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商业 - 科技

Square要上市了,它经历了怎样非凡的自我进化?

Leena Rao 2015年08月06日

成立伊始,由Twitter联合创始人杰克·多尔西创建的支付公司Square获得多家顶级风投机构的支持,一度风光无限。但好景不长,在过去几年,Square走过了一段坎坷崎岖的发展之路。现在,这家被寄予无限厚望的公司终于站稳了脚跟。

Twitter联合创始人兼过渡期CEO、Square公司创始人兼CEO杰克·多尔西。

    “Square到底怎么了?”

    “这家公司似乎迷失了方向。”

    “Square能成功吗?”

    这些都是风投界和科技界人士去年跟我谈起Square时发表的评论。Square是由Twitter联合创始人杰克·多尔西在硅谷创办的一家支付公司。

    上周五有报道称,Square公司已经秘密提交首次公开募股申请,风投界和科技界的困惑终于获得了部分答案。据彭博社报道,Square根据《促进新兴企业法案》(JOBS Act)申请上市,该法案允许营收在10亿美元以下的公司秘密申请IPO。据了解该公司上市计划的知情人士透露,Square预计在今年秋天进行IPO,不过也有可能推迟上市日期。

    一位投行人士告诉《财富》:“听到他们申请IPO的消息,我深感震惊,我还以为它们在为生存而挣扎呢。”

    和以往的报道截然相反,有迹象表明Square的营收将迅猛增长。接近该公司的一位消息人士声称,Square目前的营收增速是支付巨头PayPal的3到4倍,后者刚刚从eBay剥离并上市。在2015年第二季度,PayPal的营收飙涨16%,达到23亿美元。如果这位消息人士所言不虚,那么Square目前的年收入增长率至少在50%以上。(Square的一位发言人拒绝就此发表评论。)Visa集团战略合作与创新常务副总裁吉姆·麦卡锡最近对《财富》表示,Square现在已经是Visa信用卡交易系统中排名前十的商家。值得一提的是,Visa曾在2011年向Square进行了一笔战略投资。

    崛起

    在不久前接受《财富》采访时,知名投资人马克·安德森对eBay剥离PayPal后前景表示担忧,他认为创业公司在硅谷有点被“过度美化”了。

    “我们过于推崇那些可爱的年轻创业者。”他说。

    Square也可能是这种心态的受害者之一。2009年,因失去CEO职务而离开Twitter的杰克·多尔西,推出了一个造型时尚,可连接移动设备的白色信用卡读卡器。这样一来,任何iPhone或安卓智能手机用户都能够接受信用卡支付。几家硅谷顶级风投机构,比如Khosla Ventures、红杉资本和Kleiner Perkins,都向Square注入了资金。(就连维珍集团创始人理查德·布兰森也是该公司的投资者。)坐拥大量现金的Square吸引了基思·拉波伊斯、梅根·奎因、萨拉·弗里亚尔、戈库尔·拉贾拉姆等硅谷最有才华的运营专家、产品经理和工程师。

    各路媒体记者,包括笔者本人在内,都不遗巨细地报道该公司取得的每一项成就。人们常把Square比作下一个苹果,并将多尔西比作下一个乔布斯。Square还与《财富》500强企业达成了一些高调的合作,比如2012年,该公司与咖啡巨头星巴克结成战略伙伴关系。这笔交易也使星巴克CEO霍华德·舒尔茨成为Square的董事会成员。到2013年11月,《华尔街日报》报道称,Square正在与高盛等顶级投行探索IPO的可行性。

    衰落

    但没过多久,这家创业公司就星光黯淡了。

    首先遭受打击的,是多尔西本人的声誉。在2013年年末发布《孵化Twitter》一书,作家尼尔·比尔顿记录了Twitter的创业故事。该书声称,多尔西无力让该公司的文化和技术趋于稳定。2014年,有媒体报道称,Square已经于年初推迟IPO,正在谋求将公司出售,并称Square已与苹果、谷歌和eBay展开洽谈。一篇《华尔街日报》的报道断言,Square正在赔钱——2013年的亏损额约为1亿美元,大于该公司2012年发布的亏损数额。这篇报道还指出,Square的利润正在缩水。虽然Square激烈否认了收购传言(有些传说中的买家也否认了传言),并对这篇报道予以驳斥,但其核心产品的前景显然不是很乐观,尤其是那些直接面对消费者的产品。

    2014年,由于移动钱包产品Wallet没能获得目标用户的青睐,Square只得将其关闭。鉴于Square与星巴克的合作正是让用户通过这款应用进行支付,Wallet的关停也意味着这项合作无疾而终(尽管Square仍然为星巴克提供支付服务)。今年年初,Square又关掉了一款能让人们直接从餐馆订餐的移动应用Order。同时,Square不再让多尔西接受媒体采访,并减少了他在各大科技峰会上的露面。业内一时传言四起:Square是不是出了什么问题?

    “What’s really going on at Square?”

    “The company seems lost.”

    “Can Square live up to the hype?”

    These were all comments made to me over the last year by venture capitalists and people in the technology industry about Square, the Silicon Valley payments company founded by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey.

    The industry got part of the answer to this confusion on Friday when reports surfaced that Square had confidentially filed to make a public offering. As Bloomberg reported, Square filed to go public under the JOBS Act, which allows companies with less than $1 billion in revenue to privately file for an IPO. Sources familiar with the company’s plans say that Square expects its IPO to take place this fall but has the option to delay it.

    One investment banker told Fortune: “I was shocked when I learned they filed. I thought they were struggling.”

    Contrary to past reports, signs suggest that Square’s revenue will grow. According to one source close to the company, Square’s revenue is growing three to four times faster than payments giant PayPal PYPL 0.65% , which just went public after spinning off from eBay. In the second quarter of 2015, PayPal saw revenue jump 16% to $2.3 billion. If sources close to the company are correct, Square’s revenue is growing at least 50% year over year. (A spokesperson for Square declined to comment.) Jim McCarthy, executive vice president of strategic partnerships and innovation at Visa, recently told Fortune that Square is a top 10 merchant on Visa’s credit card processing system. It’s also worth noting that Visa made a strategic investment in Square in 2011.

    The rise

    In a recent, separate interview regarding eBay’s future without PayPal, investor Marc Andreessen told Fortune that startups are “over-glorified” in the Valley.

    “We venerate the new, cute young upstart,” he said.

    Square may have been a victim of that mindset. The company’s hype cycle began in 2009 when Dorsey, who had left Twitter after being pushed out of the CEO role, introduced a sleek, white credit-card reader that plugged into a mobile device to allow anyone with an iPhone or Android smartphone to accept credit card payments. Top venture capital firms on Silicon Valley’s Sand Hill Road poured money into the company, including Khosla Ventures, Sequoia Capital, and Kleiner Perkins. (Even Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson invested.) Flush with cash, Square was able to attract some of the Valley’s most talented operators, product managers, and engineers, including Keith Rabois, Megan Quinn, Sarah Friar, and Gokul Rajaram.

    Members of the press, including this reporter, chronicled every step the company made. Square was often likened to the next Apple (and Dorsey, the next Steve Jobs). Square scored several high-profile partnerships with Fortune 500 companies, including a 2012 deal with coffee giant Starbucks SBUX -0.22% , which put that company’s CEO, Howard Schultz, on Square’s board of directors. By November 2013, the Wall Street Journal reported that Square was exploring an IPO with top-tier investment banks such as Goldman Sachs.

    The fall

    It didn’t take long for the early sheen of startup success to wear off.

    The first blow came to Dorsey’s reputation with the late 2013 release of writer Nick Bilton’s book Hatching Twitter, which chronicled the story of Twitter and characterized Dorsey as unable to stabilize the company’s culture and technology. The next round came with news reports in 2014 that Twitter had postponed its IPO earlier in the year, was looking for a seller, and had engaged in discussions with Apple, Google, and eBay. A Journal report asserted that Square was bleeding money—roughly $100 million in 2013, a figure that was larger than the loss the company posted in 2012. Additionally, the report said that Square’s margins were shrinking. Though Square vehemently denied the acquisition talks (as did some of the acquirers) and rejected the report, all was not rosy with the company’s core products, especially those that were consumer-facing.

    In 2014, Square shut down Wallet, its mobile wallet product for consumers, after it failed to gain traction with its intended audience. With Wallet’s demise went Square’s Starbucks partnership that allowed people to pay for their coffee using the app (though the company continues to process payments for Starbucks). Earlier this year Square shut down Order, an app that allowed people to get order food from restaurants. Meanwhile Square resisted making Dorsey available for interviews with the press and reduced his on-stage appearances on the tech conference circuit. Speculation abound: Was something amiss at Square?

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