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I’m bored with IPOs. Permit me to explain.
In my Silicon Valley formative years, just before the inflation of what came to be known as the first Internet bubble, participants in capital markets understood initial public offerings for what they were, financing events. Fledgling companies raised a small amount of venture capital, investments they got mostly based on the strength of their ideas, and then went public once they’d gained a certain level of maturity and needed more capital to grow. Some companies went public not because they needed to, but because they were great publicity events: Headlines and TV interviews attracted customers. Always profitable eBay was an example of this.
Then things got nutty. In the go-go days leading up to 2000, companies went public sometimes even before they had revenue. “Retail” investors, also known as the great unwashed, wanted a shot at future rocket ships. These rubes often got burned. But good companies and bad did IPOs, sometimes when they were ready and sometimes not. Some “left money on the table,” leading a smart banker named Bill Hambrecht to propose a better way to do IPOs, an efficient reverse auction concept for selling shares. Google (GOOGL) took him up on the idea—and almost no other company of note ever did.
This was all very exciting. But nothing much changed in the IPO biz. Journalists and their investment banker sources still love to hype the blessed event because, after all, it’s good copy. The fact is that it’s tough to learn anything from an IPO. Sun Microsystems, Oracle, and Microsoft all had weak performance in the periods after their offerings. Facebook (FB) was a disaster. Even Google’s offering was something of a flop. It didn’t matter.
Now we watch Uber, a business that doesn’t make money and whose valuation lately has been going only in one direction. (Not up.) Is it a horrible company as a result? Is Lyft? Beats me.