This weekend I was reading a blog post written by Chris Douvos. Chris is an investor in a number of well-known venture firms and writes a blog called Super LP. His commentary always cracks me up, even when he's writing about the finer points of risk curves, financial models and the like.
In his post entitled "Keeping the Window Open," Chris cautions the investor community to not be too overzealous in taking companies public during this time when the gently re-emerging market is so fragile. As he rightfully points out, those companies that go public and then promptly miss their numbers, not only tank their own valuations but also spoil the markets for everyone else. If investors can't trust newly minted public companies to do what they said they were going to do, the markets will simply reject future public offerings as more of the same old head fake.
The conversation reminded me of the good old days when I was an attorney. One of my final acts as a lawyer came at the board meeting of a rapidly-growing but somewhat erratic startup. The venture investors in that startup sat at a board meeting reveling in their growing user-base and began discussing the idea of taking the company public. The VCs were in rousing agreement that we should promptly commence work on the company's S-1.
Lacking a certain self-preservation gene, I pointed out to the VCs that should the company miss its numbers after going on file, it would have to pull the filing and be in a much worse position than when it started. Thus, I strongly recommended that the company wait until it had greater predictability of revenue before filing to go public. Not only were the VCs not wowed by my erudite advice, they promptly fired me and hired another attorney to draft the S-1. Of course, I would not be telling this story if the startup did not ultimately miss its numbers and have to pull the filing. More importantly, this was precisely the sort of company Chris cautions us VCs against taking public this time around -- and I am with him one hundred percent.
There are too many great companies lined up and ready to get public for us to jeopardize the IPO window trying to get middling companies out. As Chris rightfully notes, if we can take solid companies public, "[t]heir success should lead to more opportunity for other companies." If, however, we take marginal companies public, their lack of success will spoil the market for even the most solid of performers.
I realize that the lure of liquidity may be too much temptation for some in the venture community, but I would urge patience in the face of uncertainty. The venture business is a long-term business and the more we can do to grow the overall pie by being circumspect about those companies we bring to market, the better off we all will be in the long run.