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Davos Day 2: The Post-IPO Era

Technologists at the World Economic Forum seemed unmoved by the abstraction of the public markets.
January 28, 2010

Today, I am following the technology track at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos.

At this morning’s Technology Pioneers breakfast, the technologists attending the World Economic Forum discussed how successful technology startups must be flexible–how, whatever they thought they were at their founding, such companies change as their customers use their products and they come to understand the business models that will support their business. (An idea close to my heart.) We discussed the different “exits” currently possible for a startup, other than an initial public offering or an acquisition. (One founder of a popular online video platform company suggested that a company with a particularly rich cash flow could repurchase the shares of its investors, and essentially “go private.”)

Children of the era following the dot.com bust, the entrepreneurs at my table seemed mostly indifferent to the allure of a dizzyingly successful IPO. They thought the possibility of a public offering was a good recruitment tool for sought-after developers, and they thought it conferred status and transparency. Otherwise, they didn’t care: the idea appeared abstract to them. The entrepreneurs were wholly focused on the business of “making my company into an institution” (as one of them put it).

Ev Williams, the founder of Twitter, was opposite me. Since this was a gathering of the princes and princesses of the Innovation Economy, and he was at ease amongst his peers, he candidly explained Twitter’s business model and “exit”–but, alas, I cannot tell you them, since the session, at the insistence of our moderator, Mike Arrington of TechCrunch, was off the record.

I’ll be posting again later in the day from Davos, and you can follow me on Twitter @jason_pontin.

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