General Atlantic CEO sees tech values shift amid Square IPO


Most of the technology companies worth billions of dollars based on private fundraising rounds are unlikely to live up to those valuations, according to Bill Ford, chief executive officer of General Atlantic LLC, the U.S. private equity firm which was an early investor in Facebook Inc. and Uber Technologies Inc. The rush from private investors seeking stakes in closely held start ups before initial public offerings has pushed valuations too high, Ford said in an interview. Some are reassessing the price of such firms after mobile payment company Square Inc. was valued at less in its IPO than in an August 2014 round of private funding, he said. “There is no question in my mind that the valuation environment has shifted,” Ford said in Dubai. “A lot of the investors that were pushing up valuations were the folks that were really trying to just get ahead of the public markets. With the change in attitude towards valuations, they have really withdrawn from that.” Square, valued at as much as $4.2 billion in its IPO, had been in talks for funding that placed it at about $6 billion, a person with knowledge of the matter said. The company’s valuation is significant because it is one of the few young companies to have recently made the move to go public. Founded and led by Twitter Inc. CEO Jack Dorsey, it plans to market its shares at between $11 and $13 apiece, according to a regulatory filing earlier this month. BuzzFeed, Avant General Atlantic, which has its main offices in Greenwich and New York, has assets of about $20 billion and is a prominent investor in the Internet and technology industry over the past two decades. Recent investments include online consumer lending platform Avant Inc., media company BuzzFeed Inc., and cloud-based content management system Squarespace Inc. In 2011, General Atlantic invested in Facebook in a round of fundraising that valued the company at $65 billion. When the social networking site sold shares to the public a year later it was worth $104 billion. Despite the view that some tech companies will fail to live up to previous valuations, Ford said he remains confident that General Atlantic’s investments in Uber, the world’s most valuable start-up and Airbnb, last valued at $25.5 billion, will prove successful. Both companies benefit from low capital intensity, global operations, and high barriers to entry from competitors, he said. “There was so much enthusiasm pushing up private market values that I believe most of these growth companies will not live up to the promise of those high valuations,” Ford said of the industry in general. “But a number of them will.” Technology IPOs have slowed this year, with forty-two tech companies going public in the U.S., raising $7.02 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That compares with 74 deals for 2014, which raised $34.3 billion, including Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.’s $25 billion IPO. Australian business software company Atlassian Pty Ltd plans to file for an IPO in the U.S. as soon as this month, a person with knowledge of the matter said. The company was valued at $3.3 billion in its latest funding round.

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