For Tech IPOs, Safe Is the New Sexy

Yes, it’s been a slow year for tech IPOs, with just five information technology companies braving the public stock market as of last Friday. But the ones engineered over the past few weeks have been memorable, for the right reasons.

Big data firm Talend, for example, debuted 54% above its IPO price of $18 last Friday and closed its first day up 42% at $25.50. Communications software specialist Twilio (TWLO), which went out in late June, is trading at around $40, almost triple its $15 IPO price. Even though they serve very different markets, there’s one thing these companies have in common: an explicit focus on “responsible” growth.

Yes, both still lose money, but their CEOs say they aren’t planning to burn through cash (at least as much cash in the past) in their quest to add new customers. Talend actually managed to become cash-flow positive during the first quarter, while still growing its cloud subscription business by 40%, according to its IPO prospectus. “It felt lonely a couple of years ago when everyone was running the other direction,” Talend CEO Mike Tuchen told me last Friday.

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It’s no coincidence that cloud file-sharing software company Dropbox, last valued at $10 billion, is also talking up this metric, which CEO Drew Houston has said his organization achieved in the June quarter. That’s a feat that fierce rival Box (BOX)—renowned for its hefty sales and marketing budget—hasn’t managed yet, although it’s on track to do so before the end of its current fiscal year in January 2017.

Which software startup will chance an IPO next? There are plenty of possibilities in the pipeline, including Zuora, a specialist in software for managing subscriptions and other recurring revenue; Okta, which sells identity management software and is said to be exploring its strategic options with Goldman Sachs; and fast-growing MuleSoft, which specializes in data management and application programming interfaces. (Rival Apigee made its debut last April.) Listen for which ones are talking up that cash-flow-positive metric or “responsible growth” most loudly. Safe is the new sexy.

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