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Going public refers to a private company's initial public offering (IPO), thus becoming a publicly traded and owned entity. Businesses usually go public to raise capital in hopes of expanding; venture capitalists may use IPOs as an exit strategy - that is, a way of getting out of their investment in a company.

The IPO process begins with contacting an investment bank and making certain decisions, such as the number and price of the shares that will be issued. Investment banks take on the task of underwriting, or becoming owners of the shares and assuming legal responsibility for them. The goal of the underwriter is to sell the shares to the public for more than what was paid to the original owners of the company. Deals between investment banks and issuing companies can be valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, some even hitting $1 billion.

Going public does have positive and negative effects, which companies must consider. Here are a few of them:

  • Advantages - Strengthens capital base, makes acquisitions easier, diversifies ownership, and increases prestige.
  • Disadvantages - Puts pressure on short-term growth, increases costs, imposes more restrictions on management and on trading, forces disclosure to the public, and makes former business owners lose control of decision making.

For some entrepreneurs, taking a company public is the ultimate dream and mark of success (usually because there is a large payout). However, before an IPO can even be discussed, a company must meet requirements laid out by the underwriters. Here are some characteristics that may qualify a company for an IPO:

  • High growth prospects
  • Innovative product or service
  • Competitive in industry
  • Able to meet financial audit requirements

Some underwriters require revenues of approximately $10-$20 million per year with profits around $1 million! Not only that, but management teams should show future growth rates of about 25% per year in a five- to seven-year span. While there are exceptions to the requirements, there is no doubt over how much hard work entrepreneurs must put in before they collect the big rewards of an IPO.

To learn more about the process of going public, check out the IPO Basics tutorial.

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