Who goes public when? Tech firms look to stand out
IPOs planned to avoid getting lost in the shuff le
SAN FRANCISCO – When Jennifer Tejada, CEO of PagerDuty, decided to take the software company public, she wanted to avoid this week. The stock market closes on Good Friday, and many people are on spring break. She had also feared being drowned out by a horde of other tech initial public offerings.
“I remember saying, ‘I hope we don’t get run over by the ‘unicorn’ stampede,’” she said, using the term for private companies valued at more than $1 billion.
Pinterest, a digital pin board company that is also going public, wanted to beat Friday’s holiday, according to a person familiar with the situation. It wound up scheduling its IPO for Thursday – the same day that Zoom, a video conferencing company, will list its shares.
And Lyft and Uber, the ridehailing companies, decided to leave breathing room between their IPO filings so as not to run into each other, said two people familiar with the deliberations, who were not authorized to speak publicly. When Lyft filed first, Uber gave itself a 30-day cushion before revealing its own prospectus last week.
The maneuvering is the result of what promises to be a blockbuster year for tech public offerings. With a glut of prominent startups coming to market all at once, the companies, their bankers and the stock exchanges face a conundrum: Who goes when?
IPOs are generally a crowning moment that validate years of work. So companies approach the day as something more than a financial transaction – it is also a coming-out party, a branding event and a celebration. And it is a time when the companies do not want to share the spotlight.
“Most of these companies have been private for 10-plus years, and it’s a huge moment,” said Nelson Griggs, president of the Nasdaq stock exchange, who oversees new listings. “Having their own day is important.”
The investment banks that manage IPOs have been working to space out prominent offerings by a few weeks so companies don’t step on one another’s toes, according to three bankers, who requested anonymity to discuss confidential client matters.
The biggest concern has been steering clear of the week that Uber goes public, they said. Its market debut in May is expected to be the largest since 2014, and the company has told some of its investors that its stock sale might value it at up to $100 billion. That would leave little attention for any other company.
Many companies that plan to list their shares this year are racing to do so in the first six months, to sidestep any potential economic or market downturn. In January, they had to put their IPO plans on ice for a time because the partial government shutdown affected the Securities and Exchange Commission, the agency that reviews public offering prospectuses.
Yet even if the stock market and economy remain strong, excitement over IPOs is likely to fade as the year goes on, especially with so many listings on the docket.
“There could end up being IPO fatigue because it is going to be overwhelming,” said Barrett Daniels, a partner at Deloitte who focuses on IPO advisory work.
If all of the large private tech companies that might be candidates for offerings went to market, they could issue more than $100 billion in new stock, said Kathleen Smith, a principal at Renaissance Capital, which tracks IPO data. That would surpass 2000, the peak of the dot-com era, when companies raised $96 billion.
So much new stock could prove difficult for the market to absorb.
“I do think there’s going to be some potential indigestion,” Smith said.
Daniels of Deloitte said, “We’ve never seen so much money be requested in a single year.” He added, “We’re in uncharted waters.”
Josh King, vice president of communications at the New York Stock Exchange, said it was capable of handling multiple IPOs and had twice hosted seven on the same day. There is only one finite resource that the exchange must manage for all of the offerings flooding into the market: the opening and closing bell ceremonies, when companies ring in and close out the day’s trading. Still, plenty of slots are available, he said.
Many companies use the bellringing ceremonies as a branding moment. When Lyft went public in March on the Nasdaq stock exchange, its top two executives, Logan Green and John Zimmer, rang the opening bell from a newly opened support center for its drivers in Los Angeles. Pink confetti rained down, and the celebratory image was instantly memorialized. PagerDuty, which is based in San Francisco and makes software that helps companies respond to complaints and other incidents, was founded in 2009. It became a unicorn, valued at $1.3 billion by private investors, in 2018. On Thursday, it went public on the New York Stock Exchange.
PagerDuty did not want to miss the opportunity to stand out on its first day of trading, so it brought Pagey, a smiling, bug-eyed, neon green cardboard-and-felt company mascot, to the New York Stock Exchange’s trading floor. Pagey frolicked around and photo-bombed CNBC interviews with Tejada.
Transporting Pagey across the country from its home in San Francisco was not easy. The bulky mascot suit couldn’t be flat-packed into a FedEx box. Tejada said PagerDuty’s executives had contemplated buying Pagey a plane ticket.
“We held our breath a few times when we didn’t know if he-she-they would make it on time,” Tejada said. (Pagey has no gender.) But she was determined to get the mascot to the trading floor to help show off PagerDuty’s lighthearted company culture. The company eventually packed Pagey in a customized box and shipped it via courier.
In the end, Tejada’s concerns about being overshadowed by other tech offerings were moot. PagerDuty’s stock soared nearly 60 percent on its first day of trading.
The company picked the right date for its listing. Minutes after the market closed that day, Uber unveiled its IPO prospectus – and attention immediately shifted
Lyft founders John Zimmer, center left, and Logan Green, center right, at the company’s IPO party March 29 in Los Angeles. With so many tech firms going public this year, each is trying to get their own moment in the sun.