Lessons from an IPO

same same but different

My employer, Airtasker, had its IPO two weeks ago (this also explains why I’ve been quiet on this newsletter). It’s been quite an eye-opening experience, so it seems appropriate to jot down a few notes on how it feels, and what I’ve learned.

The excitement is real

I consider myself a “paranoid optimist,” and spend much of my time focusing on challenges and problems. Even when many of my colleagues couldn’t sleep the night before the listing, I was just fine.

But I admit, the excitement finally got to me when I entered the Australian Stock Exchange building in Sydney. The entire entryway was decked out in Airtasker colours, there were Airtasker logos on the giant bank of screens, and despite the time (10:30 in the morning) we were handed a glass of champagne (see below).

As the clock ticked down to the ringing of the bell to mark the beginning of trading, the frisson was unmistakable. Our ticker code (ART, in case you’re wondering) was up on the bank of screens, we could see all the bids and offers lining up for the start of trading.

Then the bell rang, and the screens jumped into frenzied action. As an Australian, I am culturally obligated to bet on a horse race exactly once per year. It felt like that: I couldn’t quite tell what was happening, but it sure was exciting! And a lot of money was going to be made and lost.

It really was an exciting, special, and memorable moment.

All hangovers feel the same

On listing day, I drank a veritable river of fine champagne to celebrate the milestone. Not that I regret it exactly, but I did learn this: a fine-champagne hangover feels every bit as nasty as a cheap-sparkling-wine hangover. A “champagne problem” indeed.

I feel there’s some sort of metaphorical significance to this, though it eludes me at this moment.

It is just a step on the journey

I’m always irritated when founders and other employees of recently-IPO’ed companies talk about how it’s just a milestone, they’re not staring at the stock price, they remain focused to a long-term vision and mission.

I hate it when cliches turn out to be true, but… turns out this one is. Sorry.

We listed on Tuesday (and celebrated a lot), and on Thursday we had a massive employee celebration on an incredible boat.

Let me tell you what Wednesday was like:

Normal (hangover not withstanding). We focused on the problems and opportunities that face us, talked about how to build something enduring, and focused on many day-to-day aspects of running the business.

Let me tell you what Friday was like:

Normal.

Let me tell you what last week (first week post-IPO) was like:

Normal. In fact, we had four deep-dive project reviews. It’s not that we don’t talk about the IPO, or that we’re not aware of our changed circumstances. It’s just that life goes on, and it quickly recedes from the foreground.

Finance is interesting (who knew?)

The process of raising capital through an IPO is a lot more subtle than just flogging off a bit of your company. It’s a delicate dance, a seduction (and then a negotiation) between capital and equity. Each side is looking for a partnership, and although money sits at the heart of everything (it is finance after all) there is a lot more to it than just selling to the highest bidder.

It feels a bit like growing up

It wasn’t the IPO itself that made us grow up, it was everything we had to do to get ourselves ready to be a listed company. We were forced to get our shit together along a number of different dimensions, all of which was good for us and make us a stronger and healthier organisation.

Note that our various partners in the IPO process said that we had our shit way more together than many other companies at our stage of life. Which was gratifying… and also a little scary.

Like a first kiss

I’m assuming there’s something relatively universal to this human experience, but after my first kiss (full story probably belongs on a different medium!) I felt:

  • Grown up;

  • Focused on what comes next;

  • Like nothing would ever be quite the same again;

  • And yet, life went on. I had breakfast, I went to school, I played video games with my fellow nerds. I continued to grow up. I continued to learn and develop.

That’s what an IPO feels like.