From Airbnb to Stripe — Which Companies Could Still Actually IPO in 2020?

Last year, 159 companies made initial public offerings in the U.S. — a decent number, though hardly a spectacular one. If 2019 public offerings had a theme, it was the year of the disappointing unicorn. Uber and Lyft both went public, and both now trade well below their offering price. Even more notoriously, WeWork scuttled its IPO plans completely — a rather drastic comedown from an offering that would have valued the company at $48 billion. According to PitchBook, the total value of the year’s public offerings was…

$33 billion, a drop of nearly 30% compared to 2018.

All this casts a bit of a shadow over 2020—but it turns out, there’s still plenty of billion-dollar plus activity in that shadow. Here’s what we’re keeping an eye on in the year ahead.

Airbnb

Perhaps you’ve heard of it? Last September, the ur-unicorn declared its intent to become a publicly traded company in 2020, instantly making it the year’s most anticipated offering. The home-rental behemoth was most recently valued at $31 billion in a 2017 funding round. (Last March, Recode reported that an internal valuation put the figure at $38 billion.) Founded in 2008 after RISD-grad roommates Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia started renting out an air mattress in their San Francisco living room and decided that the idea of home bed-and-breakfast could scale, Airbnb has asserted that it was profitable in 2017 and 2018. More recent reports, however, say that rising costs pushed it into the red for the nine months ending in September — and that this and the uncertain impact of the coronavirus mean the offering may not happen until the second half of 2020. Many reports suggest that the company is one of several that may issue shares by way of a direct listing — meaning current investors will be able to sell their shares, but the company itself is not raising money. Slack and Spotify are the marquee examples of firms that have taken this route, but Airbnb is part of a small pack that may follow suit this year.

Instacart

Last January, Instacart CEO Apoorva Mehta assured CNN Business that an IPO was “on the horizon.” It didn’t happen in 2019, so maybe this year? The controversial app-based grocery delivery service — you punch in your order on your phone, and a gig economy “personal shopper” fulfills and delivers it — was valued at around $7.8 billion in its last funding round in 2018. By his own account, Mehta cycled through 20 failed attempts to start a company over a two-year period before launching Instacart in his mid-twenties. The startup has had rocky relations with some of its freelance “shopper” workforce, notably paying $4.6 million to settle a class action suit from workers who alleged the company’s policies caused them to lose potential tips. That said, Instacart isn’t exactly radioactive, boasting partnerships with the likes of Walmart, Kroger, and Costco.

Albertsons

According to the Wall Street Journal, it’s been about 15 years since private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management began engineering the creation of today’s Albertsons Cos., which encompasses that namesake grocery chain as well as Safeway and Jewel-Osco — more than 2,200 stores that together racked up around $61 billion in revenue in its most recent fiscal year. Albertsons flirted with an IPO in 2015 (pulling the plug because the market didn’t seem retail-friendly at the time) and again in 2018 through a planned deal with Rite Aid (also scuttled when investors reacted poorly). There’s no public paperwork on this go-round, but the Journal cites an anonymous inside source suggesting the valuation could be around $19 billion. The supermarket sector has been squeezed by Amazon and Walmart, among other factors, but given the critical coverage of private equity’s role in the bankruptcy of Fairway, if this offering does happen it would be a notable private equity success story.

GitLab

GitLab markets a DevOps (translation: software development and operations) platform designed to help clients from Delta to Ticketmaster create and and implement custom software more efficiently. But the nine-year-old company may be just as well known for its idiosyncratic culture: The entire company (1,100-plus employees) works remotely and management strikes a “radical transparency” pose that includes its on the record goal “to go public in CY2020, specifically on Wednesday, November 18, 2020.” The company has explained the weird precision of the announcement by noting that the date is “five years after the first people got stock options with 4 years of vesting,” and as late as possible in the year but before Thanksgiving (on the theory that the markets get quiet after that). The nine-year-old company reports annual revenue growth of more than 140%, with its most recent funding round ($268 million, last September) valuing it at…

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