Tech IPO train starts speeding up as Yext and Okta file for offerings

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The long drought in technology initial public offerings looks to be easing as two more companies today filed registration papers to sell shares.

New York-based Yext Inc., which makes software to help businesses manage their digital presence in online maps, directories and apps, said it plans to raise $100 million in an offering, though that could be a placeholder subject to investor appetite. San Francisco-based identity management firm Okta Inc. also filed to raise the same round figure. The two filings follow last week’s report that big-data pioneer Cloudera Inc. filed confidentially for an IPO.

Those are in addition to the planned IPO later this week of MuleSoft Inc., whose software-as-a-service platform connects applications and data in traditional on-premises data centers with cloud workloads. More than the singular Snap Inc. IPO on March 2, which saw the price of the Snapchat app creators shares rocket 50 percent the first day before falling back a bit in subsequent days, MuleSoft’s IPO could signal investors’ appetite for enterprise software and cloud companies. The company is looking to raise $169 million at a valuation of $1.8 billion.

The coming IPOs represent a considerable change of pace from last year, one of the slowest in years for what traditionally is the generator of Silicon Valley wealth. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the U.S. tech IPO market declined to its lowest level in the decade in 2016, with only 16 public offerings for total proceeds of $1.8 billion, way under the $8.4 billion raised in 2015. Venture capital investors have been hoping for a change, based on a strong market and the maturation especially of tech companies aimed at large enterprise computing, from data centers to the cloud.

Instead, companies that otherwise were considering going public have gotten acquired. Last June, Blue Coat Systems sold to Symantec Corp. More recently, SimpliVity Corp. sold out to Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co. in January.

The offerings will be welcome exits for some high-profile venture capitalists. In the case of Okta alone, for instance, they included Andreessen Horowitz, Sequoia Capital, Greylock Partners and Khosla Ventures.

Given stocks’ “Trump Bump” since the new president was elected, it’s not surprising companies want to take advantage of a buoyant market. And market watchers say the timing could be good. The VC research firm CB Insights said in its most recent Tech IPO Pipeline Report it’s tracking some 369 highly valued and high-momentum private companies. Although that’s down from 531 last year, the firm said it’s increasingly confident that more could go public this year. “The drumbeat for a busier 2017 is getting louder,” the report said.

There may be other, less positive reasons for going public, according to some executives. Some, such as Cloudera, valued at $4 billion, have valuations so high that there is a limited number of companies that can afford to them, leaving an IPO the more likely option for an exit.

Also, some analysts and executives worry the market is getting too high to be sustainable. And with the problems the Trump administration is having in getting its proposed initiatives in gear, the assumption that its business-friendly policies will continue to lift the market could be risky. Indeed, that may be spurring some companies to go public while the going’s good. “It’s like now or never,” one executive said privately.

Those risks will be multiplied by the fact that these companies are still not profitable. Okta, for instance, lost $65 million in the nine months ended Oct. 31. But like the others, its rapid growth may overcome concerns. Its revenues almost doubled from a year ago, to $112 million. Likewise, MuleSoft lost $50 million on $188 million in revenues in 2016, but those losses were down from the $65 million it lost in 2015. Revenues rose 70 percent.

In some cases, though, losses are still rising. Yext saw revenues rise to $89.7 million in the fiscal year ended Jan. 3, 2016, up from $60 million in 2015. But losses grew to $26.5 million in 2016, up from $17.3 million the year before.

Photo: Skeeze/Pixabay