VMware (VMW) today joins the pantheon of Silicon Valley companies with the audacity to go public not only in the supposed doldrums of summer but in a rotten market to boot. Past honorees: Dearly departed Netscape from 1995 and Google (GOOG), in 2004.
The Palo Alto software shop, a unit of EMC (EMC) burst onto the public markets this morning by trading at $52 after being priced Monday evening at $29. Things have all gone very much as planned for VMware. As I noted in June, anlaysts expected VMware to go public at about $27. Intel (INTC) and Cisco (CSCO) managed to get in before the IPO, buying sizeable stakes at $23 and $25 per share, respectively.
What’s so great about VMware and August IPOs? Let’s take those questions one at a time.
For all the hoo-hah about new this and new that — read: overhyped Web 2.0 companies you’ll never hear about a year from now — VMware actually solves a problem that matters to big technology buyers. Its virtualization approach allows companies with massive server farms to more efficiently use their server capacity. That simultaneously threatens the big server companies like IBM (IBM), Sun (SUNW) and HP (HPQ) and strengthens the market by making servers more valuable. VMware is the “it” company of Silicon Valley right now, again, among real companies that sell real products. Everyone wants to work with them. The company’s growth has been impressive, far better than that of its parent, whose best move of the past half decade turns out to have been buying VMware. (For the numbers on the growth, see the article I did in the print edition of Fortune; It was called “The next big Silicon Valley IPO.” Sometimes we get it right.)
As for August IPOs, is there some kind of magic? Netscape’s bankers told the company it was folly to go public in the heat of the summer. The company was confident. Google never worried about the month it went public. It fretted more over its auction method. Did VMware plan to do its IPO in August and in the midst of a market meltdown? Certainly not the latter. Still, its success today — and let’s remember, to continue to be a success it needs to keep rising, as Google did, not shrivel like Netscape — is a reminder that 1) there is plenty of capital for quality companies and 2) the markets don’t move in lockstep at all times.