Twilio is an unprofitable cloud software company that has been valued at more than $1 billion by venture capitalists. Today the San Francisco-based company filed for an initial public offering. It’s about damn time.
To be clear, I have no idea if going public in 2016 is actually the right move for Twilio. Nor do I have any sense of whether its stock will go up, down or sideways. If you want someone to analyze Twilio’s growth prospects within the enterprise software world ― or API space, more specifically ― please look elsewhere.
For me, at this moment in time, Twilio is more about what it can do for others than what it can do for itself.
Tech startups have been staying private longer for a while but, even as of this time last year, it wasn’t terribly unusual to see a company like Twilio hit the public markets. Last year, for example, saw IPOs from Box (BOX), Pure Storage (PSTG), Shopify (SHOP) and Square (SQ).
2016, however, has been a wasteland. Not a single “unicorn” has gone public yet, nor has one even filed for an IPO. The closest we got was Massachusetts-based Acacia Communication, which never was valued at even $200 million by its VCs (i.e., it’s an outlier).
And while some in Silicon Valley have blamed public market volatility, that hasn’t stopped biotech-focused venture capitalists from getting a bunch of their companies public. Ditto for private equity investors. In fact, within the past 24 hours, there have been successful IPOs for a VC-backed drug startup (Reata Pharma), a food distribution giant with tons of debt (US Food), a profitable enterprise software company (Cotiviti Holdings) and a private equity-backed building materials company (Gypsum Management and Supply). Moreover, U.S. IPOs have actually outperformed the S&P 500 over the past three months, per Renaissance Capital.
If Twilio manages to price and doesn’t collapse in the early aftermarket, it could serve as the dam-breaker that other, less courageous unicorns have been waiting for. Or, as IPO consultant Lise Buyer explained it back in March: “There are certainly double-digit numbers of companies working on S-1’s, but bankers do a very good job of scaring people until waiting to go public until after someone else succeeds with one.”