An initial public offering ["IPO"] is the process through which a privately held company issues shares of stock to the public for the first time. Also known as "going public," an IPO transforms a small business from a privately owned and operated entity into one that is owned by public stockholders. An IPO is a significant stage in the growth of many small businesses, as it provides them with access to the public capital market and also increases their credibility and exposure. Becoming a public entity involves significant changes for a small business, though, including a loss of flexibility and control for management. In many cases, however, an IPO may be the only means left of financing growth and expansion. The decision to go public is sometimes influenced by venture capitalists or founders who wish to cash in on their early investment.
Staging an IPO is also a very time-consuming and expensive process. A small business interested in going public must apply to the Securities and Exchange Commission ("SEC") for permission to sell stock to the public. The SEC registration process is quite complex and requires the company to disclose a variety of information to potential investors. The IPO process can take as little as six months or as long as two years, during which time management's attention is distracted away from day-to-day operations.
Overall, going public is a complex decision that requires careful consideration and planning. Experts recommend that small business owners consider all the alternatives first (such as securing venture capital, forming a limited partnership or joint venture, or selling shares through private placement, self-underwriting, or a direct public offering), examine their current and future capital needs, and be aware of how an IPO will affect the availability of future financing.