Critics of traditional initial public offerings could hardly hope for better publicity than palantir and asana simultaneously eschewing ipos to list shares directly on the new york stock exchange on wednesday.
Shares in both companies initially traded above conservative reference prices. but while asanas market value exceeded its last private valuation, palantirs fell short. the success of recent software ipos suggests the two might have benefited from some roadshow marketing.
There is a reason direct listings have previously been limited to just two big companies: streaming music service spotify and workplace messaging company slack. with no investment banks building a book and no new capital raised, it remains an option best suited to well funded companies with a substantial public profile. asana and palantir do not quite fit the bill.
Palantir, best known for its secretive work with government agencies, asked investors to believe it has a successful software-as-a-service model on the basis of less than two years of financial results and no profits.
Asana, co-founded by facebook co-founder dustin moskovitz, is even less of a household name. it wants to help humanity thrive via project management software but has not turned a profit. year-on-year sales growth slowed to 57 per cent in the three months to the end of july, from 88 per cent the previous year.
It makes sense that tech, an industry dedicated to removing gatekeepers, would want to sweepaway ipo middlemen.investors chafe at lock-up restrictions and accuse banks of purposeful underpricing. when shares in cloud software company snowflake finished the first day up 112 per cent, venture capital investor bill gurley dubbed it final proof of a broken process.
Spotify and slack proved that direct listings could be done without substantial volatility. but the model remains too radical for most.a less revolutionary compromise could be the answer. palantir imposed its own share sale lock-up. the nyse wants to let companies raise capital through direct listings. the expensive, opaque process of traditional listings is a good candidate for disruption. but the model most likely to succeed is ipo-lite, not ipo-less.