Snap Inc., the parent to popular social media app Snapchat, has confidentially filed for an initial public offering. The Venice, CA-based tech company reportedly hopes to raise $4 billion in its IPO, leading to a valuation of between $25 billion and $35 billion.
That valuation would imply an extremely rich multiple compared to its revenues. In 2015, the company generated only $59 million in revenue, while for 2016, Snap estimates revenue between $250 million and $350 million, according to documents cited by TechCrunch. For 2017, it's expecting revenue in a range of $500 million to $1 billion.
"Investors won't be looking at revenue for this year; they'll be asking, what happens after [the IPO]?" said Kathleen Smith, chairman of Renaissance Capital, a manager of IPO-focused ETFs.
But Snap's projected 2017 revenue of $1 billion still equates to a multiple of 25x to 35x based on the IPO's implied valuation. "That's pretty high," Smith added. "When you look at other tech companies, they aren't trading at that multiple."
"It's going to be one of the more pricey IPOs in a long time," Smith said. The closest comparison in recent memory is e-commerce company Alibaba's (BABA) IPO in 2014, which was the largest in history, ultimately raising $25 billion and valuing the Chinese firm at $168 billion. That valuation represented about 19.5x its most recent annual revenues.
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For Snap, "the key will be in the details, at the real expected growth rate," Smith said. "In a market where investors are price sensitive, you have to hope that when you open that prospectus, you'll find gold."
Still, investing in a company based on future expected revenue "can be a real risk," according to Smith. And compared to the modest pricing of IPOs so far in 2016, "[Snap's pricing] might not be attractive," Smith noted.
Snap, which could go public as early as March, recently launched its new Spectacles wearable camera device on November 10 to an immense amount of hype. It's notable that Snap refers to itself as a camera company on its home page.
The glasses, which costs $129, are an easy-to-use take on wearable cameras, but the way Snap is selling them makes it anything but easy to get your hands on one. Spectacles are only available for retail sale out of "Snapbots," bright yellow vending machines that appear on street corners with little advance notice, only to disappear 24 hours later.
The company has been revealing where and when the next vending machines will pop up in the "map" section of its website. So far, the Snapbots have visited Venice, CA, Big Sur, CA and Catoosa, OK.
This method of launching a device is in stark contrast to the ostentatious keynote events that technology giants like Apple (AAPL) , Alphabet (GOOGL) and Microsoft (MSFT) tend to use to show off their newest wares. Snap's strategy is more like the unannounced Beyonce album-drop of the tech device world.
It's generating the same kind of buzz, too. The vending machines have all sold out quickly after landing.
The unorthodox way of selling Spectacles seems to fit with the harder-to-use interface of the Snapchat app itself, according to the Verge. It's notoriously difficult to find and use features on the photo-sharing app, the Verge noted, so much so that it seems like it's a company strategy.
The counter-intuitiveness of the Snapchat app may be what lends it much of its appeal because it makes it harder for older users to become active Snapchatters. It's part of what makes Snapchat so popular among young people. Snapchat's monthly average users jumped to 150 million in June 2016 from 110 million in December 2015.