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The INQUIRER Top Five Tech IPOs revealed

Floats that floated our boats
Mon Jul 16 2007, 11:46
SUMMERTIME and the living is easy. Fish are jumping and the cotton is high. Just one problem: not a lot happening.

Yes, yes, yes, you have your launch announcements and pre-announcements, your Oracle 11g and your coming-real-son-now Microsoft triple crown of Longhorn, SQL Server 2008 and Visual Studio. But come July, hard news, as journalists are wont to say when feeling thirsty and an attractive pub is in prospect, is generally pretty thin on the ground.

After the Iphone orgy, we're feeling a bit limp and unable to perform. In the summer, shows come to a stop and the only reason you might make a big announcement is because not many other people are doing so.

Thank goodness then for the return of IPOs with VMware, MySQL and NetSuite the latest to say they going to float. Facebook could also be in the market for going to the public markets, reports suggest.

IPOs are life-changing events for the individuals concerned, especially for the CEOs. It goes well and you're up to your ears in hookers and gin, everything in the garden looks rosy and you can't move for upside and gravy. It's jam today and jam tomorrow and the future's so bright you have to wear shades. You click your heels, wear your hat at a jaunty angle and start to have idle thoughts: "Maybe I'll trade in the wife."

Or if it's really going swimmingly you can go a bit mad: "Think I'll build a temple made of stainless steel, start a new religion and create a community. Call it Veitchtown."

Unfortunately, if it goes south, you end up on the wrong end of class-action lawsuits with numbnut journalists using all the negative shtick on you: "Making Veitch CEO was the oddest appointment since Caligula made his horse a senator." There's the nasty prospect of a jail sentence because of your incompetence, nobody looks you in the eye and everywhere you look, as Damon Runyon wrote, the odds look six to five against.

IPOs are the stuff of soap opera, making people fantastically rich in a golden moment or stinking out the room. They're also good for people who buy kit because they give smaller firms a shot at sticking it to the man and going head to head with Beenaroundforever Corp. rather than just being acquired by Beenaroundforever Corp.

So let's hear it for the IPOs that floated our boats.

5. Webvan. In 1999, the online grocer floated and was considered to be one of the hottest dotcoms around. Shares peaked at $30 but plummeted to under 10 cents before the company shut up shop. Under terms of his contract, George Shaheen, the CEO Webvan hired from Andersen Consulting, gets $375,000 per year for the rest of his life.

4. With the tech business still sluggish, Marc Benioff showed some much-needed swagger in 2004 and demonstrated that the applications service provider concept wasn't rubbish, even if a lot of the ASPs themselves were.

3. Netscape. The great internet IPO of '96 helped blow the big bubble before Microsoft added another scalp to its collection by issuing a free browser. Netscape went to AOL, entered into an alliance with Sun and petered out to not much.

2. Transmeta. In 2000, Transmeta was hot. It had a secret sauce, it had Linus, it had a bull market. The IPO went fine with stock surging 115 percent on its opening day. But a lack of design wins and declining competitiveness made Transmeta more of a curiosity than a game-changer for the microprocessor business.

1. Google. Ker-ching! When the G-men filed for an IPO in 2004 they left us all gasping -- not literally, just a bit of journalistic licence -- by revealing that they had been generating cash like a company that owned sole rights to a machine for generating cash. The company's shares soared, soared again and continue to soar. Not even giving an interview to, ahem, Playboy, on the eve of IPO could stop the boys. Watch ‘em go. µ


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