Below is Dan's column from the latest issue of Fortune.
DEAR TECH CEOS: GO PUBLIC, FOR THE GOOD OF THE COUNTRY
By Dan Primack
Ordinary Americans are being deprived of the opportunity to reap financial rewards from investing in promising young technology companies. Not by regulation or a lack of cash, but by the companies themselves. These startups are staying private longer, achieving more of their exponential growth for the benefit of a tiny shareholder base.
All this comes in the midst of a national debate about income inequality—one that’s particularly fervent in the San Francisco Bay Area, where high-paying tech jobs are causing apartment rents and home prices to skyrocket, forcing many longtime residents to seek new zip codes.
It wasn’t always this way. Think back to when four-year-old Amazon went public in 1997. It raised just $48 million, pricing its stock at $16 a share. The initial market cap was around $382 million. Today the company is valued at about $159 billion, with its stock trading at $354 a share (there have been several stock splits). Or consider when seven-year-old Google went public in 2005 at $85 a share at a $23 billion market cap. Today it trades at $580 a share (the stock split earlier this year), with a $390 billion market cap. In either case, an early bet of a couple hundred dollars would have turned into tens of thousands of dollars.
Had those companies been founded these days, it’s highly unlikely that either one of them would have gone public yet. When Amazon and Google were just starting out, the capital success flow chart was clear: Try to raise some seed money from rich friends, raise venture capital, and then go public (even after post-Enron rules made things a bit tougher in 2002).
Today’s hot startups are living in a brave new world of big capital. Hedge funds, banks, mutual funds, and sovereign wealth funds are now big players in the pre-IPO space. For example, Fidelity Investments recently led a $1.4 billion “venture capital” round for five-year-old car-service company Uber at a valuation of more than $18 billion (for reference, Hertz is valued at less than $13 billion). Last summer, Uber was worth only $3.5 billion. How much value could a public Uber have created for a much wider swath of individual investors in the same amount of time? How many people might have had an easier time paying the rent in San Francisco? Or in Boise?
For the hedge funds and mutual funds, these pre-IPO investments make sense: Get a lower price for shares they would buy eventually at the IPO, plus secure tacit promises of better allocations in the public offering. For founders, it’s about control—and holding on to it longer.
The reality, however, is that the entrepreneurs may be wrong. For starters, most of a company’s culture is really created during its first few years of existence. Second, founding CEOs can set up dual-class stock structures that would allow them to retain a remarkable amount of company control, even post-IPO. Third, once the most famous advocate of the “keep control” mantra, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has since admitted that he may have been wrong. Speaking last fall at a conference, he said, “In retrospect, I was too afraid about going public … I’ve been very outspoken about staying private for as long as possible. I don’t think it’s that necessary to do that.”
To be clear, no CEO should take his company public before he thinks it is ready. After all, it’s difficult to zealously oversee something that you believe to be a giant strategic mistake. At the same time, however, CEOs also should recognize that going public can be more than just a financing event for the company or a way to begin cashing out early employees. It also can be a civic good—not a socialistic free ride, of course, but a symbiotic shareholder relationship that ultimately helps the company by enriching its surrounding community and country. Go public. For the public.
THE BIG DEAL
• The White House Rural Council has created Rural Infrastructure Opportunity Fund, a $10 billion investment fund for pension funds and investors to back agricultural projects with, including rural wastewater systems, energy projects and infrastructure. The fund will be managed by Capitol Peak Asset Management. www.usda.gov/
VENTURE CAPITAL DEALS
• iTOK, Inc., a Lehi, Utah-based provider of IT-managed services software small businesses, raised a Series B round of funding worth $18 million led by ABS Capital Partners. Existing investor Signal Peak Ventures also participated. www.itok.net.
• Activehours, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based hourly paycheck software company, raised $4.1 in seed financing, led by Ribbit Capital and Felicis Ventures. www.activehours.com/
• PumpUp, a San Francisco-based photo-sharing app for people who live healthy lifestyles, has raised $2.4 million in seed funding led by General Catalyst Partners with participation from Azure Capital Partners, Relay Ventures, Freycinet Investments, and angel investors. www.pumpup.co
• Quandoo, a Berlin-based restaurant reservation platform raised $21 million in a Series C round of funding led by Piton Capital with participation from Holtzbrinck Ventures and DN Capital, Sixt family, Texas Atlantic Capital, and existing investors. www.quandoo.de/
• Intigua, a container technology company, raised $10 million in Series B funding led by Intel Capital with participation from existing investors Bessemer Venture Partners and Cedar Fund. The company has raised a total of $21 million. www.intigua.com/
• Deem, cloud and mobile commerce company based in San Francisco, raised $50 million in funding led by Hony Capital. The deal follows recent recapitalization financing led by PointGuard Ventures and mutual fund investors. www.deem.com/
• Tyto Life, a stealthy Silicon Valley startup focused on the Internet of Things, has raised $7 million out of a potential $8.1 million round of funding, according to an SEC filing. www.tyto.com/
• SmartZip Analytics, Inc., a Pleasanton, Calif.-based predictive marketing platform, has raised $12 million in Series B funding led by Crest Capital Ventures of Houston, TX, with participation from existing investors Claremont Creek Ventures and Intel Capital. smartzip.com
• Posse, an online shopping and recommendation app based in Sydney, has raised $1.5 million in venture funding. posse.com/
• Airware, a San Francisco-based drone company, has raised $25 million in venture funding led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers with participation from prior investors First Round Capital and Andreessen Horowitz. The company has raised a total of $40 million in funding. airware.com/
• Weimob, a customer relationship management startup built on the messaging service WeChat, has raised 30 million yuan ($4.8 million) in Series A funding from Meridian Capital China. The round values the company at around $48 million. www.weimob.com
• Amcure, an Eggenstein-Leopoldshafen, Germany-based developer of peptide active ingredients, has closed a Series A financing deal worth EUR 5 million ($6.7 million) from a consortium headed by LBBW Venture Capital, with participation from KfW, MBG Mittelstaendische Beteiligungsgesellschaft Baden-Wuerttemberg, S-Kap Beteiligungen Pforzheim, BioM AG as well as private investors. amcure.com/
• Remedy Partners, a Darien, Conn.-based maker of payment software for health care providers, has raised $35.9 million in venture funding from an undisclosed group of investors, according to an SEC filing. remedypartners.com/
• Appdra Software Solutions Pvt Ltd, a Bangalore and US-based app development startup, raised $1.5 million in Series A financing via Becovillage, a crowd-funding platform. appdra.com/
• Synapsify, a Bethesda, MD-based qualitatively analysis startup, has raised $850,000 in venture funding from Standup Capital and the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development (DBED), through the Maryland Venture Fund. gosynapsify.com/
• BitFlyer, a Japan-based bitcoin exchange operated by former Goldman Sachs executive Yuzo Kano, has raised $1.6 million in venture funding from an unnamed Japanese venture capital firm. //bitflyer.jp/
• Trello, a spin-out of Fog Creek software which makes an online collaboration tool, has raised $10.3 million in Series A funding led by Index Ventures and Spark Capital. trello.com/
• Venuebook, a New York-based ticketing and venue platform, has raised $2 million in seed funding from I2BF Global Ventures, Cayuga Ventures, MI Ventures, Kindler Capital andVictoria Grace, with prior investor Joanne Wilson of Gotham Gal Ventures. venuebook.com/
• Movius Interactive Corporation, a mobile messaging startup based in Atlanta, has raised $13 million in venture funding from PointGuard Ventures, with participation from New Enterprise Associates (NEA) and Anschutz Investments. www.moviuscorp.com/
• Anomo, an anonymous social networking app, raised $800,000 in a convertible debt investment from Maveron, alongside Orca Bay Capital, Lee Zehrer and Amit Mital. www.anomo.com/
• Hortonworks, a Palo Alto-based Hadoop startup, will announce a strategic $50 million investment from HP, as part of a previously announced $100 million investment led by BlackRock and Passport Capital, according to Recode. http://hortonworks.com/
• Augmenix Inc., a Waltham-Mass.-based developer of hydrogel products for cancer radiotherapy, raised $10.8 million in Series D fundraising from Excelestar Ventures and existing investors CHV II, Catalyst Health Ventures and Sparta Group. www.Augmenix.com
• Atox Bio, am Israel-based therapeutics developer, raised $23 million in funding led by GlaxoSmithKline’s venture arm, SR One, with participation from Lundbeckfond Ventures and OrbiMed Israel. www.atoxbio.com/
• LoopPay, a Boston-based mobile payments company, has raised a strategic investment of undisclosed size from Visa Inc., as part of a larger round announced earlier this month, from Synchrony Financial. http://www.looppay.com/
PRIVATE EQUITY DEALS
• Juniper Networks, a Sunnyvale, Calif-.based routing, switching and security company (NYSE: JNPR), has agreed to divest its Junos Pulse product portfolio, a mobile security suite, to Siris Capital for approximately $250 million. www.juniper.net/us/en/
• H.J. Sherman Company Inc., a Van Nuys, Calif.-based family-owned religious gifts and jewelry company, has sold to Succession Capital Inc., a subsidiary of Lynx Equity Limited, for an undisclosed amount. hjsherman.com/
• Butter London, a Seattle-based beauty brand, has sold a majority stake to Encore Consumer Capital for an undisclosed amount. butterLONDON.com
• Trilantic Capital Partners and Ward Petroleum, an Enid Oklahoma City , Okla.-based and Fort Collins, Colo.-based exploration and production company, have created Ward Energy Partners, an oil and gas exploration and production company to explore Oklahoma and Eastern Colorado. No terms of the partnership have been disclosed.www .wardpetroleum.com/
• Tooling Technology Holdings, a Fort Loramie, Ohio-based tooling system manufacturer, has sold an investment stake to GenNx360 Capital. The deal is the third investment out of GenNx360 Capital Partners' Fund II. Terms were not disclosed. www.toolingtechonline.com/
• CTD Holdings, Inc., an Alachua, Fl.-based maker of cyclodextrins, closed on a Private Placement with a group of investors led by Novit L.P., the investment arm of U.S. Pharmacia. http://www.ctd-holdings.com/
• PayLink Payment Plans, a Chicago-based provider of payment technology services, has sold to buyout firm Milestone Partners for an undisclosed value. http://www.paylinkdirect.com/
• Underground Solutions, Inc. a Poway, Calif.-based water and wastewater infrastructure technology company, raised $45 million in structured financing from Riverwood Capital deal provides $30 million in the company’s Series C preferred stock, with an option for an additional $15 million investment. www.ugsicorp.com/
• Rocket Internet, the e-commerce investor and incubator founded by the Samwer Brothers, has launched a roadshow in Berlin for a potential IPO, with J.P. Morgan, Morgan Stanley and Berenberg leading the deal and participation from Rocket investor AB Kinnevik, the Wall Street Journal reports. The firm is seeking to raise more than $4 billion. www.rocket-internet.de/
• Fullscreen, a YouTube network, will sell itself to Otter Media, a joint venture between AT&T and the Chernin Group, for between $200 million and $300 million, according to Recode. The company had raised $30 million from Comcast and Chernin Group at a $110 million valuation in 2013. www.fullscreen.com/
• BebeStore, a Brazilian e-commerce children’s clothing site, will acquire Baby, a rival site. BebeStore has raised at least $10.2 million in venture backing from Atomico, W7 Brazil Capital and Endeavor Catalyst. Baby had raised $21.1 million in venture capital from Thrive Capital, Accel Partners Menlo Ventures, Valor Capital Group, Tiger Global Management, Felicis Ventures, Monashees Capital, SV Angel and others. www.baby.com.br/
• Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) has acquired drawElements, a 3-D graphics company based in Helsinki. www.drawelements.com/
FIRMS & FUNDS
• Ascent Capital, a Kenyan private equity firm with offices in Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia, has raised a $50 million investment fund titled Ascent Rift Valley Fund. The company will back around eight to 12 companies in east Africa. ascentcapitalgroupinc.com/
• Round Hill Music Royalty Partners, a buyout firm which acquires music publishing assets, has raised $200 million in commitments for its debut fund, with $7.4 million in co-investment funds. rhmusicroyaltypartners.com/
• The Carlyle Group has raised $170 million in commitments in a first close on a new Brazilian buyout fund, which carries a target of 1 billion reais ($452 million), the New York Times reported. Banco do Brasil and Brazilian pension funds have committed.
• Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company has formed MassMutual Ventures LLC (MMV), a corporate venture capital firm, to invest $100 million in startups and that could transform the parent company’s insurance, retirement and asset management businesses. www.massmutualventures.com/
• Stellex Capital Management LP is raising $750 million for a new fund focused on distressed assets in the U.S. and Europe, with room to go up to $1 billion, according to Bloomberg. The fund is fun by former investors from The Carlyle Group. www.stellexcapitalmanagement.com/
• Lightspeed China Partners, a Shanghai-based Chinese venture firm, has raised $260 million for Lightspeed China Partners II, L.P., exceeding its target of US$220 million. lsvp.com/china/
MOVING IN, UP, ON & ON
• Scott Lemone has joined TriArtisan Capital Partners LLC, the Merchant Banking arm of Morgan Joseph TriArtisan LLC, from SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, where he headed the Retailing Group. www.mjta.com/
• Eric Vishria, co-founder of RockMelt, a startup which sold to Yahoo last year, has joined Benchmark Capital as a general partner. Read more at Fortune.com.
• Alex Koriath, 37, has joined Cambridge Associates as Head of the firm's UK Pension Practice. Previously he was Director and Head of Fiduciary Management Advisory Services and Head of Manager Research at KPMG's Investment Advisory Team. www.cambridgeassociates.com/
• Graham Capital has joined Avista Capital Partners as an Industry Executive focused on energy investments, after leaving his role as CEO of of Parkman Whaling LLC, an oil and gas investment banking advisory firm he co-founded in 2007. www.avistacap.com/