Slack makes its public debut at $38.50/share as valuation soars above $20B

Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield. (Slack Photo)

Slack got off to a good start as a public company Thursday as shares in the chat-based collaboration app are trading 50 percent above an early bar set by the company.

Slack is the latest in a cadre of household tech names to go public, including Uber, Lyft, Zoom and Pinterest. However it took a different route to becoming a public company, opting for a direct listing as opposed to the traditional IPO process.

Shares in the company started trading at $38.50 on the New York Stock Exchange, well above Slack’s “reference price” of $26. The reference price is part of the direct listing process and is based on recent private trades of the company stock.

The soaring stock pushed Slack’s market value above $20 billion, according to CNBC.

Direct listings remove underwriters — intermediaries who facilitate the process through buying shares from the company and then selling them to the public. Instead, executives, employees and investors sell shares directly to the public via stock exchanges.

Unlike an IPO, Slack isn’t raising additional cash through selling new shares. With more than $800 million in cash on-hand, per CNBC, Slack isn’t exactly hurting for funds.

The option is an unusual but not unheard of path to going public. Music streaming heavyweight Spotify was the last big company to pursue a direct listing when it went public last year.

Cutting out the underwriters saves money, but it can also be a risky move. Without underwriters, there’s no guarantee stocks will sell and the price could be more volatile.

Slack had more than 10 million daily active users and 500,000 organizations on its free version as of January. Slack has more than 88,000 paid customers, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in April.

Slack’s revenue is rising at a rapid clip, according to the filing, though like many of the other companies in the IPO process right now, it is not profitable. Slack’s revenue has quadrupled in the last three years to $400 million in 2019, up 82 percent over the prior year.

Financial data company PitchBook sees the potential for exponential growth in Slack’s future. The company’s paid user base grew 83 percent in 2018, per an analyst note from PitchBook.

Growth is bound to slow over time, but PitchBook projected that if Slack’s paid users grow by about 30 percent per year over the next decade it could push revenue to more than $6 billion. That’s a 15X increase over its 2018 revenue of $400 million.

Slack lost a staggering $138.9 million in its 2019 fiscal year. However, the company’s losses are declining year-over-year and as a percentage of revenue.

Slack is in the midst of a competitive rivalry with Microsoft. The tech giant planted its flag squarely in Slack’s territory when it launched Microsoft Teams more than two years ago. Neither company is downplaying the rivalry, and continuing to grow in the face of competition from the nation’s most valuable company will be key to Slack’s continued growth.

As one of the biggest names in enterprise software out there, Slack’s IPO could be a bellwether for Seattle companies thinking about going public. The region is home to a number of highly valued enterprise software companies and recent entries to the public markets have fared well.

Smartsheet, the Bellevue, Wash. work collaboration software maker is a good example. The company went public in April 2018, and since then its stock price has risen 135 percent.

Gene Farrell, Smartsheet’s chief product officer, told GeekWire that going public helped the company gain more name recognition and cache with prospective employees. Neither of those is an issue for Slack, but being a public company can also give current and potential customers piece of mind.

“A lot of customers want to take comfort in seeing that you are a real company, and that you are transparent with your financials and results,” Farrell said. “They can see the scoreboard and that you are executing, and it gives them more confidence in adopting your platform.”