The meteoric rise of Google's stock after its IPO in August 2004 was such an anomaly that it offered little in terms of lessons to other private tech firms looking to follow the search engine's lead. Google is its own unique animal and even the most promising tech firm can hardly hope to replicate its success. However, a recent report in the Wall Street Journal about Google's $285 stock price perhaps being undervalued (login required) is a heartening sign to private tech firms. Heartening in the sense that investors seem ready to give private technology companies a fair hearing.
"After the dot-com bust, tech companies were guilty until proven innocent," said Jay Ritter, a University of Florida, Gainesville finance professor who studies IPOs. "It was extremely difficult for young companies to go public." Ritter's research into the median age of companies when they go public does a lot to highlight this assertion. In 1999, near the height of the Internet boom, the median age of companies going public was four years old, still wet behind the ears. The backlash from the crash in 2002 raised the median age to a grandfatherly 15 years old. Now that cooler heads are beginning to prevail, the median age for companies going public in 2004 was a perfectly mature 8 years old.
Currently, Ritter said, "The IPO market is suffering from neither excessive optimism nor excessive pessimism. People are beginning to judge each company on its own merit, not simply because it is an IPO."
Echoing that sentiment is David Moll, CEO of Webroot Software, a private tech firm based in Boulder, Colorado. "Valuations are going to depend on each individual company," he said. "You're not going to see every tech firm walking around with a halo above its head."
Moll said this return to the market embracing high-quality investments is not only specific to technology, but he is seeing it across the board, especially in consumer products. "The IPO market is looking strong right now, with companies that even if they don't have a positive trajectory, they are at least stable."
A market that judges a company based solely on its merit. Isn't that all a young tech company could ask for?