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IPO一席谈:半途而废乃上市大忌

Bill Gurley 2011年09月20日

IPO可在一家公司的成长中发挥关键作用,但半途而废恐怕没好处。

    我一贯坚信首次公开募股(IPO)能够在一家公司的成长中扮演关键角色。此外,我曾指出,我们的硅谷生态系统中有许多公司过于担心公开上市的风险和负面后果,以至于产生了一种不健康的焦虑感。最后,我多次强调,对伟大的公司来说,上市窗口总是敞开的——这一点我至今仍深信不疑。我的苦口婆心显然没什么用——最近出现了一种令我颇为惊讶的趋势:许多公司提交申请后又选择延期上市。如果已经决定提交S-1上市登记表,那就必须做好坚持到底的准备,否则贵公司将长期处于财务上的两难境地,仿佛在冥河斯堤克斯(River Styx)上进退不得,由此可能造成严重后果。

    为什么推迟上市不是什么好坏事?一家公司提交上市申请后,若迟迟不确定发行价,那它将日益遭到质疑——该公司是不是没法继续推进上市程序了?这是“为什么”?难道他们已经无法实现预期业绩了?他们打退堂鼓了吗?他们还没准备好?难道投资者看不上这家公司?投行是否已失去了对该公司的信任?

    员工们也可能因同样的理由而心生疑窦,而(作为公司高管),你正处于静默期,很难通过媒体来回应这些忧虑。如果你更进一步,“撤回”上市申请,那人们可能认为投资贵公司是“失败的”,甚至认为这就是家“失败的”公司,潜在的收购者肯定会这么看待的。在硅谷,这类问题可能尤为严重,因为这儿争夺人才的竞争非常激烈。最后,如果提交上市申请而又不定价,那就相当于放弃了所有作为非上市企业的好处,而又没能获得任何上市的收益:因为公司得公布大量财务数据,但什么好处都没能换来。

    很多事情都可能导致提交上市申请后又延期,最常见的原因是美国证券交易委员会(SEC)意外提出质疑,迫使企业反复修改后重交申请;如果SEC要求审计人员重新审视他们原先的假定,尤其容易发生这种情况。此外,如股市整体走势疲软,市场信心大受影响,投资者和银行家们都可能因此“临阵腿软”。估值和股权摊薄问题也经常令人担忧,如果市场形势表明贵公司的发行价无法令人满意,比所聘投行在提交上市申请之日估计的数字低了30%,那你可能不愿过分摊薄股权。最后,可能真的没有那么多人感兴趣,想发行的股票卖不出去——那可真是极为尴尬的处境。

    I am a big believer that the IPO can play a key role in the development of a company's life. Moreover, I have argued that many in our ecosystem have an unhealthy anxiety regarding the dangers and consequences of being public. Lastly, I have argued that the IPO window is wide open for great companies – something I still believe today. All of that said, I have been quite surprised by the recent trend in companies that file and then chose to delay. If you are going to file the S-1, it is imperative that you are prepared to follow through. Standing too long in the middle of the financial equivalent of the River Styx can have severe consequences.

    Why is this a bad thing? The longer a company remains on file without pricing, the more questions arise about "why" the company may be struggling to move forward. Did they miss their numbers already? Are they having cold-feet? Are they not ready? Do investors not like the company? Have the bankers lost their belief in the company?

    Employees may begin to wonder the same thing. As you are in a quiet period, it may be difficult for you to respond to concerns through the press. If you then take the added step and "pull" your IPO, you now risk being considered a "broken" deal and potentially a "broken" company. Potential acquirers will certainly see it that way. These problems can be especially acute in Silicon Valley, where competition for talent is intense. Lastly, to file and not price is to give up all the benefits of being private with none of the gains of being public. You have been exposed, but you have nothing to show for it.

    There are many things that can cause delays in filed IPOs. The most common factor is unexpected questions from the SEC that cause iteration and re-filing. This is especially true of the SEC questions that require the auditors to revisit their original assumptions. Shaky investor sentiment as a result of a weak broader stock market can cause both investors and bankers to have "cold feet." There may also be concerns with valuation and dilution. If your company looks like it is going to price at a 30% discount to what your bankers conveyed on filing date, you may not want to suffer unexpected dilution. Lastly, there may simply not be enough demand for your IPO – which is an amazingly tough position for your company.

    上表所示为最近上市的一些公司,从提交申请到确定发行价之间的期限,以及社交网络游戏Zynga公司、团购网站Groupon和旅游搜索引擎Kayak公司提交上市申请后迄今已经流逝的时间。表中四家已上市公司“申请-定价期间”平均略超100天。标杆资本(Benchmark Capital)有幸投资了其中两家(房地产搜索服务Zillow公司和云服务供应商ServiceSource),它们在“申请-定价期间”这项指标上的表现最好,分别是93和94天。Groupon提交上市申请后经过的日子已经超过了这一水平,不过最近有新闻称,他们可能已“回到”正常轨道”,预计将在十月底确定发行价(那样的话相当于提交申请后150天)。根据雅虎财经(Yahoo Finance),Zynga上市被列为“已推迟”,目前已是提交申请后75天。而在旅游搜索领域领先的Kayak公司已经提交上市申请301天了——对任何公司来说这都是危险的信号。

    上述可能造成延期的原因中,许多看起来都是外部因素,似乎“无法控制”,但事实上还是可以从很多方面着手,尽可能缩短“申请-定价期间”。

    1. 做好准备之前不要轻率启动上市程序。确信自己的企业业绩良好当然是题中应有之义,除此之外还包括:安排审计人员再三查证数据,整顿好财务管控,请个可靠的首席财务官和总法务顾问,确保董事会鼎力支持。总的来说,要为即将发生的一切事件做好准备。最好和其他按时走完上市程序的公司的掌门人多交流,弄清楚他们都做了哪些准备工作。

    2. 选一家投行,它得明白你不愿意将“申请-定价期间”拖得太长。许多投行会说,这一指标无关紧要。可是,如果你的公司陷入“已提交上市申请却未定价”的窘境,吃亏的还是你自己。投行只是服务提供商,应该由你来告诉他们什么是重要的;而不是相反,你唯他们马首是瞻。优秀的投行应当对证券交易委员会的行事程序了如指掌,甚至有前委员会人士为其效力。这种人脉确有影响,选择投行的时候,应该能自己判断此类因素是否重要。此外,在提交上市申请之前就应该弄清聘请的投行是否信任你本人及你的公司。如果提交了S-1申请“之后”,你还得在投行面前为公司辩护,则显然颠倒了先后顺序。

    The table on the left shows the number of days from pricing to filing for some recent IPOs, as well as the days on file for Zynga, Groupon, and Kayak. These four companies had an average pricing-filing span of just over 100 days. Two of the IPOs in which Benchmark was lucky enough to be an investor (Zillow and ServiceSource) had particularly good showing on this "pricing-to-filing" metric with 93 and 94 days respectively. Groupon is starting to move outside this ban, but recent news suggests they may be back "on track" with a target date of late October (this would equate to 150 days on file). Zynga's IPO is listed as "delayed" on Yahoo Finance while standing at 75 days. Kayak, a leader in the travel search space, had been on file for 301 days – a precarious position for any company.

    While many of these potential causes of delay appear external and "out of your control," there are in fact many things you can do to minimize the number of days between filing and pricing.

    1. Don't start the process until you are ready. This certainly includes knowing your business is performing well, but also includes having the auditors ready, having your financials in order, having a strong CFO and general counsel, having your BOD ready to go, and generally being prepared for what is about to happen. Talk to other CEOs who have kept the process on time, and find out how they prepared.

    2. Pick a banker who understands that you are sensitive to filing-pricing timing. Some bankers will tell you this metric is not critical. You own the problem if you are stuck in a filed but un-priced company. You should tell the service provider what is important to you, not the other way around. Great investment bankers have a strong understanding of SEC process, SEC rules, and may even have an ex-SEC representative on staff. These things matter, and you should be able to tell whether or not they matter to your banker. Also, find out before you file if your banker believes in you and your business. If you are defending your business to your banker "after" filing the S-1, you had a clear sequencing problem.

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