Like Gilt Groupe, Square is often cited as an IPO candidate. Founder and CEO, Jack Dorsey, hasn't ruled it out, but Square might make a better acquisition target.
The mobile payment service has received $341 million in funding, so Square is heavily venture-backed. Square's most recent financing has valued the company around $3.25 billion, but a strategic acquirer like Visa (V) could afford Square. In fact, Visa already invests in Square, and a lot of financial institutions could create synergies with the San Francisco-based company. Smartphone and tablet transactions are on the rise, so it could be wise for a traditional payment service provider to integrate a company that's already making headways in this space.
PrivCo's Hamadeh says an acquisition is likely. "Square will not do an IPO because from its inception it is a company that was built to be bought. Square has achieved impressive revenue growth, but through profit-less prosperity." Hamadeh makes an interesting point about Square's current business model. "Square's strategy has been all about generating increasing mobile payment volume at flat fees (no swipe fees) which by definition leads to adverse selection: that is, the merchants with the lowest average check price will use Square as it's cheaper, while those with large average check prices use a traditional banking solution tied mobile swipes using a mobile card processing device." Square is still gaining traction, so it's reasonable that the company could hold out for a better valuation in 2014. But with NCR, GoPago, LevelUp, PayPal and Bank of America's Mobile Pay all entering a similar space, there are no guarantees that they'll be a long-term market leader. With Dorsey on board (he co-founded Twitter), and a Starbucks (SBUX) partnership, Square has certainly garnered a lot of media attention. As an early mover, Square has an advantage, but ultimately, the winning service may be the one that's the most cost effective and efficient.
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