Five years after the launch of Snapchat, Snap is planning to go public. The company filed for an initial public offering on the New York Stock Exchange today, picking the ticker symbol “SNAP.” The company hopes to raise $3 billion and says it has 158 million daily active users. The IPO would reportedly value the company above $20 billion.
The filing comes at an exciting but challenging time for Snap. The company — originally named Snapchat — has declared its intentions to become “a camera company,” rather than just an app developer. And it’s already found some success with Spectacles, its fun pair of video-recording sunglasses.
Snap is losing a lot of money
The company says its advertising business is growing quickly. It reported $58.7 million in revenue for 2015, and grew that to $404.5 million in 2016. Along with that strong revenue growth, however, its losses also swelled. Snap lost $372.9 million in 2015 and $514.6 million this past year, more than its total revenue. Twitter was also struggling to generate a profit when it went public, while Facebook was not.
Here’s a gem from the S-1 filing. “We have incurred operating losses in the past, expect to incur operating losses in the future, and may never achieve or maintain profitability.” Sounds like a great investment! Actually, probably just boilerplate legal language. Still, a tough sell. Snap will have to sell investors on its strong revenue growth and user engagement. The S-1 says the average user opens the app 18 times a day and spends 25-30 minutes with it.
Snap plans to invest more in hardware
Snap’s IPO also comes just as the company’s core property, Snapchat, comes under serious fire from Instagram. Facebook, Instagram’s owner, has for five years now been trying its best to destroy Snapchat. Every effort failed, until recently, when Instagram launched a near-exact clone of Snapchat Stories, called Instagram Stories.
Analysts are recording sharp declines in views of Snapchat Stories, with Instagram Stories seemingly both the beneficiary and the cause. TechCrunch published a long look Snapchat’s declining numbers yesterday — and while it’s far from indicating the end of Snapchat, it highlights what’s certain to be an issue for investors: Snap appears to be going public just as its key product is losing reach.
The founders, not shareholders will make the decisions
Snapchat has never courted the celebrities and influencers on its platform in the same way Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube have. Its core utility lies as much in peer-to-peer messaging as one to many broadcasting. Analysts believe that Snap may emphasize the growing engagement of its core user base, preferring that metric to the total size of its audience or the view count on high-profile stories.
Like many of its Silicon Valley peers, Snap will have a dual class stock structure that consolidates control among a few key executives. “Our two co-founders have control over all stockholder decisions because they control a substantial majority of our voting stock,” Snap said in its S-1 filing. “The Class A common stock issued in this offering will not dilute our co-founders’ voting control because the Class A common stock has no voting rights.”