“I’m seeing green shoots — it’s definitely back on the agenda for boards,” Jeff Bussgang, general partner at Flybridge Capital Partners in Boston, said.
Although Silicon Valley historically leads the way on tech market trends, having Boston-based Klaviyo in the first wave “is incredibly noteworthy for our market,” Rudina Seseri, managing partner of Glasswing Ventures, said. “The pipeline of Boston companies that could go public is exciting.”
Klaviyo, founded in 2012, was valued at $9.5 billion when it last raised money from venture capital funds in 2022. That’s the highest valuation of any private company included on the Globe’s unicorn tracker list (which uses data from PitchBook). Some 31 companies on the list were valued at $1 billion or more over the last few years, forming a promising pool of candidates to go public over the next few years.
But stock market investors have changed their focus since the last busy round of companies going public from 2019 to 2021. Locally, that batch included restaurant software company Toast, online gambling company DraftKings, and payments company EngageSmart.
Back then, investors were looking for rapid revenue growth, even if companies were losing money in the process. However, stock prices for some of the most prominent companies from that era, such as WeWork and Peloton, cratered when it became unclear if they would ever become profitable. Now investors want to see profits, or at least “a path to profitability,” according to Tom Holahan, a partner at Boston venture capital firm OpenView.
“The conversations in the boardroom have certainly shifted from growth at near all costs to efficient growth and profitable growth,” Holahan said.
Klaviyo reported making a profit of $15 million in the first half of 2023, after years of losses, in its IPO filing. And already-public companies such as DraftKings and Toast are also focusing on reaching profitability (excluding some costs) as soon as possible.
So with a renewed emphasis on profits, which private Boston companies could go public next?
Several investors pointed to ezCater, the workplace catering company started in 2007 by Stefania Mallett and Briscoe Rodgers. The company saw sales plummet early in the pandemic but smartly pivoted to provide catering for industries like construction and healthcare that stayed open. By all accounts, ezCater is thriving as new chief executive Ashwin Raj took over for Mallett last month.
“People were betting they might go belly-up during COVID,” said Seseri, who is not an investor in ezCater. “But now you have to talk about the exceptional execution on the part of the CEO and the management team.”
The company is not saying much about any IPO plans yet. “At ezCater, we’re focused on building a successful, durable company,” a spokeswoman said. “We remain opportunistic, as we always have, about all of our strategic options as we continue to grow.”
Other candidates to go public will likely spring from the region’s strong ecosystem of startups providing software for businesses, investors said. That includes Starburst, which provides data analytics software, Drift, which makes marketing software, and Salsify, which assists with e-commerce.
Starburst chief executive Justin Borgman suggested he’s in no rush to go public, however. “We’re excited to see the IPO market opening up and continue to work on our plan to enter the public market in the next couple of years,” he said in an email.
Salsify co-founder and chief marketing officer Rob Gonzalez did not want to reveal much about his company’s plans. “We are always open to new growth opportunities, however, at this moment, there is no specific comment we can make regarding an IPO,” he said via email.
Drift did not respond to a request for comment.
Boston also has a growing cluster of cybersecurity companies that could follow already-public leaders Rapid7 and CyberArk. Snyk, a Boston-based startup that focuses on improving the security of applications, was valued at over $7 billion at the end of 2022 and could be a candidate to go public, one VC said. Snyk declined to comment.
Still, even as the stock market gets more receptive to IPOs, no one expects a return to the heady heights of 2020 and 2021.
“We’re back to a time when the fundamentals matter,” Seseri said.