Credit & Capital

Slack’s Unusual Route to Public Markets

The workplace-messaging app’s direct listing values the tech company at $23 billion.
Slack’s Unusual Route to Public Markets

Workplace-messaging app Slack is the latest blockbuster tech flotation since its shares started trading Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange. Slack set a guide price of $26 a share, but within a couple of hours the stock traded close to $42.

The company has chosen an unusual route, effectively cutting out many of the advisers — and their fees — that take companies to the stock market. Slack has chosen a direct listing, where the shares become immediately tradable, in a move that could create wild swings in the price.

Slack is the second big tech firm to go the direct route, after music streaming service Spotify used the same “freewheeling” method last year. Spotify’s listing is generally regarded as a success, although the shares now trade about 15% below their debut price.

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If Slack can also make a success of its direct listing, it could have implications for how future tech firms come to market, including Airbnb.

Slack’s listing fees are expected to be about $22 million. When Snap went public in 2017, it paid about $85 million to its financial advisers.

So, how much will this potentially save in Wall Street fees? “The savings are not that great, to be honest, it’s certainly not the motivator, the big one for it was not having to raise capital,” Slack co-founder and CEO Stewart Butterfield recently told CNBC.

“One of the hopes for a company like us is that there’s not too much volatility, and we are hoping that with this model, with as many sellers, and many buyers, supply and demand, we [will] reach a market price a lot earlier,” he said.

Slack was valued at about $23 billion at the opening price of $38.50.

The software has become increasingly popular, with HSBC and Ford among some of the big corporate users. Slack’s paying customers total over 95,000 — with more than 10 million daily active users. Half of its daily active users are outside of North America, in more than 150 countries.

But like many big tech firms coming to market, Slack has never made a profit. Although revenue rose 80% to $400 million in 2018, losses were $144 million. As a result, some analysts are worried that Slack is competing in an increasingly crowded market. Microsoft offers Teams, a free chat free app add-on for its Office 365 users.