Slack, the San Francisco-based company behind the workplace-messaging service that has seemingly taken over how employees communicate with each other, went public Thursday in a way rarely seen on Wall Street.
Instead of the traditional initial public offering, which involves a company selling some shares to underwriters and insiders who then offer their stock for sale to the public, Slack entered the public markets public via a “direct listing” — which means the company simply put its shares out on the New York Stock Exchange where anyone could then buy them.
In an interview with CNBC, Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield said the reasons for holding a direct listing instead of an IPO included the company not having to raise new capital, and wanting to maintain the value of the stock for its shareholders.
“In the traditional IPO, you might raise a billion dollars,” Butterfield said. “(But) when you raise a billion dollars, you dilute existing shareholders’ (value) by issuing new shares. So, we’re not doing that. We’re just opening it up for trading.”
Instead of underwriters setting an opening price for Slack’s stock, the NYSE established a “reference price” of $26 per share. This price was determined by estimates of where Slack’s shares traded privately in recent months and served as a starting point for brokers to begin taking buy and sell orders on the stock Thursday.
Initial reaction to Slack going public was strong as the company’s shares quickly rose more than 60% above their $26 reference point to $41.72. Slack was expected to make 283 million out of approximately 599 million of its shares outstanding available for trading.
“It’s a great time for Slack to go public,” said Gene Munster, managing parter at research and investment firm Loup Ventures. Munster said that Slack is likely to benefit from investors’ “intense appetite” for so-called software-as-a-service companies (SaaS) such as Zoom Video Communications, of San Jose.
Zoom, which uses cloud-based technology for video conferencing, went public in April at $36 per share, and was trading at $106 per share Thursday.
“The Slack listing is also a win for the direct listing approach, which is the future of companies going public,” Munster said. “It’ll take time to get there — maybe a decade before half of the listings are direct.”
Alejandro Ortiz, principal analyst at SharesPost, a secondary market for shares of private tech companies, agreed that Slack chose a good time to go public, but added that its direct listing approach could come with some pitfalls.
“(One) concern with a direct listing is insufficient demand for the company’s shares once it begins trading, given a lack of substantial marketing and no formal allocation of shares associated with traditional IPOs,” Ortiz said. “Additionally, with no lock-up period for existing shareholders, there is an increased chance of substantially more supply than demand for Slack’s shares.”