Term Sheet

The latest on private equity, M&A, deals and movements — from Wall Street to Silicon Valley

Stop sweating the tech IPO 'drought'

March 22, 2013: 3:46 PM ET

Tech IPOs will return. Just have some patience.

130321164317-keep-calm-and-carry-on-poster-240xa

FORTUNE -- In baseball, people get all excited about how a team begins the year. Win 15 of your first 20, and you're a shoo-in for the World Series. Lose your first few, and someone better get fired. The tech IPO market seems pretty similar.

There is no doubt that 2013 has begun slowly, with just five successful IPOs so far for VC-backed technology companies -- including today's offering for Marin Software (MRIN). This compares to 11 such offering at this point in 2012 (depending on your definition of "VC"), and none of this year's quintet has been close to a blockbuster.

Such sluggishness has triggered alarm bells. Kevin Kelleher, for example, wrote earlier this week that the "tech IPO drought is only getting worse" -- suggesting that the brief boost in IPO popularity among entrepreneurs (thanks LinkedIn) has already faded (thanks Facebook).

But everyone I speak to in the IPO "market" -- bankers, lawyers, advisers, venture capitalists, etc. -- insist that volume will rise substantially next quarter and that a bumper crop awaits the back half of 2013.

In other words, let's give this thing a bit of time to breathe before declaring it irreparably rotten.

Some of these folks may just be talking up their books, but there is unanimity that Q1 deals have been affected more by macro concerns than company-specific sentiments.

Lise Buyer of Class V Group, for example, says that many issuers postponed Q4 2012 or Q1 2013 offerings due to concerns over how the public markets would react to both the presidential election and fiscal cliff negotiations -- worries reflected in a late December volatility index spike. The fiscal cliff situation was revolved in early January, but it takes several months for company's to restart their IPO processes. "Most of those companies still plan to go out," Buyer says. "So there's an awful lot in the pipeline."

Jackie Kelly, Ernst & Young's U.S. IPO leader, says that "tech IPOs are definitely coming back, particularly big data companies and online processing companies."

Ernst & Young reports that global IPO issuance – for all sorts of companies – is off 42% between Q1 2012 and Q1 2013, which supports the idea that this slowdown isn't specific to VC-backed entrepreneurs who would prefer to be acquired by Google (GOOG). It also says that only 17 issuers have withdrawn or postponed IPOs in Q1 2013, compared to 60 in Q4 2012 and 57 in Q1 2012.

E&Y reports that the IPO pipeline is growing both broadly and for the VC-backed tech sector, with 99 U.S. issuers in registration through March 15. Among them are around a dozen VC-backed tech companies, including LegalZoom, Rally Software and Reval Holdings. And doesn't include confidential filers under the JOBS Act, but Fortune has learned that a total of 175 such filings have been submitted (including those for companies that later made their docs "official").

"We've got a lot coming at the back half of this year," explains a venture capitalist I spoke with yesterday. "To be honest, we're a little worried that there's going to be so much activity that some of our less strong companies might have trouble getting attention."

In short, the season has only just begun. We're a long way from mathematical eliminations.

Sign up for Dan's daily email newsletter on deals and deal-makers: GetTermSheet.com

Join the Conversation
About This Author
Dan Primack
Dan Primack
Senior Editor, Fortune

Dan Primack joined Fortune.com in September 2010 to cover deals and dealmakers, from Wall Street to Sand Hill Road. Previously, Dan was an editor-at-large with Thomson Reuters, where he launched both peHUB.com and the peHUB Wire email service. In a past journalistic life, Dan ran a community paper in Roxbury, Massachusetts. He currently lives just outside of Boston.

Email a Tip | @danprimack | RSS
Current Issue
  • Give the gift of Fortune
  • Get the Fortune app
  • Subscribe
Powered by WordPress.com VIP.