Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s broadly based on the daily column that appears on Extra Crunch, but free, and made for your weekend reading. (You can sign up for the newsletter here!)

Ready? Let’s talk money, startups and spicy IPO rumors.

The week’s biggest IPO news had nothing to do with Monday’s S-1 deluge

During Monday’s IPO wave I was surprised to see Asana join the mix. 

After news had broken in June that the company had raised hundreds of millions in convertible debt, I hadn’t guessed that the productivity unicorn wouldn’t give us an S-1 in the very next quarter. I was contentedly wrong. But the reason why Asana’s IPO is notable isn’t really much to do with the company itself, though do take the time to dig into its results and history

What matters about Asana’s debut is that it appears set to test out a model that, until very recently, could have become the new, preferred way of going public amongst tech companies. 

Here’s what I mean: Instead of filing to go public, and raising money in a traditional IPO, or simply listing directly, Asana executed two, large, convertible debt offerings pre-debut, thus allowing it to direct list with lots of cash without having raised endless equity capital while private.

The method looked like a super-cool way to get around the IPO pricing issue that we’ve seen, and also provide a ramp to direct listing for companies that didn’t get showered with billions while private. (That Asana co-founder Dustin Moskovitz’s trust led the debt deal is simply icing on this particular Pop-Tart).

This brief column was going to be all about how we may see unicorns follow the Asana route in time, provided that its debt-powered direct listing goes well. But then the NYSE got permission from the SEC to allow companies to raise capital when they direct-list.

In short, some companies that direct-list in the future will be able to sell a bloc of shares at a market-set value that would have previously set their “open” price. So instead of flogging the stock and setting a price and selling shares to rich folks and then finding out what public investors would really pay, all that IPO faff is gone and bold companies can simply offer shares at whatever price the market will bear. 

All that is great and cool, but as companies will be able to direct-list and raise capital, the NYSE’s nice news means that Asana is blazing a neat trail, but perhaps not one that will be as popular as we had expected.

The NASDAQ is working to get in on the action. As Danny said yesterday on the show, this new NYSE method is going to crush traditional IPOs, provided that we’re understanding it during this, its nascent period.

Market Notes

Look, this week was bananas, and my brain is scrambled toast. You, like myself, are probably a bit confused about how it is only finally Saturday and not the middle of next week. But worry not, I have a quick roundup of the big stuff from our world. And, notes from calls with the COO of Okta and the CEO of Splunk, from after their respective earnings report: 

Over to our chats, starting with Okta COO and co-founder Frederic Kerrest:

  • Okta had a good quarter. But instead of noodling on just the numbers, we wanted to chat with its team about the accelerating digital transformation and what they are seeing in the market. 
  • On the SMB side, Kerrest reported little to no change. This is a bit more bullish than we anticipated, given that it seemed likely that SMB customers would have taken the largest hit from COVID.
  • Kerrest also told us some interesting stuff about how the wave of COVID-related spend has changed: “We actually have seen the COVID ‘go home and remote work very quickly’ [thing], we’ve actually seen that rush subside a little bit, because you know now we’re five months into [the pandemic], so they had to figure it out.”
  • This is a fascinating comment for the startup world
  • Okta is big and public and is going to grow fine for a while. Whatever. For smaller companies aka startups that were seeing COVID-related tailwinds, I wonder how common seeing “that rush subside a little bit” is. If it is very common, many startups that had taken off like a rocket could be seeing their growth come back to Earth.
  • And if they raised a bunch of money off the back of that growth at a killer valuation, they may have just ordered shoes that they’ll struggle to grow into.

And then there was new McLaren F-1 sponsor Splunk, data folks who are in the midst of a transition to SaaS that is seeing the firm double-down on building ARR and letting go of legacy incomes:

  • I spoke with CEO Doug Merritt, kicking off with a question about his use of the word “tectonic” regarding the shift to data-driven decisions from Splunk’s earnings report. (“As organizations continue to adapt to tectonic societal shifts brought on by COVID-19, one thing is constant: the power of data to radically transform business.”)
  • I wanted to know how far down the American corporate stack that idea went; are mid-size businesses getting more data-savvy? What about SMBs? Merritt was pretty bullish: “We’re getting to tectonic,” he said during our call, adding that before “it really was the Facebooks, the Googles, the Apples, the DoorDashes, [and] the LinkedIns that were using [Splunk].” But now, he said, even small restaurant chains are using data to better track their performance. 
  • Relating this back to the startup world, I’ve been curious if lots of stuff that you and I think is cool, like low-code business app development, will actually find as wide a footing in the market as some expect. Why? Because most small and medium-sized businesses are not tech companies at all. But if Merritt is right, then the CEO of Appian might be right as well about how many business apps the average company is going to have in a few years’ time.

And finally for Market Notes, my work BFF and IRL friend Ron Miller wrote about Box’s earnings this week, and how the changing world is bolstering the company. It’s worth a read. (Most public software companies are doing well, mind.)

Various and Sundry

We’re already over length, so I’ll have to keep our bits-and-bobs section brief. Thus, only the brightest of baubles for you, my friend:

And with that, we are out of room. Hugs, fist bumps and good vibes, 

Alex





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