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The Case for Staying Private (and Why IPOs Are Overrated)

It's certainly easy to get caught up in the allure of going public. There are plenty of compelling reasons to stay private.
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It’s increasingly rare to find a privately held, family-controlled business with a household name--especially in the technology sector. In fact, just today, TrueCar, a competitor in our space, filed to go public. So I often get the question: When is Edmunds going public?

With 2013 being the most active year of IPO deal flow since 2000, and 2014 poised for an equally strong showing, it’s certainly easy to get caught up in the allure of going public. Yet there are a host of oft-forgotten advantages that come with the decision to remain a private company, not least of which includes avoiding the high costs and time associated with regulatory compliance.

But beyond this, the most critical benefit of staying private is the facilitation of a true focus on long-term goals.

It’s no secret that Wall Street has become increasingly myopic. When public companies are often judged by their most recent earnings “beat” or “miss,” we shouldn’t be surprised that corporate management teams can get caught up in this short-termism and lose sight of the long-term strategic plan.

By eschewing public scrutiny and realizing that many of these short-term market players have no vested long-term interest, private organizations can preserve their focus on what is truly best for the organization’s overall success.

For instance, had Edmunds.com been forced to address the market’s expectations during the 2008/2009 contraction in our industry, we almost certainly would have had to gut our organization to slash costs. However, our executive team had a firm belief that the financial crisis would be temporary, and as a private company, we were able to take a calculated risk to maintain our workforce.

With no one looking over our shoulder, Edmunds weathered the storm and bounced back rapidly when the economy turned. We were able to keep our 400+ staff intact and have since grown to nearly 600 strong.

Similarly, remaining private and nimble enabled us to swiftly make multi-million dollar investments in the infrastructure to support a new sales initiative whose success depends upon an implementation over many years. We were able to make these long-term investments without worrying about what effects they might have on near-term publicly reported earnings.

At the end of the day, the idea that going public is the be-all and end-all for a successful company is antiquated. For many companies, there’s much to gain from a thoughtful decision to stay private. After all, we are all in it, or should be in it, for the long-term.

 

Last updated: Apr 4, 2014

AVI STEINLAUF | Columnist

Avi Steinlauf is the CEO for Edmunds.com, the premier online resource for car shopping and automotive information, and sits on the company?s Board of Directors.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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