Commentary

Some Say The Fitbit IPO Runs Mostly On Hype

Fitbit pushed off the IPO blocks with a burst of energy yesterday, exceeding even heightened expectations. The company raised the share price to $20 Wednesday night after having set a range of $17 to $19 earlier in the week and then surged almost 50% to close at $29.68 on the New York Stock Exchange. 

There were jeers as well as cheers, however, as some observers say the Fitbit craze is fueled mostly by hype and others point to looming competition from the Apple Watch.

“The so-called one-day ‘pop’ on Thursday validated what has been among the year's most hotly sought offerings, and would rank Fitbit's flotation as the best performing debut of the year by a company of its size — outpacing GoDaddy and Virtu Financial,” the Financial Times’ Eric Platt and Tim Bradshaw report.

“Some are already saying Fitbit could be the ‘Shake Shack of fitness tech’ if it continues to have a smooth run ahead,” writes Ananya Bhattacharya for CNNMoney. “Shake Shack went public in January and is the best performing IPO so far in 2015.”

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Fitbit, based in San Francisco and founded in 2007, “provides a multi-platform approach to health and fitness, integrating mobile apps and websites with sleek, colorful devices that track data such as steps taken and calories burned. They can be worn as bracelets or clipped to clothing,” Daina Beth Solomon reports in the Los Angeles Times.

With 2014 revenue of $745 million from the sale of 10.9 million devices, it had 85% of the “connected activity tracker market” in the first quarter of the year, according to NPD Group, Solomon reports. Over time, it has sold about 20.8 million units.

“The enthusiasm suggests investors aren’t overly concerned about Fitbit’s status in the nascent but fast-growing fitness-tracking market, particularly as larger companies — primarily Apple — start to roll in,” writes Dan Frommer on Quartz. “The main risk is that fitness tracking is destined to simply become a feature — an app, or a few apps — on broader, multi-purpose devices, such as the Apple Watch and other similar gizmos.”

Indeed, Apple Watch sales are estimated at 2.79 million units since it launched in April — and it has only become available for pick-up in stores in nine major markets, including the U.S., this week.

While VentureBeat calls it the “bracelet darling of the IoT space,”  not everybody is as enamored of the Fitbit’s utility or its value as a publicly traded company as are its enthusiasts.

“As Fitbit entered public trading, it has frequently been compared to BlackBerry — which was an established market leader almost a decade ago, but then fell short when it failed to meet innovative expectations of the time,” points out Trisha Thadani for USA Today.

Fitbit CFO Bill Zerella tells Thadani that Fitbit will keep an “intense focus on innovation” to avoid a similar path. “We're aggressive in terms of how we can deliver new technology that will allow us to stay ahead of the competition,” he said.

In a similar vein, a New Yorker hed asks if Fitbit will “go the way of the Palm Pilot?” Vauhini Vara writes: “In 2000, when Palm went public, its Palm Pilots — those handheld organizers that were marketed as replacements for paper planners — seemed cutting-edge. Al Gore and Robin Williams had their own; in the Times magazine the previous year, the journalist David Colman had called the device ‘a perfect amulet.’” But the brand was dead by 2011.

In a opinion piece on MarketWatch — “Why I Hate The Fitbit IPO And You Should, Too” — Tim Mullaney touches all the negativity bases (presumably without any measure of the calories he burned in doing so).

Calling the device “a poster child for the fatuous self-obsession gripping Silicon Valley,” Mullaney writes that “the contribution Fitbit makes to health — let alone the negligible difference it will ever make to any serious vision of health-care reform or cost containment — strongly suggests you should leave your buy order in the dresser drawer.”

And that’s not all, not by the distance between a solid investment and “a toy, and a fad and maybe a fashion statement,” Mullaney asserts, suggesting that the company’s roadshow featuring celebrity endorsements from the likes of David Sedaris and Shaquille O’Neal are about as relevant to healthy living as a walk from the couch to the fridge. 

Hey, did you know that you burn about 34 calories an hour simply sitting at a table playing Five Card Stud? Alas, there are no estimates given for laughing out loud for a sustained period. But if you want to chuckle a few away while you’re trudging on the treadmill this weekend, check out Sedaris’ piece about “living the Fitbit life” published in the New Yorker a year ago. It has legs.

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