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From the outside, an initial public offering can seem exciting. Your company gets a massive amount of publicity. You and your employees gain liquidity. And access to growth capital seems more available than ever before.
From the inside, however, the process can be exhausting and, sometimes, downright strange. Recently, business publication Marker published a candid, behind-the-scenes oral history of Redfin's IPO. The Seattle-based real estate site went public on the New York Stock Exchange in July 2017, but the process began the previous year--and involved everything from employees described as "rabid squirrels" to a surprise roadshow appearance from Bane, the masked Batman villain.
Beyond being a great read, it's an eye-opening confessional about what it's really like to take your company public. For example, Redfin CEO Glenn Kelman talked about how the process of writing an S-1 IPO prospectus document is more strenuous than you might think:
There were so many things I'd been saying about Redfin that I was 100 percent sure were true. But you get in a room to prepare the S-1 and to write the roadshow deck, and there's a lawyer who says, "Well, you think you have the best search site in the world. I need an exhibit that I can put in a binder to prove that. And if you can't prove that--and I don't think you can--then you're never going to say that again."
Kelman's remarks reminded me of an interview from Inc.'s Winter 2019/2020 print issue with Box co-founder Aaron Levie, who took his company public in January 2015. Here's how Levie described the IPO process:
Exhilarating, partially because you're on no sleep. You come off eight to 10 days on the road pitching your heart out, and then, the day of, you think: I control the world economy this morning. (Note: I did not control the world economy.) It's important in terms of credibility. It's important operationally. It adds more scrutiny and transparency, which I think lead to really good things. But it was not like, "Oh, wow, bucket-list item complete--now I'm done."
It's an inspiring way to think about your exit strategy--less as a true exit, and more as an important milestone. After all, whether you eventually take your company public, keep it private, or sell it to the highest bidder, you'll always be asking yourself, "What's next?" on the path to bigger and better things.