Uber, Pinterest and the rest of the 2019 IPO class emerged from the ashes of the Great Recession
Ten years ago, the economy was in free fall. The tech companies expected to go public next year helped rebuild it.
The wealth created in 2019 when several of America’s highest-valued startups go public should be particularly sweet for one reason: They were founded during times of economic destruction.
Next year is expected to be a banner year for initial public offerings, with a roster that includes a proposed $100 billion-plus outing for Uber, a smaller but competitive IPO for Lyft and other listings for similarly aged startups like Pinterest, Slack and perhaps Airbnb. On Tuesday, the latter’s announcement of a chief financial officer kick-started a new round of speculation about Airbnb’s intentions, which had quieted while it was looking for a new finance leader.
But one takeaway from next year’s IPOs is that together they will be a coda to the recession era in which they were started. That’s true financially: Investors who found money to make early wagers in 2008 and 2009 will finally be able to turn those bets into real money and sell their shares on the open market.
And it’s also true symbolically: Their success stories are consummated when they ring the bell at a stock exchange, and serve as reminders that no recession is forever.
There’s precedent for tech companies to rise from the wreckage of a crash. What would become General Electric started amid the stock market crash of the 1870s. Hewlett-Packard started from a Palo Alto garage during the Great Depression. When capital and labor are cheap, good things can happen.
What would become Lyft started in 2007. Uber and Pinterest in 2008. Airbnb and what would become Slack in 2009. Unprofitable startups seem to require about a decade of nurture by venture capitalists before they can evolve into public companies, which puts the recession class of startups on pace to IPO … now.
It isn’t as if the recession-era startups necessarily had to be scrappier or stingier, with Uber alone collecting more than $20 billion in private financing. In fact, these companies may have had it easier than their peers who started just a few years prior — and who had to change plans and confront suddenly clenched fundraising environments when the economy collapsed.
That recession officially ended in June 2009, but the hangover lingered — we’ve seen few mega-IPOs in the U.S. tech sector since then, save for Facebook’s listing in 2012. The U.S. stock market, however, has been on a 10-year bull run, but even post-recession startups — enjoying the riches of the private funding market’s largesse — delayed, delayed and delayed.
Of course, next year could be another delay. Worries about the overheating of U.S. markets are growing, and any volatility could scare away CEOs from submitting IPO paperwork.
The primary IPO candidate in 2019 that isn’t from this Great Recession generation is Palantir, founded in 2004, which is now reportedly considering an offering despite years of assumptions that it would remain perpetually private. Other potential marquee IPO candidates, like Postmates and CrowdStrike, come from as late as 2011.
But the money that is largely made next year will harken back to the financial crisis, when woes on Wall Street cast a dour shadow across America. And Silicon Valley clawed back.