Skype IPO may add dose of healthy hype to Valley

August 9, 2010

Skype’s initial public offering may add a dose of healthy hype to Silicon Valley. The Internet telephony group’s $100 million float should be red hot. While there have been several tech offerings this year, investor reception has been uneven. A bit of justified excitement over Skype’s growth and its backers’ gains is just what the Valley’s capitalists — and entrepreneurs — need.

With hot companies like Facebook and Zynga ruling out public floats in the near future, that leaves growth investors hungry for the next big ticket. Skype obliges. It has 560 million registered users and continues to grow. It added 86 million in the first six months of the year. Moreover, it is in the black. Skype has totted up $116 million of adjusted EBITDA since January, and this figure could grow rapidly if the company succeeds in cracking the lucrative enterprise market.

Moreover, Skype is big. Place estimated 2011 revenue of $1 billion on the same multiple as Google, and the company may be worth more than $5 billion. That would be a huge gain for the private equity backers at Silver Lake who led the firm’s carve-out from eBay, clarified copyright issues with Skype’s founders and tweaked its software. They valued the firm at $2.75 billion at purchase in 2009.

Valuing Skype in line with Google may sound optimistic. But there’s the issue of scarcity — the $100 million float is minuscule. This could set off a mad scramble for the few available shares, sending them rocketing.

The Valley needs a bit of this sort of ebullience. Venture capitalists are sitting on a huge backlog of companies that could go public — which is one reason the average fund established since 1998 hasn’t made any profits for investors. Sure, there have been 11 tech IPOs this year and more in the pipeline, such as Demand Media. But the average IPO is up less than 2.5 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data.

That’s not much to write home about — and certainly not a big draw for sellers or buyers. A successful Skype offer would be a different story. Investors would presumably clamor for more of the same, increasing valuations on tech firms that earn money on social applications. If there’s enough appetite, it could even tempt companies like Facebook, Zynga and Yelp to consider selling shares to the public. Skype deserves some hype.

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