So you’re wondering whether it’s the right time for your business to get publicly listed. Before you get into the how’s, think about whether an IPO is even the right direction for you. Here are a few elements you should consider.
First, are you looking to raise capital? Are you looking to provide a liquid platform for your shareholders to buy and sell shares? Are you also looking to take some capital off the table? If your answer is a yes, then an IPO may be for you.
Second, is your management prepared to provide more predictability and visibility on a quarterly basis as opposed to on a three year cycle basis that’s typical in a private company? If you’re unable to commit to that level of predictability and visibility in the shorter horizon, you shouldn’t be going for an IPO.
Third, is your business using stock as a way to attract and retain talent? For instance, building stock option plans that you’ll then distribute within the business. Does being listed provide incentive for people to be a part of your business and want to work with you?
Lastly, think about the level of transparency that you’ll need to have as a business when you go public. Be it credit rating agencies, banks, financial institutions, or even government regulators, all eyes will be on you, but this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. You just need to be prepared to be closely scrutinised by the larger financial community.
If you can look at each of the above questions and your answer to them is a clear yes, you’re ready to take your company public.
If your business needs to raise capital every few years, you should look into IPOs. Once you’ve gone public, the timelines are much shorter. You could raise fresh capital in three months, if you’ve got your professional augments such as QIB (Qualified Institutional Buyer) in order. As a listed company, people have a better understanding of what you do, the education and verification process is therefore much shorter.
The financial services business is a great example. Their raw material is capital, so every few years they need to raise capital to grow their businesses. Similarly, infrastructure businesses’ raw material is also capital and the availability of infrastructure projects.
Obviously, the market is evolving and getting more sophisticated. There are ways to raise capital beyond just an IPO. There is certainly a cost associated with IPOs. However, the benefits include market reach, access, and liquidity.
There’s an ongoing debate that a lot of tech companies that aren’t profitable continue to raise capital from private markets. Private markets in turn raise money from pension funds and private investors to invest in private companies. The size of the pie is getting much larger. The imperative for such companies to IPO is not as great as compared to earlier, where VC companies provided small amounts of capital but the public market was where you went to raise large capital.
The world is divided in terms of whether or not you should IPO companies. Having said that, if you look at the US today, the ratio of private funding to public funding continues to be in favor of public funding. So there continues to be a great vibrancy in public markets.
Going forward, as well, IPOs will continue to play a significant part in how businesses raise capital.
There are various forms of capital that you can access as a business. However, an IPO provides you with an equity that is the most expensive, but also the most long-term form of capital.
So in terms of long-term investment, as you're looking to build businesses you need capital which matches the investment horizon of your business. Not all of that can be met with debt capital alone. Debt capital will need to be serviced in terms of interest payments and repaid in principal repayments.
In both cases, you should be able to underwrite with high degree of accuracy. Only then does debt become a preferred source – a lower cost of capital as compared to equity. However, debt doesn’t provide you with flexibility. If your business strategy needs to pivot or you make a mistake, debt doesn’t allow you the latitude to make changes. Let me elaborate on that a little further.
There are several formal debt agreements, also known as covenants, that most lenders or providers of debt have. In addition to the capital you borrow and the interest you pay, you need to meet certain business and financial thresholds for the loan to continue to be a “good loan” in the lender’s perspective. Due to all of these covenants, your business will have to work within very measured parameters. So unless you have a clear view on how your business is going to build out, I would highly recommend thinking twice about raising debt.
The moment that the lenders notice any stress on the business, they would look to seek an acceleration of repayment. This would only add further stress on the business. In a way, debt forces you to be very disciplined about how you deploy the capital in your business.
On the other hand, I would advocate a combination of debt and equity overall, as it would give you the best of both worlds. Debt would give you the guardrails and discipline in terms of how you utilise capital, but you’d also have enough latitude to make crucial investments such as building markets, customers, brands, or products, or even doing R&D. Equity gives you the cushion you need to build your business.
In the long term, you need to be raising capital when you don’t need it. That’s the odd way in which markets work. When a business is doing well and doesn’t need capital, I’ve seen investors flock to buy shares of that company and provide it with even more capital. There’s the perception that the business is a well-oiled machine, running smoothly.
And at that point in time, create a war chest – a cushion of sorts – for your business. Raise capital. Get your business evaluated at this time. Taking on the capital when your business doesn’t necessarily need it will eventually play out in your favour.
Bear in mind that it takes quite a long time to raise capital. If you’re a private business, you’ll first need to educate people about what you do. The “trust but verify” aspect will follow, where people want to trust you but need to do their due diligence to verify what you’ve said.
This process of raising awareness and building trust can take several months, sometimes even two or three quarters, before you can actually raise capital. When you go to market in India, you will need at least six months from planning to an IPO. A more realistic figure is nine to 18 months that you’ll need to factor in. So if you’re planning to raise capital, you’re better off starting the process earlier than you think you need to.
Let’s shift now to the supply side of things. Markets also have windows – there are periods during which the market will open up for raising capital, and periods when the market will close down. These windows are largely driven by macroeconomics, for instance if a certain industry or economy is doing well. As cycles of growth and slowdown affect economies, the availability of capital will grow and decrease concurrently.
So if your business is doing well, you have started early, and if the market is primed for capital availability, you’re in a great position to raise capital.
It boils down to understanding your business, the market, and your strategy. Do you need the money or not? There are some businesses that do so well that they never require capital. But for most businesses, you’ll find that you will require capital through cycles.
The capital you raise doesn’t even need to go to your business per se. Sometimes, you can take advantage of a down cycle. Why not raise capital when the market is uncertain and use it as a war chest to go and acquire other businesses that might be even more adversely affected? With other companies facing their share of headwinds and challenges, an uncertain market can get you good businesses at very reasonable evaluations.
An IPO is an important milestone for a company. You’re going from caterpillar to butterfly, and with a lot of eyes on you. If you’re planning an IPO, you should start planning your media strategy at least a year before it happens. A successful IPO actual has a lot to do with the kind of image and perception that your business carries in the public eye. Actually, an IPO is like a product you’re launching for the company. And as with any launch, cleverly managing communications is a key strategy for success.
Whether you’re talking about social media, digital media, print, or even TV, each of these mediums requires a slightly different approach. Figure out your own rules of engagement for each channel.
Let’s look at Twitter. It’s a space where current affairs and topical content fits right in. Is there a particular environmental situation you want to share your company’s view on? Hop on Twitter to share your position or react to it.
Now if you’re writing a longer piece for a business journal, you’ll have to go into the granular details. Explain your business proposition, and anything else your reader needs to understand as clearly and descriptively as possible.
As you can see, these two mediums require very different messaging. From your business’s perspective, how do you leverage on these different platforms available to generate what I like to call “free advertising”?
Ultimately, your goal is to communicate your story to the marketplace without having to pump in a large budget to do so. The sooner you start developing and adapting your communication strategies for each medium, the more seamlessly you’ll be able to take your audience from curiosity to interest to conversion. That’s what business is all about! A lot of this will take trial-and-error as you learn the tools.
Market regulators believe that an IPO is a window for various types of investors, both sophisticated and less sophisticated, to participate in a business by buying stock. Their focus is to make sure that the business is being transparent and disseminating information in a holistic way, such that nobody has an undue advantage. As a business, you have to make sure to comply with the regulations: make price sensitive information, for example, available at the same time to everyone.
Your business will come under great scrutiny, from how your management behaves, to management or board actions. Are you communicating with the market, and at the right time? You need to be prepared to provide information on corporate filings, statutory and independent audit processes, governance structures on the board, and so on. Independent directors are essentially fiduciaries on behalf of public shareholders. Regulations help maintain a healthy system of checks and balances.
On your end, focus on producing reports and business information on a regular basis – this could be monthly or quarterly, depending on the filing cycles. This is something many businesses aren’t initially geared up to do, and therefore end up faltering when they need to produce this information. This is going to cause a lot of problems as a public company.
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