Slack CEO explains why the company didn't go public with a traditional IPO

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Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield poses for photos outside the New York Stock Exchange before his company’s IPO, Thursday, June 20, 2019.

Richard Drew | AP

The CEO of messaging firm Slack said that the company didn’t want to go public with a traditional IPO so that it could bypass the closed-door process of raising capital from private investors and hasten its access to the broader public capital market.

“I think there’s a lot of investors who are used to a model where they get a small allocation, they wanted a big one. In a direct listing, at least they have an opportunity,” Stewart Butterfield said in an interview with CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin on Thursday.

“And I think you saw that with Spotify: Some early institutional investors taking huge positions on day one,” he added. “The savings [from direct listing] aren’t that great, to be honest. And that’s certainly not the motivator.”

Wall Street’s latest high-profile addition, Slack is a workplace-oriented app designed to ease communication through chat channels, akin to large group messaging. The company hopes to appeal to a variety of companies and usurp email’s longstanding reign as the primary method of intra-office chatter.

Unlike other newsy debuts this year that followed the usual IPO playbook like Beyond Meat and Uber, Slack chose to launch through a process known as direct listing. In traditional IPO, new shares are created, underwritten and sold to the public, diluting existing stakeholders. In a direct listing, no new shares are created and are sold on the public market without underwriting and without a lockup period.

Spotify went public on April 3 using a direct listing, at the time representing one of the most prominent companies to do so. Corporate law firm Latham & Watkins, which represented the music streaming platform in its direct listing, wrote that Spotify wanted to list with as much transparency, access and price discovery as possible, a sentiment echoed by Slack’s chief.

“One of the hopes for a company like us is that there’s not too much volatility. And we are hoping that this model, where there’s many sellers and many buyers – supply and demand – we reach a market-clearing price a lot earlier,” Butterfield said.

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