Ten years ago, a startup being valued over a billion dollar was a rare event. But now unicorns have become so common that to regain an exclusive status for a startup, people came with a new buzzword – Decacorn – A startup valued at ten billion dollars or more. Uber, Xiaomi, Pinterest, Snapchat, SpaceX are few names that have been valued over ten billion dollars. These firms may seem as, or in fact are big names with big prospects. But from an individual investor’s perspective, are those firms worth investing: through mutual funds or in an IPO?
To analyze this scenario, let’s understand how startups are valued. Take a hypothetical example that Uber is looking for funding and a venture capitalist decides to give Uber ten million for a 1 percent stake, thereby valuing Uber at a billion. The amount of investment and the percentage of stake is decided by a series of negotiation between the founders and venture capitalist. The key determinants of the outcome of negotiations are growth potential, founder’s expectations and earnings of the company (if any). Even if the company may have negative earning, positive future earnings are expected along with supernormal future growth. Thus, a unicorn or maybe a decacorn is created. This paper value, the higher it is, the favorable reception it will receive during its IPO or during its further valuation rounds, thereby rewarding early investors at the cost of later investors.
Another perspective to look into it is the difference in the value per share of these startups. A recent WSJ article, “Mutual funds flait at valuing hot startups like Uber”, states how mutual fund firms vary in the valuation of private stocks. As per WSJ, tech unicorns had 12 instances where a same firm was valued differently on the same day. So which value should an investor look at? Closely related with this perspective is the recent IPO of Square, a mobile payment platform by Jack Dorsey – CEO of both Twitter and Square. Private valuation for Square was 6 billion, but then its IPO placed its value at $3.9 billion. Seriously? A difference of 1.1 billion!
IPOs are a window of opportunity for the founders to cash in on their idea/s. No one knows the firm and its perceived value better than its founders. Hence, founder can choose a time whereby they can receive the highest possible price for its stocks to maximize their returns, thereby reward the time and effort they have put in for the firm. But on the other hand, the loser is the general investor who buys its stock in the IPO.
Given how well tech stocks are performing after its IPO, the idea of those stocks being overvalued may seem absurd. But, it was absurd to believe that holding “dot-com” stocks was a bad idea, during late 90’s and early 2000’s.