Remember when tech IPOs used to be about the tech?
Nine years ago, when Facebook went public, investors’ biggest concern was its mobile strategy. The debate about whether it would ever see a return from its $1bn acquisition of Instagram now seems somewhat quaint, but Facebook’s mobile-advertising projections were the target of shareholder lawsuits for years.
Fast forward to 2021, and when it comes to two of the biggest initial public offerings in tech — Didi and Robinhood — the attention is squarely focused on regulation.
Didi, the ride-hailing group, saw its shares fall by more than 5 per cent on Friday, just two days after it raised at least $4bn in the biggest US listing by a Chinese company since Alibaba. China’s cyber security regulators have launched an investigation into Didi, forcing it to stop adding new users for the duration of the probe — normally at least a month.
Didi has not yet faced a major data leak, at least as far as investors were aware. In the litigious US, it seems probable that lawyers will be going through the “risk factors” section of Didi’s IPO filing pretty carefully right now.
Potential investors in Robinhood’s IPO also have plenty of weekend reading after it made its filing public on Thursday. The stock-trading app is targeting a $40bn valuation, sources told the FT’s Madison Darbyshire and Miles Kruppa, but when our reporters delved through the filing, their biggest takeaways were all about — you guessed it — regulatory risk.
Robinhood’s core business relies on a controversial practice known as payment for order flow, or PFOF, which makes up more than three quarters of its revenues. PFOF helps brokers offer commission-free trading to customers, but the practice is banned in both the UK and Canada, and the US Securities and Exchange Commission is reviewing it. Robinhood’s prospectus acknowledges that any regulatory change could seriously damage its business model.
Then there’s all that crypto trading, which jumped to almost a fifth of Robinhood’s revenues in the first quarter, plus investigations from seven US state and federal bodies, and almost 50 class-action lawsuits over its restrictions on “meme stock” trading during the GameStop frenzy earlier this year.
Would-be Didi and Robinhood buyers might point to Facebook to bolster their bull cases. Facebook’s win this week in its own regulatory battle, when a judge dismissed two antitrust lawsuits against it, helped propel the company to a $1tn valuation for the first time. Any IPO investors who defied the mobile doubters in 2012 have seen a tenfold return on their money.
1. Driving Didi’s international image
While we’re on the subject of Didi, read Christian Shepherd’s profile of its president Jean Liu, who has been central to its push to become a “truly global” company.
2. Billionaire space race: advantage Branson
Richard Branson has pulled ahead of rival billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos in the race to get to the edge of space first, by bringing forward his first trip aboard a Virgin Galactic spaceship to July 11.
3. Calling time on overtime in Chinese tech?
China’s short-video company Kuaishou has formally cancelled its weekend overtime policy, reports Yuan Yang, whose FT Weekend magazine feature last month dove deep on the issue. TikTok’s parent ByteDance, is also debating internally whether to curtail the notorious “996” culture.
4. Following Bezos out the door
An unusually high number of Amazon executives have left the company over the past 18 months, the New York Times reports, as several VPs swap life at the $1.75tn company for a start-up.
5. Bid bulwark
Oxford Nanopore is the latest UK tech company to employ an “anti-takeover” share structure ahead of its IPO, despite the backlash against Deliveroo’s dual-class scheme. Chief executive Gordon Sanghera says he wants to build a “global tech company” from the UK without getting acquired like so many of his predecessors.
#techFT is taking a break over the July 4 US holiday weekend and returns on Tuesday
In the first six months of the year, venture capital firms have invested a record €47.4bn in European tech start-ups. That’s €8bn more than was invested in the whole of 2020, and puts the region on track to hit €95bn in VC investment by the end of the year, according to Sifted calculations and Dealroom data.
That’s a year-on-year growth rate of 143% — the highest of any major ecosystem in at least the past five years. At the time of writing, North America is on track to grow by 98% this year, and Asia by 47%. It comes as cash has been flooding into tech in general this year, but particularly in Europe where deals are often cheaper than in the US market.
Elsewhere in European start-ups this week, online grocer Rohlik raised €100m and became a unicorn worth more than $1bn; Emma Watson, the Harry Potter star-turned-campaigner, invested in a new way to solve the world’s plastic crisis; and Elon Musk’s Neuralink is being outperformed by this Spanish graphene start-up.
The latest ultra-HD cameras are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand but loaded with features to record every moment of an adventure: from image stabilisation to 360-degree image capture and AI-driven movie editing.
How to Spend It’s round-up of the latest action cameras includes the GoPro Hero9 Black, which features removable lenses and 5K video capture, and the novel Insta360 One R, which has a one-inch sensor and Leica optics to capture everything around you at once. Read the full story for more beach-friendly recommendations.