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上市?你准备好了吗?

Glenn Solomon 2013年03月04日

传统观念认为,成长型企业一旦年收入达到1亿美元,而且至少两个季度保持盈利,那么就算是做好了上市的准备。然而,事实并非如此。

    上世纪90年代初,当时我还是高盛公司(Goldman Sachs)的一个初级职员。当时的传统观念认为,成长型企业一旦年收入达到1亿美元,而且至少两个季度保持盈利,那么就算是做好了上市的准备。我当初对这种看法也深信不疑。

    “1亿美元营收”理论基于这样一种观念:一个企业的规模必须满足两个条件:一、能够承受住竞争压力;二、实现足够多的市值,才能通过IPO向机构买家销售出足够的股票,同时不致于在IPO的过程中使其市值遭到大量稀释。

    这个理论其实没有道理,不过现实中仍然有很多银行家和风投家将其奉为圭臬。处于成长期的企业家如果要想把自己打造成长期赢家,就必须要明白,上市并不是企业走长期发展之路的最后一步。但不可否认的是,上市是企业长期发展过程中的重要一环。过早进行IPO,可能会对企业的长久健康产生灾难性的影响。反之,过晚进行IPO,可能会导致竞争对手抢占先手。

    以我的经验来看,考虑是否要进行IPO时,有三点要素必须考虑。如果你的企业在这三点上做得不强,那么IPO就会给你带来重大风险。

    1.可预测性。如果你的企业年收益只有5,000万美元,但你能很精确地知道下个季度、甚至明年的经营情况大概如何,那么你就已经通过这个测试了。换句话说,即便你的企业年营收达到2亿美元,但你无法可靠预测不久的将来是什么情况,那就要小心了。如果你实现了上季度预期的97%的水平,你的风投们会很高兴。但是如果你的实际营收与预期或分析师的预测相差3%以上,你的股票很可能会跌。而这种情况往往会打击员工的士气,长了竞争对手的威风,因此风险是很高的。进行IPO之前,最好还是花点时间,加强企业的可预测性。

    2. 基本增长潜力。有的CEO可能认为,年营收1亿美元已经可以让公司迈入IPO的门槛了,但我想问问他们,有什么计划让公司实现3亿美元以上的营收。IPO并不意味着大功告成。IPO就好比你从大学联赛进入职业联赛,必须更加严格要求自己。如果你的公司的确增长得很快,而且前面的确有一个巨大的市场在等着你,那么3亿美元以上的营收就只是小菜一碟,公众投资者也会回报你。但是如果你的公司只是勉强实现了1亿美元的营收,在没有更多市场潜力的情况下就仓促进行IPO,那么你不要指望市场会像搞慈善募捐一样给你捐钱。最好的团队都有好几条未来发展的锦囊妙计。你可能不知道所有未来可供开拓的潜在发展方向,但你在IPO之前应该有一个发展计划。最好的团队永远都在投资进行几项试验,看其中的哪个项目可能促进增长。你考虑进行IPO之前,这些试验的早期结果至少应该能够给你足够的勇气来进行IPO。

    As a junior banker at Goldman Sachs (GS) in the early 1990's, I was weaned on the conventional wisdom that growth companies were ready to go public when they reached $100 million in annualized revenue and had at least two quarters of profitability under their belts.

    The "$100 million revenue" theory was based on the idea that a company must be large enough to both: (a) withstand competitive pressures and (b) earn a large enough market value to enable the company to sell enough stock to institutional buyers in its IPO, without suffering massive dilution in the process.

    This theory makes no sense, despite the fact that many bankers and VCs still cling to it like religion. Growth-stage entrepreneurs who want to build long-term winners need to take heed. Going public is by no means the final step to going long. But, it's a big step in the process. Completing an IPO too early can have disastrous effects on the future health of your business. Conversely, waiting too long to do your IPO might allow a competitor to steal your thunder.

    In my experience, there are three key attributes you must have to consider an IPO. You're taking major risks if you're not strong on these three:

    1. Predictability & Visibility. If your business is $50 million in revenue but you know with high precision what next quarter, or even next year, is going to look like, you pass the test. On the other hand, even if your business is $200 million in revenue, and you can't reliably predict what's around the corner, watch out. Your VCs may have been happy when you hit 97% of plan last quarter. If you miss guidance or analyst expectations by 3% once you're public, your stock will likely plummet, often causing employee morale to suffer and competitors to be emboldened. The stakes are high -- take the time you need to ensure that you have built predictability into your company before your IPO.

    2. Underlying Growth Potential. When CEOs fall into the trap of thinking the $100 million revenue plateau is sufficient to "get out" in an IPO, I like to ask them about their plan to get to$300 million or more in revenue. The IPO is not an end game. A better analogy is that going public is more like moving from college sports to the pros. You need to ratchet up your game and be ready. If you're growing fast and have a large market in front of you, $300 million or more will seem like a breeze, and public investors will reward you. If, on the other hand, you eke out growth to $100 million without much more potential and go IPO, don't expect to have a fun run as a public company. The best teams have several tricks up their sleeve for future growth. You may not know all the growth vectors you plan to open up in the future, but you should have a game plan before your IPO. The best teams are always investing in several experiments that could augment growth. You should be encouraged enough by the early results of such experiments before considering an IPO.

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