It’s always a hoot when privately held companies register to sell shares to the public. For one, they’re required to file papers (S-1 forms) that are the equivalent of standing stark naked on an auction block and having potential investors poke at your privates. Here are the more interesting things we found when we zoomed in on the S-1s of the Seattle Seven (the companies registered to public as of January 2000).
For specs on each IPO, check out Go, Go IPO.
Onvia.com (Small-Business Supplies, Editorial Content)
Heavy reliance on wholesalers. For the first nine months of 1999, 78% of what Onvia sold on its website came from Ingram Micro (NYSE: IM), the world’s largest wholesaler of tech products and services. (IM rings up sales of more than $26 billion annually and is expected to earn 98 cents a share for 1999; it was recently trading around $12 a share.)
The good thing about relying on wholesalers? Onvia doesn’t carry any inventory; it doesn’t have to worry about markdowns.
The bad thing? The profit margins are often slim or non-existent. For all of 1999, Onvia logged $27.1 million in sales. But it cost Onvia considerably more than that to provide the goods it sold — some $31.5 million. The result is that Onvia’s gross profit margin was negative. Add to that the $38.4 million Onvia spent to operate its business — advertising expenses, salaries, etc.–and you see why the company lost a whopping $43.3 million on operations in 1999.
Avenue A (Intenet Advertising Agency)
Anti-Takeover Provisions. Avenue A has “adopted measures” that would make the company harder to acquire (even if this is in the best interest of shareholders). And here we thought Avenue A might make a nice little purchase for a huge ad agency like Saatchi & Saatchi.
Patent Status: AvenueA buys advertising space from DoubleClick (NASDAQ: DCLK), which operates an online advertising network. In September 1999, DoubleClick was awarded a patent on how ads are delivered, targeted and measured over online ad networks. Avenue A, which hasn’t been issued any patents yet, is trying to figure out if some of its tech infringes DoubleClick’s patent.
HomeGrocer.com (Online Grocer)
That round thing on the vans is a peach! Here we thought it was an unripe tomato.
Loudeye Technologies (Service Bureau for “Streaming” Audio & Video)
Downplaying RealNetworks. There are two major types of “streaming” software — that of RealNetworks and Microsoft-and Loudeye uses both. But now it seems Loudeye is favoring Microsoft, which invested in the company in 1999. In the prospectus, a whole paragraph is devoted to Microsoft, where it’s revealed that Loudeye has a full-time customer rep managing its “strategic” partnership with Microsoft.
By contrast, only a line or two is devoted to RealNetworks, with whom Loudeye has a “reseller partnership” that “generates customer referrals.” (For more on “streaming” see Ignoramus.)