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直接上市在硅谷风行,为什么风投抛弃IPO而移情直接上市?

Michal Lev-Ram 2019年10月13日

IPO尽管是亚马逊、Facebook、微软等几乎所有大型科技公司上市融资的方式,但其实它已经过时而且低效。

风险资本家比尔·格利拿着粗粗的黑笔,在他打印出来的消息里圈出了“愚蠢”一词。最新报道评论内容是创业公司上市的传统过程,即首次公开募股(IPO)。报道认为,IPO尽管是亚马逊、Facebook、微软等几乎所有大型科技公司上市融资的方式,但它已经过时且低效,投资银行业没有做到与时俱进实在愚蠢。

不过格利并不是这篇文章强烈批评的对象。文中认为“愚蠢”的是音乐流媒体服务Spotify的首席财务官巴里·麦卡锡。

作为 Benchmark公司的科技行业知名投资人,格利确实可能会说出这个词,还有可能亲自撰文批判。他向来大力支持所谓的直接上市,也是IPO 的另一选择,近来直接上市在硅谷日渐流行。

传统的IPO当中,银行家们要花数周时间(并赚取高额费用)等大型机构投资者纷纷买入股票。新上市的公司热热闹闹地宣传一番,还有大笔现金注入以促进增长。

但如今许多拥有私人资本的初创企业并不需要现金,主要想寻找有效的方式让早期投资者出售部分股份。

直接上市时,公司不会发行新股,也不用募集额外资金。而是股东直接向公众出售现有股票,过程中投行仅充当顾问,而不是承销商。

Venture capitalist Bill Gurley uses a fat black pen to circle the word “moronic” in a news story he has printed out. The recent article is a critique of the traditional process that startups use to go public: an initial public offering. It argues that IPOs—the path to Wall Street riches for nearly all big tech companies, including Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft—are outdated and inefficient and that the investment banking industry’s inability to evolve is, yes, moronic.

In this particular case, Gurley wasn’t the one who used that strong adjective. The article attributes the word “moronic” to Barry McCarthy, chief financial officer of music-streaming service Spotify.

But Gurley, a well-known tech investor at Benchmark, might as well have uttered it—and written the whole manifesto himself. He’s one of the loudest proponents of so-called direct listings, an alternative to the IPO that’s gaining momentum in Silicon Valley.

In traditional IPOs, bankers spend weeks (and earn hefty fees) lining up big institutional investors to buy shares. The newly public company gets the publicity of a splashy launch, and a large infusion of cash to boost growth.

But many of today’s startups, rich already with private capital, don’t need cash—they’re primarily looking for an efficient way for early investors to sell some of their stakes.

In a direct listing, a company doesn’t issue any new stock and therefore doesn’t raise additional money. Instead, shareholders sell existing stock directly to the public, leaving investment banks to serve merely as advisers in the process and not underwriters.

风险资本家的好处非常明显,直接上市的公司不必向投行支付数千万美元的手续费。只用支付咨询费,金额往往少得多。

此外,由于不用发行额外的股票,对现有投资者的稀释作用较小。在传统IPO中,“馅饼”变大,意味着风投之类的早期股东在公司里所占的股份比例会缩小。

此外,在直接上市后几个月,内部人便可以自由出售股票,因为跟IPO不同,直接上市没有“锁定期”。

格利等风险投资家还提出了另一益处:打破现状。“我们遵循固有流程已经太长时间了。”格利说,他是Uber和房地产网站Zillow的早期投资者,还投过其他一些颠覆传统产业的初创公司。

到目前为止,在美国只有两起知名的直接上市案例,2018年4月总部位于瑞典的Spotify在纽约证券交易所直接上市,企业通讯服务软件Slack紧随其后,今年6月上市。格利曾经在华尔街担任股票分析师,跟他类似的风投从业者希望有更多的公司跟上。

“他就是这些风潮的幕后推手。”风险投资公司Kleiner Perkins的合伙人马莫恩·哈米德说。“比尔之前是银行家,在风险投资和公开市场方面却是学生。我认为颠覆银行业就像他的使命。”

如果说身高6英尺9寸的格利是幕后推手,那么他背后财大气粗的智囊团不仅有哈米德,还包括红杉、安德森·霍洛维茨和Greylock等顶级风投的投资人。就在今年6月Slack直接上市几周后,几位顶级风投资本家聚集在加州门洛帕克的Kleiner Perkins豪华的沙丘路办事处,讨论直接上市事宜。“在我看来,这是史无前例的。”格利谈起竞争激烈的风投行业在直接上市问题上联合起来时表示。

下一步计划,则是今年秋天晚些时候与一些最有前景的初创企业创始人召开峰会。

格利说,支付平台Stripe的创始人爱尔兰企业家兄弟约翰和帕特里克·科里森已经对直接上市表示兴趣,项目管理软件提供商Asana的首席执行官达斯汀·莫斯科维茨也一样。(两家公司均拒绝置评。)据传爱彼迎(Airbnb)也在考虑。

Slack其实资本雄厚,资产负债表上的资产超过8亿美元,上市放弃融资没有问题。但对直接上市兴趣不大的投资银行表示,许多公司仍然会选择IPO。

《财富》杂志与四位投资银行家就直接上市的问题聊了聊,考虑过该问题的敏感性,他们只愿身处幕后提供信息。一致意见怎样?虽然他们表示投资银行也喜欢直接上市,但并不适合每家公司。

一位银行家把上市比作生孩子的不同方式。“可以自然分娩,也可以剖腹产,不过如今我已经想不起孩子是怎么生出来的,只关心现在状况怎样。”他说。

归根结底,虽然投资银行家通过直接上市也能赚钱(也有一些好处,比如没有锁定期),但热情没有风投足。原因很简单:参与其中的银行数量减少,即便能够幸运参与的几家银行赚的钱也更少。

长远来看,或许直接上市能切实推动更多公司上市或加快上市步伐,对相关风投、创始人、投资银行家和其他股东都有好处。正如纽约证券交易所的副主席兼首席商务官约翰·塔特尔所说:“在私人资本遍地,人们也不太谈论公司上市有什么好处的当下,这是公司进入市场的另一种途径。”(财富中文网)

本文另一版本登载于《财富》杂志2019年10月刊,标题为《风投钟情于直接上市》。

译者:冯丰

审校:夏林

The benefits to venture capitalists are obvious: Companies undertaking direct listings don’t have to pay banks tens of millions of dollars in under¬writing fees. They have to pay advisory fees only, which tend to be significantly less.

Furthermore, because no additional stock is made available, there’s less dilution for existing investors. In a traditional IPO, the “pie” becomes bigger, which means that early stockholders like VCs end up owning a smaller percentage of the overall company.

What’s more, insiders are free to sell their shares in the months after a direct listing because, ¬unlike with IPOs, there is no “lockup period.”

Venture capitalists like Gurley bring up yet another benefit: disrupting the status quo. “We’ve been stuck with the old process for a long, long time,” says Gurley, an early investor in Uber and real estate site Zillow, among other startups that have upended traditional industries.

So far, there have been only two notable direct listings in the U.S. Sweden-based Spotify went public via a direct listing on the New York Stock Exchange in April 2018, and workplace messaging service Slack followed suit this June. VCs like Gurley, a former Wall Street stock analyst, hope many more companies will follow suit.

“He is the godfather of all this,” says Mamoon Hamid, a partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins. “Bill, being a former banker, is a student of this stuff—of venture capital and of public markets. I think this is kind of his calling, bringing disruption to banking.”

If 6-foot-9 Gurley is the godfather, his deep-pocketed consiglieri include not just Hamid but also investors from top venture capital firms like Sequoia, Andreessen Horowitz, and Greylock. Just a few weeks after Slack’s direct listing in June, a handful of top venture capitalists gathered at Kleiner Perkins’s swank Sand Hill Road offices in Menlo Park, Calif., to discuss direct listings. “It’s unprecedented from my standpoint,” Gurley says about how the highly competitive venture capital industry has banded together over direct listings.

The next step planned in the campaign is a summit later this fall with the founders of some of the most promising startups.

Already, Gurley says, the founders of payments platform Stripe, Irish entrepreneurs and brothers John and Patrick Collison, are interested in a direct listing, as is Dustin Moskovitz, CEO of project-management software provider Asana. (Both companies declined to comment.) Airbnb is also rumored to be looking at this option.

Well-capitalized companies like Slack, which had more than $800 million on its balance sheet, can afford to forgo raising money when going public. But investment banks, which tend to be a bit less messianic about direct listings, say that many companies will still prefer IPOs.

Fortune talked with four investment bankers about direct listings, but in a sign of the sensitivity about the topic, they would speak only on background. The consensus? While they say investment banks like direct listings, they don’t think they’re a good option for every company.

One banker likened the path to going public to the different ways you can give birth to a baby. “You can have natural birth, and you can have a cesarean, but today I don’t really think about how my kids were born—I think about how they’re doing now,” he says.

The bottom line is that while investment bankers can still make money via direct listings (there are some benefits to them, too, like the lack of a lockup period), they’re not as enthusiastic as VCs. It’s simple to understand why: Fewer banks will be involved, and those lucky few that are will make less money.

But longer term, perhaps direct listings will actually be a catalyst for more companies to go public, or to go public faster, which could have benefits for all involved—VCs, founders, investment bankers, and other shareholders. As John Tuttle, vice chairman and chief commercial officer of NYSE, puts it: “In a world awash with private capital and people not necessarily talking about the benefits of being a public company, this is one more avenue companies have to come to market.”

A version of this article appears in the October 2019 issue of Fortune with the headline “VCs Can’t Get Enough of Direct Listings.”

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