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创业公司增长奇迹:如何在8个月内估值达到10亿美元?

Erin Griffith 2015年02月05日

商业软件公司Slack的产品上线不到一年时间,目前已经获得10亿美元的估值。创始人表示,自己其实并不缺钱,但天价估值不仅可以让Slack成为市场关注的焦点,还可以增加用户的信任感,招募到更优秀的人才。

    如果说哪家企业最能代表这个“独角兽时代”(请见《财富》二月刊的封面故事),那一定是Slack公司。

    另一方面,这家公司也很容易被视为当今“科技泡沫”的例证。Slack公司的同名产品上线仅仅八个月,它的估值就已超过10亿美元。这怎么可能呢?硅谷的钱是大风刮来的吗?

    但同时,Slack也说明市场上存在着一个多大的商机。自从推出以来,Slack的营业额平均每星期增长7%——这基本上是很多大公司希望达到的年化增长速度。每周它都会新增好几千名付费用户。该公司目前拥有100名员工,每月的运营成本只有10万美元。当然,这家公司现在还不满一周岁,但按这个势头,它无疑将增长为一家大公司。

    这就是为什么它会这么快地估值达到10亿美元。

    整个夏天,Slack公司的CEO斯图尔特•巴特菲尔德都没有理会风投们发来的询价。到了9月,巴特菲尔德决定花一周时间召开投资人会议,“看看情况怎么样。”Slack于去年2月正式上线,该公司大约一年前刚刚关掉了一款没有引起市场反响的游戏产品。作为一款针对办公室员工的协作工具,Slack一经推出就立即获得了成功。到了4月,Slack的初期成功已经帮助公司成功拉来了4280万美元的融资,使公司的估值达到2.5亿美元。

    这一消息使Slack迅速在投资圈火了起来。风投家们发现,他们投资的许多公司都迅速采用了Slack的产品。每周发给Slack公司,要求向其投资的电子邮件已经增长到了10封之多。有些电子邮件来自巴特菲尔德认识的投资人(巴特菲尔德此前还与人共同创办过一度大热的照片分享网站Flickr,该网站于2005年被雅虎收购),但大多数还是来自完全陌生的投资人。但他们都抱着一个相同的目的:希望巴特菲尔德接受他们的投资。

    Slack公司并不需要新投资,但巴特菲尔德决定“试试水”,因为他认为这个来钱快、估值高的时代可能不会永远持续下去。“我也认为2008年(金融危机)只掉下来了一只靴子,还有另一只靴子没有掉下来。我在2008年损失了一大笔钱,而且我发现当时的融资环境收紧了。现在我意识到了这种循环。你很难说(估值泡沫)已经到了顶峰,但我们显然离谷底非常远。”

    巴特菲尔德决定继续融资,还有另一个貌似不十分理性的原因:他想获得10亿美元的估值。如果Slack得不到10亿美元估值,他宁可一分钱也不融。他表示,作为一个符号,10亿美元具有一种无形的意义,它意味着“当人们一谈起这个,就会提到我们。”

    他解释说:“这当然只是一个心理上的门槛,但它对有些客户的确是有帮助的。当我们与一家财富500强企业就服务合同进行谈判,比如谈到三年以后的合同条款,如果他们知道我们是一家估值很高,财力雄厚的公司,那将会大有助益。”

    10亿美元估值对于招揽人才也很有用。“有些员工不愿冒太大风险,比如有些在谷歌和Facebook等大公司工作的人,他们有孩子,要还房贷。如果他们知道我们是一家估值10亿的大公司,对来这里工作会更有信心。”

    不过,这10亿美元估值是否基于某种真实的度量指标?投资者是否统计过数据、分析过表格或公开文件?答案是没有。巴特菲尔德表示:“有些方法可以相当精确地根据稳定的业务计算出未来现金流的价值。但很显然,那种办法并不适合我们。”换句话说,Slack增长得太快了,没法用那种预测算法计算估值。最近的公开声明显示,已经有4.5万个团队、36.5万名付费用户每天在使用Slack的服务。巴特菲尔德称:“除了节假日,每一天都在创造纪录,每个星期二都是有史以来最好的星期二。”

    所以说,Slack还有什么理由不选择能吸引客户、招揽人才的10亿美元估值呢?巴特菲尔德承认,Slack有相当一部分的增长要归功于它的估值。他说:“你必须要选择一个数字,而10亿肯定要比8亿好,因为它对潜在客户、员工和媒体来说都是一个心理上的门槛。”

    Slack公司很轻易地就说服投资者同意了10亿美元的估值。巴特菲尔德只想融资1亿美元,但各方承诺给他的投资达到2亿美元,最终这轮融资以1.2亿美元告终。在获得这笔资金三个月后,Slack公司的客户、营收和用户都翻了一番。巴特菲尔德认为,在接下来的四个月里,这些指标还将再翻一番。

    巴特菲尔德表示,目前Slack公司只花掉了大约1%的融资额。他相信,即便经济再次恶化,Slack公司也会安然无恙。他表示:“我们基本能够抵御任何风暴。如果Slack公司真的陷入了麻烦,除非是行星撞地球了。”(财富中文网)

    译者:朴成奎

    审校:任文科

    If any company embodies the Age of the Unicorn (the subject of Fortune’s latest cover story), it’s Slack.

    The business software maker can easily serve as an example of why we’re in a tech bubble. Its namesake product is only eight months old and the company is worth $1 billion. How is that even possible? Is money even real in Silicon Valley?

    But Slack just as easily serves as an example of how big an opportunity there is. Slack has grown as much as 7% each week since it launched—a pace large companies aspire to hit each year—adding thousands of new users who pay for the service. The company has 100 employees and it’s only burning $100,000 per month. Sure, it’s not even a year old. But it’s clearly going to be huge.

    This is how you get to $1 billion so quickly.

    After ignoring daily inquiries from venture capitalists all summer, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield decided in September to take a week’s worth of investor meetings, “to see where things were at.” Slack had launched in February, a year after the company shut down a gaming product that never took off. The new product, a collaboration tool for desk workers, was an immediate hit. By April, Slack’s early traction was enough for it to raise $42.8 million, valuing the company at $250 million.

    The news stoked the hype around Slack. Venture capitalists witnessed its rapid adoption at their portfolio companies. The emails from investors had swelled to 10 new funding offers per week. Sometimes it from was investors Butterfield knew. (He had previously co-founded the photo-sharing site Flickr, which sold to Yahoo in 2005.) Often they were from complete strangers hoping he’d take their money.

    Slack didn’t need the money, but Butterfield decided to test the waters because he believed this era of easy venture capital high valuations would not last forever. “I’m one of those people who think the other shoe has yet to drop from 2008,” he says. “I lost a shitload of money in 2008, and I saw the fundraising environment tighten up. I’m aware of the cycle. It’s difficult to call a top, but it’s pretty obvious we’re far from the bottom.”

    There’s another, slightly less rational reason Butterfield decided to raise more money: He wanted a $1 billion valuation. If Slack couldn’t get that, he wouldn’t raise anything. The cachet of the figure is meaningful in an intangible way, he says. It means “we’re a part of that conversation about companies worth $1 billion.”

    He elaborates: “It’s definitely a psychological threshold and it helps for certain kinds of customers. When [we’re] negotiating with a Fortune 500 company on legal terms of service for some detail about what sort of deal they will get in the third year, then having the comfort of knowing we’re highly valued and financially secure, that really helps.”

    A billion dollars goes a long way with big hires, too. “There is a class of employees who are more risk-averse and work at some company like Google or Facebook and they have a mortgage and kids,” he says. “It helps a lot of those kinds of people as well.”

    But is the $1 billion valuation actually based on any real metrics? Were any numbers crunched, any spreadsheets analyzed, or any public comps selected? Not really. “There are fairly precise methods for putting a value on future cash flow given steady business,” Butterfield says. “We’re not in that position, obviously.” Put another way: Slack is growing too quickly for projections. At its last public announcement, 45,000 teams with 365,000 daily active users were paying to use Slack. “Every single day except holidays is a record for that day,” he says. “Every Tuesday is the best Tuesday we’ve had.”

    So why not pick the big, round number that helps with customers and recruiting? Butterfield acknowledges there’s quite a bit of growth baked into Slack’s valuation. “You have to choose some numbers,” he says. “One billion is better than $800 million because it’s the psychological threshold for potential customers, employees, and the press.”

    Slack had no problem getting investors to agree to the $1 billion valuation, by the way. Butterfield only wanted to raise $100 million; he ended up with $200 million in commitments and closed the round at $120 million. In the three months since raising the money, Slack has just about doubled everything—customers, revenue, users—and Butterfield expects it will repeat the feat in the next four months.

    So far Slack has only spent around 1% of the money it raised, Butterfield says. He’s confident that even if the economy turns south, Slack will be fine. “We’re able to weather pretty much any storm,” he says. “You’d have to be in a meteors-hitting-the-earth scenario before Slack as a business would get into trouble.”

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