Slack becomes latest blockbuster flotation

Stewart ButterfieldImage copyright

Image caption

Slack founder Stewart Butterfield takes a selfie outside the New York Stock Exchange as the firm’s shares begin trading

The latest blockbuster tech flotation has hit Wall Street, with shares in the messaging app Slack starting to trade.

But the company chose an unusual route, effectively cutting out many of the advisers – and their fees – that take companies to the stock market.

Slack chose a direct listing, where the shares become immediately tradable, in a move that could create wild swings in the price.

The company is expected to be valued at about $15-17bn (£12-13.5bn).

Slack set a guide price of $26 a share, but without the usual underwriters to buy up any stock that does not sell, it could take some time for the value to settle.

Slack is the second big tech firm to go the direct route, after music streaming service Spotify used the method last year.

“We think the jury is out on whether this is the right move or not,” said Kathleen Smith, a listing expert at Renaissance Capital.

“Looking at Spotify, it takes a little time for the stock to get established after a direct listing.”

Slack’s listing fees are expected to be about $22m. When Snap went public in 2017, it paid about $85m to its financial advisers.

Spotify’s listing is generally regarded as a success, although the shares now trade about 15% below their debut price.

If Slack can also make a success of its direct listing, it could have implications for how future tech firms come to market, including for Airbnb.

Slack’s software replaces emails by grouping messages around subjects, projects and teams. It means that flooding people with irrelevant emails can be cut.

The software has become increasingly popular, with HSBC and Ford among some of the big corporate users. It has about 100,000 paying customers.

Founder Steward Butterfield, who developed the photo app Flickr, says Slack is a revolution in corporate communication.

But like many big tech firms coming to market, Slack has never made a profit. Although revenue rose 80% to $400m in 2018, losses were $144m.

And some analysts are worried that Slack is competing in an increasingly crowded market. Microsoft offers Teams, a free chat app add-on for its Office365 users.

Slack’s debut follows a spate of much-anticipated technology listings, some of which, including Uber Technologies and Lyft, had disappointing starts to trading.

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