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科技公司因私募而不再热衷IPO

更新时间:2015-7-3 9:40:34 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

As More Tech Start-Ups Stay Private, So Does the Money
科技公司因私募而不再热衷IPO

Not long ago, if you were a young, brash technologist with a world-conquering start-up idea, there was a good chance you spent much of your waking life working toward a single business milestone: taking your company public.

不久之前,如果你是一名年纪轻轻、自信心爆棚的技术狂,拥有一个征服世界的创业思路,那么你很可能会把日常生活中的大把时间,花费在朝着那唯一的商业里程碑迈进上:让你的公司上市。

Though luminaries of the tech industry have always expressed skepticism and even hostility toward the finance industry, tech’s dirty secret was that it looked to Wall Street and the ritual of a public offering for affirmation — not to mention wealth.

尽管高科技业的杰出人物一直对金融业抱有怀疑乃至敌视的态度,但科技业的肮脏秘密是,它在寻求华尔街和上市那一套东西的肯定——更不用提财富了。

But something strange has happened in the last couple of years: The initial public offering of stock has become déclassé. For start-up entrepreneurs and their employees across Silicon Valley, an initial public offering is no longer a main goal. Instead, many founders talk about going public as a necessary evil to be postponed as long as possible because it comes with more problems than benefits.

但是,在过去的几年里,奇怪的事情发生了:首次公开募股变得不那么诱人了。对于整个硅谷的创业者和员工来说,IPO已不再是主要目标。取而代之的是,很多创始人把上市当作是“必要之恶”,能推迟多久,就推迟多久,因为它带来的麻烦比好处多。

“If you can get $200 million from private sources, then yeah, I don’t want my company under the scrutiny of the unwashed masses who don’t understand my business,” said Danielle Morrill, the chief executive of Mattermark, a start-up that organizes and sells information about the start-up market. “That’s actually terrifying to me.”

“如果能从私人那里筹到2亿美元,那就太好了,我根本就不希望自己的公司被不懂行的劳苦大众紧盯着。对我来说,那其实很糟糕,”丹妮尔·莫里尔(Danielle Morrill)表示。她是组织和销售初创市场信息的创业公司Mattermark的首席执行官。

Silicon Valley’s sudden distaste for the I.P.O. — rooted in part in Wall Street’s skepticism of new tech stocks — may be the single most important psychological shift underlying the current tech boom. Staying private affords start-up executives the luxury of not worrying what outsiders think and helps them avoid the quarterly earnings treadmill.

硅谷对IPO突然产生的反感——部分植根于华尔街对新科技股的怀疑——也许是本轮技术热潮背后最重要的一种心态转变。如果公司保持私人性质,初创企业的高管就无需担心外界怎么样,避免了季度财报的负担。这对他们来说是件大好事。

It also means Wall Street is doing what it failed to do in the last tech boom: using traditional metrics like growth and profitability to price companies. Investors have been tough on Twitter, for example, because its user growth has slowed. They have been tough on Box, the cloud-storage company that went public last year, because it remains unprofitable. And the e-commerce company Zulily, which went public last year, was likewise punished when it cut its guidance for future sales.

这还意味着,华尔街在从事它在上次科技热潮中没能做到的事情:利用增长及盈利能力等传统标准来给企业估值。例如,投资者一直对Twitter苛责有加,因为其用户增长放缓。他们对去年上市的云储存公司Box也很苛刻,因为它仍然处于不盈利的状态。去年上市的电子商务公司Zulily调低有关未来销售额的预期时同样也遭到惩罚。

Scott Kupor, the managing partner at the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, and his colleagues said in a recent report that despite all the attention start-ups have received in recent years, tech stocks are not seeing unusually high valuations. In fact, their share of the overall market has remained stable for 14 years, and far off the peak of the late 1990s.

风险投资公司安德森·霍洛维茨(Andreessen Horowitz)的执行合伙人斯科特·库珀(Scott Kupor)及其同事最近发表报告称,尽管初创公司近些年来获得广泛关注,但科技股并没有获得高得出奇的估值。实际上,科技股在整体市值中占据的份额在过去14年里一直保持稳定,远低于90年代的峰值。

That unwillingness to cut much slack to young tech companies limits risk for regular investors. If the bubble pops, the unwashed masses, if that’s what we are, aren’t as likely to get washed out.

不愿给这些年轻的科技公司松懈之机的态度为普通投资者控制了风险。如果泡沫破裂,劳苦大众——如果非要这么称呼的话——不大可能受到巨大冲击。

Private investors, on the other hand, are making big bets on so-called unicorns — the Silicon Valley jargon for start-up companies valued at more than a billion dollars. If many of those unicorns flop, most Americans will escape unharmed, because losses will be confined to venture capitalists and hedge funds that have begun to buy into tech start-ups, as well as tech founders and their employees.

另一方面,私人投资者对“独角兽”——硅谷对估值超过10亿美元的初创企业的称呼——压下重注。如果很多独角兽企业失败了,大多数美国普通投资者将会毫发无伤,因为损失仅限于那些买入科技初创公司股份的风险投资人和对冲基金,以及公司自身的创始人及员工。

The reluctance — and sometimes inability — to go public is spurring the unicorns. By relying on private investors for a longer period of time, start-ups get more runway to figure out sustainable business models. To delay their entrance into the public markets, firms like Airbnb, Dropbox, Palantir, Pinterest, Uber and several other large start-ups are raising hundreds of millions, and in some cases billions, that they would otherwise have gained through an initial public offering.

不愿——有时是无法——上市的态度给独角兽企业带来鼓励。通过在较长的一段时间里依靠私人投资者生存,初创公司获得更多缓冲来探索出可持续的商业模式。为了推迟上市,Airbnb、Dropbox、Palantir、Pinterest和优步(Uber)等几家大型初创公司正在通过这种渠道筹集数亿美元的资金,有的金额可达数十亿美元,而它们本来可以通过IPO筹得同样的数目。

The delay in I.P.O.s has altered how some venture capital firms do business. Rather than waiting for an initial offering, Maveron, for instance, says it now sells its stake in a start-up to other, larger private investors once it has made about 100 times its initial investment. It is the sort of return that once was only possible after an I.P.O.

推迟上市的计划改变了一些风投公司做生意的方式。例如,Maveron表示,一旦收益达到初始投资的100倍,他们就会将在这家初创公司持有的股份转售给其他更大的私人投资者,而不是等着公司上市。这样规模的收益过去只可能通过IPO获得。

But there is also a downside to the new aversion to initial offerings. When the unicorns do eventually go public and begin to soar — or whatever it is that fantastical horned beasts tend to do when they’re healthy — the biggest winners will be the private investors that are now bearing most of the risk.

不过,近来对IPO的反感情绪也有不利的一面。当独角兽公司最终公开发售股票,股价一飞冲天时——或者这种假想的瑞兽在活蹦乱跳时爱做什么做什么——最大的赢家将会是那些现在承担大部分风险的私人投资者。

It used to be that public investors who got in on the ground floor of an initial offering could earn historic gains. If you invested $1,000 in Amazon at its I.P.O. in 1997, you would now have nearly $250,000. If you had invested $1,000 in Microsoft in 1986, you would have close to half a million. Public investors today are unlikely to get anywhere near such gains from tech I.P.O.s. By the time tech companies come to the market, the biggest gains have already been extracted by private backers.

过去的情况是,在IPO早期进场的公众投资者有机会获得创历史纪录的收益。如果你在亚马逊(Amazon)于1997年上市时投资1000美元,你现在就会赚将近25万美元。如果你在1986年投资1000美元购买微软(Microsoft)的股票,你现在就会赚了将近50万美元。如今,公众投资者不大可能通过科技公司的IPO获取这么惊人的收益。等到这些企业上市时,最大块的蛋糕已经被私人支持者拿走了。

Just 53 technology companies went public in 2014, which is around the median since 1980, but far fewer than during the boom of the late 1990s and 2000, when hundreds of tech companies went public annually, according to statistics maintained by Jay Ritter, a professor of finance at the University of Florida. Today’s companies are also waiting longer. In 2014, the typical tech company hitting the markets was 11 years old, compared with a median age of seven years for tech I.P.O.s since 1980.

佛罗里达大学(University of Florida)金融学教授杰伊·里特尔(Jay Ritter)积累的数据显示,2014年只有53家科技公司上市,接近1980年以来的中值,但远低于90年代末及2000年高峰时期的数量。当时,每年有数以百计的科技公司上市。今时今日的企业还会等待更长时间才上市。2014年,上市科技公司通常已经成立11年,而自1980以来,进行IPO的科技公司的成立时间的中值为七年。

Over the last few weeks, I’ve asked several founders and investors why they’re waiting; few were willing to speak on the record about their own companies, but their answers all amounted to “What’s the point?”

在过去几周,我询问了几位公司创始人和投资人,他们为什么要等待;几乎没有人愿意就自己公司的情况公开接受采访,但他们的答案基本都是“这样做的意义是什么呢?”

Initial public offerings were also ways to compensate employees and founders who owned lots of stock, but there are now novel mechanisms — such as selling shares on a secondary market — for insiders to cash in on some of their shares in private companies. Still, some observers cautioned that the new trend may be a bad deal for employees who aren’t given much information about the company’s performance.

首次公开募股也是一种对于拥有大量股份的员工和创始人的补偿,但现在有了新的机制——例如在二级市场上出售股份以帮助内部人员套现他们在私有公司的股份。尽管如此,一些观察人士警告称,这一新趋势对于不了解公司运营情况的员工来说并不是一件好事。

“One thing employees may be confused about is when companies tell them, ‘We’re basically doing a private I.P.O.,’ it might make them feel like there’s less risk than there really is,” said Ms. Morrill of Mattermark. But she said it was hard to persuade people that their paper gains may never materialize. “The Kool-Aid is really strong,” she said.

Mattermark的莫里尔说 ,“当公司告诉员工,‘我们正在进行一次非公开募股’时,他们有可能会感到困惑,这有可能会让实际的风险比他们意识到的更大。”但她也说,很难说服人们接受他们账面上的收益可能永远无法兑现。“这种饮料很容易令人上瘾,”她说。

If the delay in I.P.O.s becomes a normal condition for Silicon Valley, some observers say tech companies may need to consider new forms of compensation for workers. “We probably need to fundamentally rethink how do private companies compensate employees, because that’s going to be an issue,” said Mr. Kupor, of Andreessen Horowitz.

如果首次公开募股的延期成为了硅谷的常态,一些观察人士说科技公司可能需要考虑新的员工报酬方式。“我们可能需要从根本上重新考虑私有公司该如何给员工报酬,因为这正在变成一个问题,” 风投公司安德森·霍洛维茨(Andreessen Horowitz)的库珀说。

During a recent presentation for Andreessen Horowitz’s limited partners — the institutions that give money to the venture firm — Marc Andreessen, the firm’s co-founder, told the journalist Dan Primack that he had never seen a sharper divergence in how investors treat public- and private-company chief executives. “They tell the public C.E.O., ‘Give us the money back this quarter,’ and they tell the private C.E.O., ‘No problem, go for 10 years,’ ” Mr. Andreessen said.

在最近一次为安德森·霍洛维茨的有限合伙人(为这家风投公司提供资金的机构)做报告时,公司联合创始人马克·安德森(Marc Andreessen)告诉记者丹·普里马克(Dan Primack)说,他从未见过投资者对待上市公司和私有公司CEO的态度差异像现在这样大。“他们告诉上市公司的CEO,‘这个季度把钱还给我们’,然后告诉私有公司的首席执行官,‘没问题,再干10年,’”安德森说。

At some point this tension will be resolved. “Private valuations will not forever be higher than public valuations,” said Mr. Levitan, of Maveron. “So the question is, Will private markets capitulate and go down or will public markets go up?”

到了一定时候,这一矛盾会被化解。“私有公司的估值不会永远比上市公司高,”风投公司Maveron的丹·莱维坦(Dan Levitan)说,“所以问题是,是私募市场降低身价,还是公开市场向它看齐?”

If the private investors are wrong, employees, founders and a lot of hedge funds could be in for a reckoning. But if they’re right, it will be you and me wearing the frown — the public investors who missed out on the next big thing.

如果私人投资者是错的,那么公司员工、创始人,还有许多对冲基金可能会亏掉一笔钱。但如果他们是对的,那么像你我这样的公众投资者会因为失去了下一个发大财的机会而愁眉不展。

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