Square could take hit on IPO with Jack Dorsey leading Twitter

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - The much anticipated initial public offering from Silicon Valley payments company Square could take a price hit if its chief executive, Jack Dorsey, takes a second and possibly more demanding job: running Twitter.

Jack Dorsey, interim CEO of Twitter and CEO of Square, goes for a walk on the first day of the annual Allen and Co. media conference in Sun Valley, Idaho July 8, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Blake

A distracted CEO juggling two companies, neither of which is a well-oiled machine, may not inspire the investor enthusiasm Square had bet on, financial industry experts told Reuters.

“Management and management focus are the single most determining factor of the success or lack thereof of a company pursuing an IPO,” said Lise Buyer, an IPO consultant with Class V Group in Silicon Valley who also helped guide Google Inc’s IPO.

“Were I a (Square) investor, I would want to be compensated for the cost of a part-time CEO who already had a full plate. And by compensated I mean I would expect a lower valuation.”

Square was valued at $6 billion at its last funding round a year ago. The company has filed a confidential public offering and plans an “imminent” public filing, according to a source familiar with the situation, potentially putting it in a position to be a public company by the end-of-year holiday season.

There is no indication yet how Square might price shares. And the company could still push back the IPO, as the market’s volatility provides an easy cover for any delay.

This IPO would affect more than just Square. A blockbuster debut from Square could rejuvenate the sluggish IPO market, which is down 35 percent over last year in terms of number of deals priced, according to IPO manager Renaissance Capital.

Concerns about slowing growth in China and an interest rate hike in the United States by the Federal Reserve helped make the third quarter the worst since 2012, with IPO proceeds plummeting 77 percent compared with the same period a year ago.

“If Square went out and did well that would encourage people generally to go out,” said Eric Jensen, an IPO attorney and partner at law firm Cooley.

But if it prices low and performs poorly on the stock market, he said, other tech companies in the queue will have a tougher time finding buyers.


Still, Dorsey, a Twitter co-founder who took over as interim CEO in June, has been lauded for his work guiding both companies over the last four months. He has pleased many Twitter shareholders, while Square has launched new products and its IPO plans have chugged along.

“I don’t think anybody has had a good experience betting against Jack Dorsey,” said Fritz Lanman, an early Square investor and tech entrepreneur.

But with an IPO looming, Dorsey’s responsibilities at Square will grow if he keeps the top job at both companies. Tech news site Re/code reported on Wednesday that Twitter was expected to name him permanent CEO as early as this week. Neither company has commented on the appointment.

Dorsey will likely face fire when Square begins its road show, the period of pitching to investors and fund managers leading up to the public offering, sources say.

“Investors would have to get comfortable with how he would do both jobs well,” said David Erickson, a longtime banker and venture capitalist who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School of Business.

“What would also, I think, make this particular situation more challenging is the turnaround currently going on at Twitter, and the time I assume it would require.”

While not facing the same scrutiny as Twitter, Square is working to define itself and is in need of leadership. Square started as a payments company but now offers a suite of small-business services, ranging from loans to invoice software, and it continues to experiment and evolve.

The distractions will continue after the eight- to 10-day roadshow that will likely take Dorsey across the globe to drum up interest for an IPO.

Dorsey will have to be more involved with investor and analyst meetings, make more public appearances and hold quarterly earning calls, according to IPO experts.

Meanwhile, Twitter’s stock is down 52 percent over the last year, and investors are clamoring for the company to grow revenue and its user base.

“There is so much uncertainty and so much attention needed at Twitter that it certainly should not inspire confidence in potential investors about Square,” said Buyer, of Class V Group.

Additional reporting by Lauren Hirsch in New York; Editing by Dina Kyriakidou and Leslie Adler