Pinterest pops 28% in its Wall Street debut

By Seth Fiegerman, CNN Business

(CNN) — For years, Pinterest CEO Ben Silbermann has insisted his company is not an outright social network. As he told CNN Business in a recent interview, the platform is not focused on hard news or amassing followers. “At its most basic level, it’s just about you,” he said.

Now we will find out whether that positioning is enough to help it avoid the curse of social media companies that go public.

Pinterest, a social platform for bookmarking pictures from around the web, ended its first day of trading at $24.40 a share, an increase of 28% from its IPO price of $19 a share.

At its IPO price, Pinterest valued at $12.66 billion — about half as much as Twitter and slightly less than Snapchat’s parent company, Snap. Both companies may also serve as a cautionary tale for Pinterest.

In August 2017, Twitter fell below its IPO price less than two years after it went public. Snap slipped below its IPO price after just four months. The two companies faced investor concerns about slowing growth and an audience size that paled in comparison to Facebook, which measures its user base in the billions.

In its IPO prospectus, Pinterest said it now has more than 250 million monthly active users, less than Twitter’s 321 million monthly users and barely a tenth of Facebook’s audience size. Unlike Facebook, Snap and Twitter, Pinterest chose not to disclose its number of daily active users and said that it does “not anticipate that most of our users” will use the service on a daily basis.

“I think it’s got a compelling case for saying it’s not a social media company,” said Matthew Kennedy, an analyst with Renaissance Capital, which manages IPO-focused exchange-traded funds. But he says investors will nonetheless judge the company by “the same things that other social media companies need to do.”

The short list, Kennedy said, includes proving it can grow its user base, make more and more money off those users, and “in the process be profitable.”

At least on the last point, Pinterest is better off than some of its rivals were when they went public. The company generated more than $750 million in revenue for 2018 — an increase of 60% from the prior year — while shrinking its losses to $63 million. Snap, by comparison, reported losing $515 million in the year before its IPO.

Its stronger financial footing is a testament to how Pinterest is run. Under Silbermann’s leadership, Pinterest chose to move slower and more deliberately in stark contrast to the faster pace of larger rivals like Facebook. The company resisted throwing money at its problems, debated product tweaks extensively and did not rush to copy features that helped larger competitors achieve viral growth, according to former employees.

“It’s not a move fast and break things type of culture,” said Danny Karubian, a partner at Valiant Capital, which led a $200 million round of funding in 2013. Instead, he described the leadership’s approach as “be very thoughtful and strategic about each action you take.”

Karubian told CNN Business this week he believes Silbermann will “continue with that sort of philosophy and culture” after Pinterest goes public.

Pinterest’s initial traction on Wall Street may be viewed as a bellwether for the growing list of tech unicorns that are racing to go public. Uber, Slack and Postmates have also filed paperwork to go public.

Lyft, which began trading on Nasdaq at the end of March, has since been hammered by investors due in part to worries over its steep losses. Its stock opened at $56.50 a share on Wednesday, more than 20% below its IPO price of $72.

Zoom, a video conferencing company, spiked more than 70% in its public market debut Thursday, after pricing shares above its original proposed range at $36 each on Wednesday. Unlike most of the other brand name technology companies going public this year, Zoom is profitable and still growing sales fast.

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