Erin Griffith is a writer at Fortune.
Experts expect the value of tech companies going private could top the value of tech IPOs this year. Last year $20 billion worth of tech companies went private, according to data from Bulger Partners, an M&A advisory firm. Meanwhile, tech IPOs raised only $21 billion. Take-private transactions topped IPO values in three of the last six years (four if you take out Facebook’s IPO). The trend isn’t surprising, “given how much everyone complains about the burden of being a public company and how much money is swirling around the private equity landscape,” according to Bulger Partners managing director Doug Melsheimer.
Meanwhile, tech acquisitions continue to skyrocket as companies avoid going public. Bulger Partners counted $232 billion worth of M&A transaction value for 2015 alone.
Bill Gurley, a venture capitalist with Benchmark, last week summed up the hopes and fears that have been hanging like an Eeyore cloud above the San Francisco Bay area for the past few months. In a blog post, he argued that CEOs of billion-dollar tech startup “unicorns” should get over their fear of the public markets. IPOs are good for companies—just look at how well Mark Zuckerberg has fared, he posited. And they’re “the best way to ensure the long-term value of your [and your employees’] shares,” he wrote. No mention of your investors’ shares, like, say, the ones owned by your old friends at Benchmark. Sarah Lacy at Pando argued that Gurley’s blog post was an open letter to Gurley’s portfolio company Uber.
Fortune journalist Carol Loomis used to joke that there were only two kinds of stories at Fortune: “Oh, the glory of it!” and “Oh, the shame of it!” The narrative of Silicon Valley’s unicorns is no exception to that rule. First, there was the glory: Fortune declared the Age of Unicorns in January 2015. Then, the shame: This January we bemoaned the IPO drought and wished the unicorns “good luck” going public.
On Friday, the sole tech IPO of 2016 (so far) made its debut when Dell spun out its SecureWorks security software unit. It was a “dud,” and also “lackluster.” The IPO window is indeed closed for tech companies. Meanwhile, public tech companies are getting beat up, even when they report positive earnings. No wonder so many of are opting for the private markets.
BITS AND BYTES
Alibaba’s e-payments partner Ant Financial raises $4.5 billion. The company behind the Chinese equivalent of PayPal, called Alipay, plans to use the capital to support global expansion efforts. Many of the investors are state-owned companies, and the size of their stake wasn’t disclosed. (New York Times)
T-Mobile beats first-quarter estimates. The wireless carrier added more than 1 million subscribers from January to March, a feat it has managed to achieve for the past seven quarters. T-Mobile’s new plan to offer extra data services to defectors from other carriers should help keep the momentum going. (Bloomberg, Fortune)
Facebook plans to take on Snapchat. The social network is developing a “camera-first” mobile app that it hopes will inspire more of its 1.6 billion users to share more digital images and videos, reports The Wall Street Journal. The big question: Do people really want one more app? (Wall Street Journal)
Box veteran heads for Apple. Karen Appleton, who was the cloud business software company’s first non-technical employee, will apparently have a role in shaping the tech giant’s strategy for working with large businesses, reports Re/code. At Box, she most recently led the company’s strategy for delivering industry-specific applications. (Re/code, Fortune)
Intel encounters internal resistance to diversity efforts. Last year the chipmaker pledged $300 million to increase the number of women and racially diverse people on its payroll. At the end of 2015, more than 75% of its staff was male, and more than 53.3 was white. Some current employees are speaking out against that initiative, and tensions are running higher now as 12,000 job cuts loom. (eWeek)
Is the Apple Watch a flop? Not exactly. The tech giant’s smartwatch celebrated its first birthday on Sunday. Although many have dubbed the product a disappointment, it did better in its first year than Apple’s original iPhone. It could get a boost from a new policy announced last weekend: henceforth, all new Apple Watch apps must be designed to run without needing a phone. (Fortune, InformationWeek)
Ford experiments with new form of 3-D printing. The automaker is testing technology from a Google-backed startup called Carbon3D to produce some auto parts. Its approach is quicker and the end result is created out of solid resin, rather than composed of layers, like models produced by other printers. The downside is that the process is still extremely costly. (Wall Street Journal)
Supreme Court considers appeal on bad patents. The case involves the Patent Trial and Appeals Board, which was created to help companies challenge weak patents without having to hire expensive lawyers. The issue is how the board should review patents. The plaintiff, along with some big biotech and pharma companies, wants them considered narrowly, which means fewer would be declared invalid. (Fortune)
Nokia pushes into digital health. The tech company, seeking to reinvent itself yet again, is buying connected-devices maker Withings for about $192 million. The latter makes a wide range of devices, from the Activite smartwatch to home security cameras, baby monitors, connected scales, thermometers, and blood-pressure monitors. As Nokia Technologies president Ramzi Haidamus recently told Fortune, the Finnish firm is looking at digital health as a sector that “comes very natural to Nokia” due to its reputation for reliability. (Fortune)
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Everyone loses in Uber’s $100 million payout, except lawyers
by Jeff John Roberts
Newest iPhones are selling as well as last year’s models by Aaron Pressman
Marketo hires IBM Analytics guru by Heather Clancy
Docker CEO: “We do not tolerate harassment” by Barb Darrow
Snowden leaks advanced encryption by 7 years by Robert Hackett
Twitter takes another step to crack down on abuse by Kia Kokalitcheva
Many presidential primary apps have a data problem by Jonathan Vanian
Electric car maker Fisker rebrands itself by Katie Fehrenbacher
Disney and Nokia team up on virtual reality camera deal
by Jonathan Vanian
ONE MORE THING
Prince secretly funded solar technology. Apparently, he was the major backer of the nonprofit organization Green for All, which is installing rooftop panels across Oakland, Calif. (Fortune)