to each company’s I.P.O.

12 months of earnings before interest,

tax, depreciation and amortization

leading up to each company’s I.P.O.

12 months of earnings before interest, tax, depreciation

and amortization leading up to each company’s I.P.O.

Source: EquityZen

Being unprofitable is hardly a new phenomenon. Start-ups have often lost money as they go public, but the losses by some in the current group are particularly steep. Lyft lost nearly $1 billion last year, among the largest by a company in the year before it went public. And Lyft’s loss is not the largest of those planning I.P.O.s. WeWork lost $1.9 billion last year, and Uber lost $1.1 billion in the first quarter alone.

Today, regardless of their profitability and with less need to raise cash, many of these companies are going public largely to provide their founders, early investors and employees an opportunity to cash in at what are already very rich valuations.

Those shareholders who got in early stand to reap a windfall. Whether further big gains will continue to materialize for those buying shares in the public markets remains a question.

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2019-05-09 10:00:04 – Source: nytimes.com