– Pathways to Profitability: As money losing companies, I had hoped that Uber, WeWork and Peloton would all spend more time talking, in their investor pitches, about their existing business models, current weaknesses in these models and how they planned to reduce their vulnerabilities. With Uber and Lyft, the question of how the companies planned to deal with the transition of drivers from independent contractors to employees should have been dealt with front and center (in their prospectuses), rather than be viewed as a surprise that no one saw coming, a few months later. With WeWork, their vulnerability, stemming from a duration mismatch, begged for a response, and plan, from the company in its prospectus, but none was provided. In fact, Peloton may have done the best job, of the three companies, of positioning themselves on this front, with an (implicit) argument that as subscriptions rise, with higher contribution margins, profits would show up.
– Earnings Adjustments: As has become standard practice across many publicly traded companies, these IPOs do the adjusted EBITDA dance, adding back stock-based compensation and a variety of other expenses. I have made my case against adding back stock-based compensation here and here, but I would state a more general proposition that adding back any expense that will persist as part of regular operations is bad practice. That is why WeWork’s attempt to add back most of its operating expenses, arguing that they were community related, to get to community EBITDA did not pass the smell test.
– Shares with different voting classes: With the exception of Uber, every high profile IPO that has hit the market has had multiple classes of shares, with the low-voting right shares being the ones offered to the market in the public offering and the high voting right shares held by insiders and the founder/CEO. It is also revealing that Uber was also one of the few companies in the mix where the founder was not the CEO at the time of the IPO, after the board, pressured by large VC investors, removed Travis Kalanick from atop the company in June 2017, in the aftermath of personal and corporate scandals.
– Captive boards of directors: I am sure that the directors on the boards of newly public companies are there to represent the interests of investors in the company and and that many are well qualified, but they seem to do the bidding of the founder/CEO. The WeWork board seems to have been particularly lacking in its oversight of Adam Neumann, especially leading up to the IPO, but it is probably not an outlier.
– Complex ownership and corporate structures: When private companies go public, there is a transition period where shares of one class are being converted to another, some options have forced exercises and there are restricted share offerings that ripen, all of which make it difficult to estimate value per share. It does not help when the company going public takes this confusion and adds to it, as WeWork did, with additional layers of complex organizational structure.