by Brenon Daly
After a record pace throughout much of 2018, the enterprise tech IPO market has basically ground to a halt. And with the traditional extended holiday break for new offerings, it’s looking like the year will wrap with a two-month drought in IPOs. That’s quite a drop-off from the start of the year, when nearly two B2B tech startups were coming public each month.
Overall, our tally shows that twice as many enterprise-focused tech vendors came public in the first half of this year than the second half. (To be clear, we are counting only B2B companies that listed on the NYSE and Nasdaq. That excludes, for instance, this year’s surprisingly numerous biotech offerings as well as the handful of consumer tech startups that came to market in 2018.)
Of course, recent IPO activity has been hit hard by the fact that the broader US stock market has been hit hard. A survey by 451 Research’s Voice of the Connected User Landscape done during some of the volatile days in October showed that three times as many investors had lost confidence in the equity market since last summer as had gained confidence in it. When Wall Street feels like shaky ground, it’s hard for new offerings to find their footing.
None of that precludes new offerings next year. But to the extent that uncertainty continues to cast clouds over Wall Street in 2019, the overall climate could table IPOs for smaller, more speculative enterprise tech startups. Big names tend to be ‘bankable’ regardless of what’s happening in the broader market. (That development is also being driven by VCs, who are concentrating more money into fewer companies.)
That’s starting to play out in the related consumer technology sector. Lyft announced last week that it had put in its IPO paperwork, putting it on track for an offering in the opening months of next year. And not to be outdone, Uber is also reportedly putting its offering in place. Meanwhile, on the enterprise tech side, there’s been plenty of speculation that Palantir will exchange its long-held secrecy for a public listing in 2019.
As welcome as those new names would be, however, they won’t do much for the broader tech IPO market. No one holds out these so-called ‘decacorns’ as representative of the much bigger startup community. As anomalies, they are not going to lead other companies to market or help set a bullish tone for other tech IPOs. Instead, smaller tech vendors will be relegated to observers on Wall Street, watching on as large-cap private companies become large-cap public companies in a rather mechanical process.