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Twitter's IPO: 3 lessons from past tech public offerings
Facebook screwed up. Twitter doesn't have to.
Listen up, Twitter co-founder Evan Williams: Those who don't learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.
Listen up, Twitter co-founder Evan Williams: Those who don't learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. David Paul Morris/Getty Images
W

hispers that Twitter may go public have grown to a low roar over the last month, ever since the company mentioned in a LinkedIn posting that it was looking to fill a position with someone who could prepare a "Form S-1 when we are ready to go public." The post was quickly taken down, but sources told the New York Post earlier this week that the $10 billion social media company has already held informal talks with Wall Street firms about going public.

But before Twitter does leap into an initial public offering, here are a few lessons from tech IPOs of the past...

Keep the price down
In other words, don't pull a Facebook. Leading up to its IPO, Facebook jacked up its offering to sell 421 million shares for $38 each—which valued the company at $104 billion, 107 times its profits. Sure, it had plenty of room for growth in mobile, but we all know how the price-jack played out: Facebook's share price, with the help of some technical glitches, fell immediately and kept falling for months to a low of $17.58 last September. It took almost a year and a lot of tangible growth in mobile advertising to recover to IPO levels, which it achieved just this month.

Plenty of investors are advising that Twitter learn from Facebook and keep the price down. Twitter's "IPO price should be designed to have at least a 20 percent to 25 percent pop post-IPO, and thereby benefit from the 'halo effect' of a successful IPO," tech entrepreneur Vineet Jain told Investor Place.

Get the books in order
This should go without saying, but it didn't for Groupon. The daily deals site delivered a powerful lesson when it lost more than 50 percent of its share price just months after its IPO, a drop that was mainly attributed to the funky accounting practices revealed in its public filings. For example, Groupon relied heavily on weird metrics, like adjusted CSOI (consolidated segment operating income), a fancy measurement that reports the company's operating income excluding some of its major expenses. When the company changed its methods at the urging of regulators, earnings tumbled.

Hopefully, Twitter won't feel the same need to massage the numbers. The company is already capitalizing on mobile — more than Facebook could say at its IPO — and is expected to bank $582 million in revenue this year, according to the New York Post.

Consider some version of Google's modified Dutch auction
A Dutch auction, which Google opted for in 2004, works like this, says Jeffrey Goldfarb in The New York Times:

The auction style asks investors to declare how much they're willing to pay and for how many shares. The price steadily declines until it reaches a level where all the shares on offer would sell — at which point all interested buyers commit. [New York Times]

This would probably lead to a lower initial share price for Twitter. But that's a good thing, Goldfarb says, as it would likely lead to a post-IPO, investor-pleasing pop.

Carmel Lobello is the business editor at TheWeek.com. Previously, she was an editor at DeathandTaxesMag.com.

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