The Timing is Off for the Next Tech IPO Bonanza

After a glimmer of false hope it looks like tech IPOs are heading for yet more disappointment, and Instacart and Arm aren’t helping.

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Things were finally looking good for tech startups this summer. The US economy was proving resilient, the Nasdaq had dusted itself off from a yearlong plunge to jump about 30% for the year, and the forecast was for a strong IPO market this fall, with the expected debuts of Instacart and Arm.

Yeah, about that. The Financial Times reported over the weekend that the turbulent mix of a slumping stock market, interest rates that will remain high until further notice, and less-than-stellar performances by both Instacart and Arm have many venture capitalists telling their portfolio companies that this autumn is not the time for a blockbuster IPO. “In our portfolio we would advise: unless you really need to, hold back,” Mike Volpi, a general partner at VC firm Index Ventures, told the FT.

Gimme Some Money

But why would a company really need to seek an IPO now? The FT goes on to posit three reasons, none of which are particularly great for turning on investors: 1) they need the funds to survive or grow; 2) they need money to pay tax bills connected to employee stock units; and 3) VC investors themselves need the liquidity that comes from an IPO cashout.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, the anecdotes are piling up that newly public companies — and their investors — are having a tough time out there:

      • Instacart debuted less than two weeks ago at a listing price of $30. With the Nasdaq down nearly 6% in the past month, its stock has already slipped below its debut price. Arm shares, meanwhile, remain above their $51 listing price, but are well off the first-day bump that took the stock above $66.
      • It can’t help that some former tech IPO darlings also are in the news, and not in a good way: Tooth aligner SmileDirectClub filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Friday after three-plus years as a public company that saw it rack up losses along with $850 million in long-term debt. And Blue Apron is selling itself to another food-delivery startup after about six years as a public company at a per-share price significantly below its halcyon days in the market.

      X-acktly: Would it surprise you to know that a ray of sunshine in the tech-investing landscape involves Elon Musk and a wealthy fan of his work? Mega-investor Bill Ackman told The Wall Street Journal over the weekend that he would “absolutely” consider a transaction with X (what we call Twitter now) for his new investment vehicle that functions as a more transparent version of a SPAC. There’s no indication that Musk is actually looking for any investment, but it’s a good sign when a rich investor says he has “great respect” for what you’re doing, despite some objective evidence that the business itself isn’t really going all that well.