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Robinhood posts big gains and big risks in its IPO filing

July 2, 2021, 3:25 PM UTC

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Its origin story is almost as well known as its namesake at this point among tech circles.

Inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement that started in the wake of the Great Financial Crisis, Robinhood’s founders created a stock trading app that would “democratize finance” like the character of folklore that stole from the rich and gave to the poor.

But as the company becomes a household name, Robinhood is increasingly facing the reputational headwinds and regulatory scrutiny that once belonged to the industry it sought to disrupt. Amid the meme-stock craze earlier this year, federal attorneys seized CEO Vlad Tenev’s phone for an investigation into Robinhood’s decision to pause the trading of stocks such as GameStop.

Those issues are among the biggest risks to its fast-growing business, the company acknowledged in its much-anticipated IPO filing on Thursday. As a refresher: Robinhood is able to offer zero-commission trading because it makes the majority of its revenue from something called payment for order flow, a practice in which brokerages like Robinhood sell their trades to market makers to ostensibly, get the best price

The practice, while widespread in the U.S., is heavily debated. While it’s still unclear how and if it will get regulated, PFOF has had an impact on how users view Robinhood. It was in part this business that led users earlier this year to accuse Robinhood of collusion with hedge funds. In the first quarter of the year, about 81% of Robinhood’s revenue came from PFOF. About 31% of revenue came from a single market maker, Citadel Securities, which is backed by hedge fund titan Ken Griffin. While Griffin’s hedge fund is a separate business and Robinhood explained that the pause on the trading of Gamestop shares was the result of a need for collateral to back the surge in meme-stock trades in February, these ties to the Wall Street old guard have certainly become front-and-center for the company.

“We have become aware of approximately 50 putative class actions (two of which complaints have been voluntarily dismissed with prejudice) and three individual actions that have been filed,” Robinhood’s IPO prospectus stated regarding the restrictions it imposed on the trade of meme-stocks.

Aside from PFOF, Robinhood is also facing serious questions about whether it has made investing a little too gamified in its Silicon Valley-rooted search for hyper-growth. Recently, Berkshire Hathaway’s Charlie Munger for instance called it a “gambling parlor.” One big concern for market watchers has been how easily users are able to trade options, a complex practice usually reserved for experienced traders. In February, a young trader took his own life after thinking he’d lost $730,000 executing such trades. Routing options, as it turns out, remains the largest portion of its so-called PFOF revenue, at about 38% in the first quarter of the year.

So far, these issues have done little to dent Robinhood’s finances. Combining low-interest rates, stimulus checks, and pandemic-laden boredom, Robinhood’s revenues surged in 2020 by nearly 3.5 times to $958.8 million, the company revealed in its IPO filing. It even posted a small profit of $7.5 million after a loss of $106.6 million in 2019. If anything, Robinhood’s presence at the front of the meme-stock surge may have even helped the company gain new users.

But as tech companies take over the position Wall Street banks faced in the Financial Crisis, Robinhood, with its outsized hold on the headlines and its position at the middle of technology and banking, is certainly finding itself in the thick of both worlds.

Lucinda Shen
Twitter: 
@shenlucinda
Email: 
lucinda.shen@fortune.com

Jessica Mathews compiled the IPO section of the newsletter.

VENTURE DEALS

- Olive, a Columbus, Oh.-based healthcare automation company, raised $400 million in funding, valuing it at $4 billion. Vista Equity Partners led the round and was joined by investors including Base10 Partners Advancement Initiative.

- bolttech, a New York City-based insurtech company, raised $180 million in Series A funding. Activant Capital led the round and was joined by investors including Tony Fadell (Principal at Future Shape), Alpha Leonis Partners, Dowling Capital Partners, B. Riley Venture Capital, and Tarsadia Investments.

- Sirnaomics, a Gaithersburg, Md. and Suzhou Biobay, China-based biopharmaceutical company focused on RNAi therapeutics, raised $105 million in Series E funding. Rotating Boulder Fund led the round.

- Ghost, a Mountain View, Calif.-based autonomous driving company, raised $100 million in Series D funding. Sutter Hill Ventures and Founders Fund led the round and were joined by investors including Coatue.

- Paper, a Canadian educational software provider, raised $100 million in Series C funding. IVP led the round and was joined by investors including  Framework Venture Partners, Bullpen Capital, Reach Capital, Birchmere Ventures, Salesforce Ventures, BDC Capital, and ETW.

- Vori Health, a San Francisco-based provider of musculoskeletal care, raised an additional $5 million or so in Series A funding from Intermountain Healthcare, Ascension Ventures, and Echo Health Ventures, bringing the total round size to over $50 million.

- Trainual, a Scottsdale, Ariz.-based SaaS platform, raised $27 million in Series B funding. Altos Ventures led the round.

- Karat Financial, a Los Angeles-based maker of credit cards aimed at creators, raised $26 million in Series A funding. Union Square Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including GGV Capital and SignalFire.

- Nowports, a Mexico-based digital freight company, raised $16 million in Series A funding. Mouro Capital led the round.

- Osmind, a Mountain View, Calif.-based developer of a mental health platform, raised $15 million in Series A funding. Future Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including General Catalyst and Tiger Global.

- Microverse, a San Francisco-based maker of software development courses, raised $12.5 million in Series A funding. Northzone led the round and was joined by investors including General Catalyst and All Iron Ventures. 

- Hammoq, a Phoenix-based eCommerce operating system for resellers, raised $3 million. Origin Ventures led the round and was joined by investors including Sierra Ventures, SaaS Ventures, and Silicon Road Ventures.

PRIVATE EQUITY

- Blackstone agreed to acquire Certified Collectibles Group, a company that grades collectibles such as sports trading cards, in a deal that values it at $500 million. Other investors include Roc Nation.

- Clayton Dubilier & Rice is acquiring a majority stake in Vera Whole Health, a Seattle-based primary healthcare provider. The deal values Vera at about $400 million.

- Accel-KKR acquired Navis, a provider of tech and cargo supply chain services, from Cargotec for an enterprise value of €380 million. 

- Vista Equity Partners invested in Schoox, an Austin-based talent development company. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Micross Components, a portfolio company of Behrman Capital, acquired Semi Dice, a Los Alamitos, Calif.-based provider of die and wafer products. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Syngenta Group acquired Verisem, a Dutch seed company, from Paine Schwartz Partners. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- OpenGate Capital acquired ScioTeq and TREALITY Simulation Visual Systems, providers to the aviation and defense industry, from TransDigm Group (NYSE: TDG). Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Summa Equity acquired a majority stake in myneva, a Germany-based provider of software to the elderly, disabled, social, and youth care sectors. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

EXITS

- MKS Instruments (NASDAQ: MKSI) agreed to Atotech (NYSE: ATC), a Berlin-based chemicals technology company, from Carlyle Group. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Thoma Bravo acquired iOFFICE, a Houston-based provider of workplace management software, from Waud Capital Partners. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- Rapyd agreed to acquire Valitor, an Icelandic payments company, for $100 million.

- Sandvik acquired Cambrio, a Cincinnati-based software maker, from Battery Ventures. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

IPOS

- Healthcare Royalty, a Stamford, Conn.-based mid-market royalty acquisition company, filed for an initial public offering. 

- D-MARKET Electronic Services & Trading, an Istanbul, Turkey-based e-commerce site operator, raised $681 million in a U.S. public offering of 56.7 million ADSs (27% insider sold) at a price of $12 per ADS—it had planned to raise up to $737.1 million in an offering of 56.7 million ADSs priced between $11 to $13 per ADS. 

- Riskified, an Israeli fraud prevention software company, filed for an initial public offering in the U.S. Genesis Partners and Qumra Capital back the firm.

- Caribou Biosciences, a Berkeley, Calif.-based clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company, filed for an initial public offering. DuPont and F-Prime Capital back the firm.

- WCG Clinical, a Princeton, New Jersey-based clinical trial solutions company, filed for an initial public offering. Leonard Green & Partners and Arsenal Capital Partners back the firm.

F+FS

- Apollo invested in Motive Partners, a New York City-based private equity firm focused on financial technology. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

- SYN Ventures, a West Palm Beach, Fla.-based cybersecurity-focused investor, debuted with about $165 million.

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