Mobile IPO Rings Hollow
Given the frothy atmosphere surrounding mobile at the start of 2010, perhaps it was inevitable initial public offering filings would begin to surface as companies seek to cash in on investor hopes of a mobile gold rush.
Bellevue, Wa.-based mobile software and services provider Motricity last week filed for an IPO to raise up to $250 million. And on Thursday, New York-based ringtone company Vringo filed with the SEC to raise up $64.3 million in an IPO.
While Motricity isn't profitable, it at least has major customers in the major U.S. wireless carriers and substantial revenue--$117.1 million for the 12 months ending Sept. 30, with a net loss of $10.8 million. Vringo looks more like a vaporous dot-com era IPO. From its start in 2007 through the first nine month of 2009, Vringo has revenue of $36,000 and a net loss of $18 million. Ouch. It expects to generate more losses and negative cash flow "for the foreseeable future."
But don't worry, the company has a plan. It's shifting is free video ringtone service from a free to a monthly paid subscription model as well as charging additional fees from selling premium content. Uh, why not demonstrate first that Vringo can develop a viable subscription business over an extended period before even thinking about going public?
If Facebook, whose venture investors this week said the company won't go public this year as it continues to work on its product and management team, why would a wholly unproven business like Vringo? To date, the company has raised about $17.5 million in financing from investors including Warburg Pincus and angel investors.
Vringo CEO Jonathan Medved, who co-founded Israel Seed Partners in 1995, is considered one of that country's leading high-tech investors and entrepreneurs. Maybe Medved's track record, including investments in Shopping.com (sold to eBay) and Answers Corp. (Nasdaq: ANSW) can help get the Vringo offering off the ground. The IPO market has shown signs of life lately, with the 31 completed in the fourth quarter of 2009, was the most since the same period in 2007, according to Dealogic Inc.
But if Vringo does go public this year and its stock price soars on the first day of trading, it could be the first sign of a mobile bubble inflating.