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Breaking down the Uber-Lyft-Slack IPO rush

Santa ringing the closing bell at New York Stock Exchange
Santa Claus rings the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Photo: Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

Last week came news that Uber and Lyft have filed confidential IPO documents with U.S. securities regulators, while Slack has hired its IPO underwriter.

The temptation is to write that the companies are reacting to the public equities pullback, particularly in tech stocks, by rushing to price before the IPO window slams shut. The reality is that these plans have been in the works for months, including during the public equities surge in early Q3 and the post-Halloween sugar rush.

Moreover, filing confidentially now guarantees nothing in terms of market conditions for when these companies could actually go public. For context, Snap filed confidentially in mid-November 2016 and didn't list until the beginning of March 2017.

  • Filing confidentially now is a recognition that everything is about to shut down for a couple of weeks, so this puts them at the top of the queue once everyone's back at work on Jan. 2.
  • The "IPO window" is a real factor for smaller or even mid-sized issuers, but these three can go when they're ready, almost regardless of macro market conditions.

There's also been talk that Uber and Lyft are "racing" each other to go public first. This one is a bit more complicated.

  • In the end, first to market won't much matter. Yes, the initial issuer will set some road show narrative and valuation multiples, but it should all come out in the wash after both companies begin trading. Just ask Box and Dropbox — which is a better comp than you might reflexively think, given that Uber and Lyft are pretty different companies in terms of both scale and product offerings, despite their shared core business of U.S. ride-hail.
  • That said, these two companies really, really, really don't like each other. Some of that animosity has ebbed in the post-Kalanick era, but bragging rights remain a motivator.
  • Neither Lyft nor Uber knows when they'll be able to go public, given that they represent a new category for securities regulators (unlike, say, Slack). If there are lots of questions, then filing now ensures that the actual pricing won't leak into early summer.

Go deeper: The parallel universe of unicorns

Correction: An initial version of this story said that Slack had filed confidential IPO documents. It only has hired a lead underwriter.

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