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随着科技公司IPO交易增多,沟通愈发重要

最近科技公司的IPO证明了沟通的重要性。

Slack首席执行官斯图尔特·巴特菲尔德在《财富》2019年头脑风暴技术大会上发表讲话。图片来源:Stuart Isett—Fortune Magazine

今年7月初在阿斯彭举行的《财富》头脑风暴技术大会上,出现了诸多隐晦的主题,其中之一便是科技行业IPO市场已经发展至新阶段。

这是因为,IPO不再是募集传统资本的实际手段。15年前,私募股权和主权财富基金等资金来源难以获取,现在这些资金能够让企业上市之前更长时间地保持私有状态,并不断发展。但这也意味着,由于公司上市的时间变晚,IPO的增长曲线不像以前那么陡峭。投资者已经不能再用同样的方式,期望短时间内IPO并赚取丰厚的利润。IPO

那么,为什么还有公司要上市呢?对有些人来说,这代表着一种正式的认可。加拿大皇家银行的董事总经理马克·马哈尼在最近接受《财富》《Term Sheet》栏目编辑波琳娜·玛丽诺娃的电话采访时指出,公司上市标志着创业者终于在“大联盟”里取得了成功。又或是像Slack的联合创始人及首席执行官斯图尔特·巴特菲尔德在《财富》头脑风暴技术大会上所说:“上市能给我们提高信誉。”

但如今的IPO已经不同往日。

首先,有很多公司的营收很高,以极高的估值上市,金额经常创下了纪录,却面临着巨大的亏损。科技博客网站TechCrunch对15家科技公司2018年的财务数据进行了对比。“如果把这些公司合起来,”乔安娜·格拉斯纳写道,“就会变成一家规模巨大但还在亏钱的超级独角兽,年度营收超过250亿美元,亏损达60亿美元以上。”正因如此,有关IPO赢家(Zoom、PagerDuty)、输家(Uber、Lyft)和推迟上市者(Airbnb,Palantir)的猜测仍在继续。

看重增长的投资者可能不会担心长期前景:举例来说,Uber刚上市时开局不佳,但实际上估值强劲,因为其拥有Uber Eats等前景看好的新营收模式。话虽如此,该公司在IPO以后的增长曲线下沉,因此指望IPO筹集到现金立刻实现大幅增长已经不再现实,需要重新设定预期。

IPO市场发生变化的第二个原因跟声誉有关。旧金山正在展开一场颇受争议的拉票行动,将投票决定是否对股票薪酬征收所谓的“IPO税”,并将所得资金用于社会公益项目,这是曾经一度备受欢迎IPO变成了收入差距象征的明显例子。旧金山现在是世界上亿万富翁最多的城市,同时贫困率也位居美国前列,形成了鲜明对比。人们呼吁,企业领导人应该把解决重大社会问题纳入核心商业战略。IPO是一种触发性事件,首席执行官会以从未想过的方式站到聚光灯下,但很多人都对新情况毫无准备。

在这种背景下,沟通在帮助公司应付相关问题方面变得更加关键。我们发现变化主要发生在三个方面。

第一个变化与叙事有关。向人们灌输某家公司未来发展潜力强大的信念时,差异化比以往更加关键,尤其是身处瞬息万变的市场中。你的公司跟其他公司有何差别;这种差别如何才能够转化为推动市场扩张的能力;你如何领跑?换句话说,你有什么本事比其他公司更好地解决问题?

很多临近IPO的公司之前的成功完全靠快速增长,并未真正理解市场的变化。医疗器械公司Shockwave Medical则是个正面的特例,当前股价达到了IPO发行价的259%。加通贝祥的董事总经理贾森·米尔斯向《旧金山纪事报》(San Francisco Chronicle)表示:“该公司之所以表现很好,是因为市场上真的没有同类技术,而且从某种程度上来说,其(用于人体的)技术是普遍适用的。”

第二个变化则关于发展路线。Uber和Lyft的IPO交易、以及WeWork在IPO之前的教训是,公司必须更清楚、更广泛、更详细地向投资者介绍盈利模式——以及逐渐实现盈利的计划细节。尤其对于增长规模很大、烧钱同样迅速的公司来说,如果想管好投资者预期,就需要让投资者相信公司能够保持可持续地增长和创新。

善于沟通的人都深谙此道。举例来说,Zoom在向投资者公司详细介绍了IPO之前、IPO期间和IPO之后如何打造可扩张的商业模式方面就做得非常出色,其当前股价与每股36美元的IPO发行价相比已经上涨了一倍以上。出席头脑风暴技术大会的淡马锡董事总经理穆库尔·查拉还建议,公司应该提出具有吸引力的盈利理论依据,内容包括如何盈利目标,以及如何克服障碍等。他指出,目标可能无法迅速实现,可能需要5到7年——但公司还是应该制定好。

最后一个变化则关于公司与使命之间的关系。植物性人造肉公司Beyond Meat就是个很好的例子,其股价之所以会上涨,不仅是因为该公司作为先行者而拥有差异化优势,也是因为对可持续食物替代品的需求由道德驱动,同时又能够赚钱。可能会有投资者质疑该股过热,但都认同公司的使命是创造更具可持续性的食品体系,而这正是社会所需要的。共同的目标也是Beyond Meat的员工、客户和合作伙伴背后的驱动力,能够激发和激励人们参与其中,锻造应对未来挑战的韧性。格言“行善得福”已经演变成“行善是必要筹码,如此才能成功”。这算不上公关手腕,而是聪明的商业手段。

公司的使命与领导层也有关。在IPO之前,创业者往往无法理解的一件事情是,随着公司规模的扩大,看似只是核心业务附属的伦理和社会问题越来越重要。原因很简单:公司规模越大,责任也就越大。企业领导者要努力解决重要的社会问题,纳入核心业务战略考虑。这就意味着,公司要以有意义且真实的方式积极参与解决颇具挑战性的社会问题。

对公司来说,IPO是发展历程中一个意义深远的时刻;公司完成IPO以后,无论是在财务上还是在声誉上,利害关系都比过去大得多。公司首席执行官、首席运营官和首席法律顾问都必须掌握聪明的沟通技巧,充分理解整体历程,把故事讲圆满。(财富中文网)

步春歌(Kathy Bloomgarden)是罗德公关的首席执行官,罗宾·金姆(Robin Kim)是罗德公关的全球技术和创新实践总监。除非另有说明,否则他们与本文提到的任何公司都没有投资关系或其他关联。

译者:艾伦

审校:夏林

When it comes to the tech IPO market, we’re in new territory. This was one of the many implicit themes coming out of Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference in Aspen in earlier July.

This is because IPOs are no longer the de facto means of raising traditional capital. Funding sources that weren’t available 15 years ago, such as private equity and sovereign wealth funds, are enabling companies to stay private longer and fueling their growth before they come to market. Yet it also means that by coming to market later, the growth curve at IPO is not as steep. Investors can no longer take the same approach, expecting to be in an IPO for a lucrative, short time.

So why do companies decide to go public? For some, it’s a stamp of approval. RBC managing director Mark Mahaney noted on a recent call with Fortune Term Sheet editor Polina Marinova that public markets can be a sign that you’ve finally succeeded in the big leagues. Or as Slack co-founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield said at Brainstorm Tech, “It gives us some credibility.”

Yet IPOs are different now.

First, there are a record number of companies with high revenues that are going public at lofty valuations, while sustaining massive losses. TechCrunch recently compared 15 tech unicorns by their 2018 financial statistics. “Put these companies altogether in a pot,” writes Joanna Glasner, “and they’d make one enormous, money-losing super-unicorn, with more than $25 billion in annual revenue coupled to more than $6 billion in losses.” That’s also why speculation continues regarding IPO winners (Zoom, Pagerduty), losers (Uber, Lyft), and delayers (Airbnb, Palantir).

Investors who prize growth may not be concerned long-term: Uber’s rocky start, for example, belies a strong valuation, given its promising new revenue models such as Uber Eats. Having said that, the lower growth curve following an IPO means that it’s no longer realistic to expect a dramatic growth spurt immediately off of IPO cash: Expectations need to be reset.

There’s a second reason why the IPO market has changed, and that has to do with reputation. A controversial ballot effort in San Francisco, which would levy a so-called IPO tax on stock-based compensation and apply the funds toward social programs, is a good example of how the once-celebrated IPO has become an emblem for income disparity. The Bay Area is now home to more billionaires than any other city in the world, a stark contrast to California’s ranking as the state with the highest poverty rate in America. Corporate leaders are being asked to address major social problems as part of their core business strategies. IPOs are trigger events that put CEOs in the spotlight in ways many have never anticipated before. Many are simply unprepared for the new landscape that awaits them.

In this context, the role of communications has become even more critical in helping companies navigate this journey. We see this change happening in three areas.

The first is in the narrative. Differentiation is now more critical than ever in instilling the belief of a company’s strong future potential, particularly in fast-changing markets. How are you differentiated; how does this translate into your ability to drive market expansion; how are you moving ahead of the curve? In other words, what is your inherent ability to solve problems better than anyone else?

Many pre-IPO companies, whose success have been based purely on growth, do not understand this. A positive exception to the latter is ShockWave Medical, whose current stock is worth 259% of its IPO start price. Canaccord Genuity managing director Jason Mills told the San Francisco Chronicle, “The reason it’s done so well is that there is really no other technology like it and its applicability is somewhat ubiquitous” through the body.

The second change is in the roadmap. One lesson from the Uber and Lyft IPOs, and ahead of WeWork’s IPO, is the imperative for companies to communicate much more clearly, accessibly, and in greater detail their profit model—along with specifics on their plans to achieve profitability over time. This is particularly the case for companies with massive growth and equally massive burn rates, if they are to manage investor expectations and increase confidence that they can sustainably invest in growth and innovation long-term.

Savvy communicators get it. Zoom, for example, did this brilliantly in communicating how it built a scalable business model before, during, and after its IPO. Its stock is currently up more than double its initial price of $36. Temasek managing director Mukul Chawla at Brainstorm Tech also called out the need for companies to present a compelling intellectual case for profitability, including the path to get there and how they are overcoming obstacles to achieving it. That path may not be immediate, he noted, and it can take five to seven years to achieve—but it still needs to be there.

The final change is in a company’s link to purpose. Beyond Meat is a great example. Its stock sizzles not just because of its first mover differentiation, but because the demand for sustainable food alternatives is as ethically driven as it is good financial sense. Investors may question whether the stock is overheated, but they all agree that its mission to create a more sustainable food system is what society needs. This shared purpose is also what drives employees, customers, and partners to seek Beyond Meat: It excites, inspires, engages, and creates a foundation for resilience in weathering future challenges. The adage of doing well by doing good has evolved to doing good as essential table stakes to doing well. That’s not good PR. That’s smart business.

Purpose is also linked to leadership. Entrepreneurial founders pre-IPO often fail to grasp that ethical and social issues that seem ancillary to their core business are increasingly inherent to their business as they scale. The reason is simple: With greater size comes greater responsibility. Corporate leaders need to be committed to addressing major social problems as part of their core business strategies. That means being actively engaged in solving societal challenges in meaningful, authentic ways.

The IPO is a profound moment in a company’s journey, and the stakes are much higher than they used to be—financially and reputationally. It will require CEOs, CMOs, and general counsels to demand that smart communicators fully understand this journey and get the story right.

Kathy Bloomgarden is the CEO of Ruder Finn. Robin Kim is the practice head in global technology and innovatio at Ruder Finn. They have no investments in or associations with any of the companies mentioned in this article, unless otherwise indicated.

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