Square, the payment-processing company, has reportedly closed a new $150 million round of funding that values the company at $6 billion. On the surface this sounds like good news, with some eye-popping dollar figures. But the truth is that the details of Square's round seem to confirm ongoing reports that the company's growth is slowing, profits are lacking, and investors are increasingly reluctant to bet on its future.
Square settled on an investor with little tech experience
The lead investor in Square's latest round is the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC), a massive fund that puts the nation's surplus cash to work. It's not uncommon for US tech startups to get later-stage funding from Asian strategics — Pinterest, for example, was backed by Japan's Rakuten and Snapchat recently took a major investment from China's Tencent — but those are both examples of Asian internet companies backing a smaller company in a market where they have experience. The GIC has made only two internet investments and neither are similar to Square. All this suggests Square was struggling to find a new lead investor who would put up such a big sum without lowering the company's valuation, settling on a backer without a reputation in tech or any strategic alignment with its service.
Speaking of which, the $6 billion figure sounds impressive, but actually continues a slowdown in the company's growth. Remember, at one point Square was being touted as the next big IPO prospect, a company that would rival CEO Jack Dorsey's success with his previous startup, Twitter. But as TechCrunch pointed out after Square's last round in January of this year, the value of the company compared to its revenue has been steadily declining. That's likely because it has become clear that Square's current business model can't generate a profit, no matter how large it scales.
Its not all bad news. While GCI may not be a well known name, it's worth noting several of Square's earlier investors, including Goldman Sachs, participated in this latest round as well. The company's valuation has declined as a percentage of total revenue, but it did nearly double from 2012 and has increased 20 percent since the beginning of 2014.
In April of this year it was reported that Square was running out of cash and looking to sell itself to a larger tech company. The company denied this report, but the fact that it's raised capital again without a significant change in its valuation implies that the company was indeed short on funds, or it would have held out for a better deal.
Square has to worry about Apple Pay and an independent PayPal
Where does Square go from here? In May it killed off its Wallet app, the company's big bet to make the transition from the low margin business of serving merchants to the more profitable consumer market. It replaced it with a different take on the same idea, this time called Square Order. That app debuted at No. 19 on the "Food and Drink" charts and has been declining ever since, hovering in the top 200 today according to App Annie. Its Square Cash app, which lets users easily exchange funds, has fared better, sticking in the top 20 on iOS and between 50 and 20 on Android. But that service generates little to no revenue for Square.
There is still evidence of solid growth at Square. the company recently published a blog post noting that the merchants on its platform generate an annual revenue equal to the 13th largest retailer in the US. That's a big ballpark, but means Square is processing somewhere in the $30-40 billion range, of which it gets to keep roughly $300-400 million. It has also launched two new programs for small business lending and scheduling that it hopes will round out its revenue streams.
But when it comes to its core business, Square faces an increasingly competitive landscape, with Apple Pay and an independent PayPal both about to enter the crowded marketplace for digital wallets. This new cash infusion will help Square to compete in the short-term, but it won't be enough to match the resources those tech titans can afford to spend over the next few years to win over both merchants and customers.