The first quarter of 2018 brought two tech giants to the table. Spotify, the Sweden-based music streaming service, and Dropbox, the San Francisco-based file hosting service, both went public this March, helping contribute to the biggest quarter in the IPO market in the last three years.
Spotify’s IPO drew attention for not drawing attention at all. While traditional IPOs are underwritten by major banks and sell new shares, Spotify opted out. Instead, it made its debut as a direct listing, meaning that only current shareholders could sell their existing shares on the New York Stock Exchange floor and no price was set in advance.
Spotify had no choice but to go public before July of this year. According to Recode, the longer that Spotify delayed its listing, the more shares in the company shareholders TPG and Dragoneer accumulated, according to the convertible debt note they held. Stocks began trading at $165.90 on Tuesday, April 3, after a stormy Monday that saw the Dow Jones and S&P 500 fall three points. It closed at $149.01, a drop of over 10%, but still higher than the original reference price of $132. Spotify now has a market valuation of $26.6 billion.
The Dropbox IPO, meanwhile, was long-awaited and well-hyped, underwritten by the likes of J.P. Morgan, Goldman Sachs, and Deutsche Bank, among other institutions. Their goal was to raise $500 million at a time when the company was already seeing rising profits and narrowing margins. Their March 22 offering garnered $750 million, thus far the biggest tech IPO since Snap Inc. debuted in 2017. Dropbox shares rose by 36% after its first day of trading. The IPO was initially valued at $21 a share; it closed at $28.50, with a high of $31.43. This brings their valuation up to $10 billion, approximately where it was at its last funding round in 2014.
This is a tough time for a tech company to go public, especially one entrusted with so many users’ personal data. Dropbox already seems to be protecting its image. In February 2017, a Wikipedia user moved the criticism section of Dropbox’s page to a separate article, stating that it “was getting really long and became difficult to navigate properly.” The criticism article includes privacy issues, data breaches, outages, and the inclusion of Dropbox in the NSA’s national surveillance program, among other controversies. It can only be found by clicking on a hyperlink in a single sentence from the last paragraph of the main page’s introduction. The reception section of Dropbox’s current main page is composed entirely of positive press. The main page receives a daily average of 2,853 views; the criticism page receives 42. As Facebook, Google, and Apple stocks have yet to recover from the panic over privacy in tech, Dropbox still managed a strong debut.
Both companies made a splash, and their timing and shared status as tech IPOs are begging comparisons. Beyond the Wall Street data, there are other parameters to look at when it comes to measuring lasting success. Spotify which was founded in 2006, has seen a 68% rise in employees in the past two years. Despite the company’s growth – it now boasts 90 million free listeners and an additional 70 million paying subscribers – hirings have more or less plateaued in the last six months, seeing only a 5% growth in manpower. Those they did bring in are distributed across the specializations. In total, 65% of those new hires were in arts and design and information technology, focusing more on user experience and less on product development.
Dropbox, meanwhile, has only seen a 25% growth in employees over the past two years. Most of those – 43% – have been in engineering and human resources. As Dropbox acquires more and more companies and integrates their technology into its product, engineers are crucial. While Spotify seems to be positioning itself for growth, Dropbox may be working towards streamlining and efficiency.
Spotify and Dropbox both have mobile apps available, which have proven crucial for the sales of both. Frustration with the free version of the Spotify app seems to drive many users to pay for subscriptions, if Google Play reviews are to be believed. With over 11 million downloads, that means more revenue for the company. It’s also the number one music app on the Apple App Store, despite Spotify’s competition with Apple Music.
The Dropbox app gets largely positive reviews on the Google Play Store, but some users are frustrated that Dropbox Paper – the company’s Google Docs competitor – is a seperate app and not integrated into the service. iPhone users on the Apple App Store leave more negative feedback for bugs and software issues. While users are generally happy with the storage service, they face stiff competition in the cloud service market, facing off with the likes of Amazon, Google, and Apple.
Spotify vs. Dropbox vs. the tech establishment
Not only are both companies squaring off against fierce competition, they’re often squaring off against the same competition. Spotify has nearly double the listeners of Apple Music, but brand loyalty means that the latter is quickly growing. With a little over 20 million subscribers but about 10 million more songs in their library, exclusive releases, and iTunes integration, Apple is working hard on catching up. Amazon Music United has also breached the market, and similar streaming service Deezer is still holding out.
Dropbox has been competing against Box since its inception, which remains its most direct competitor. It’s also fending off Google Drive, which is becoming more and more ubiquitous, and whose mobile app allows for a wider range of functions. Other major competitors are Microsoft OneDrive and Amazon Cloud Drive. Apple’s iCloud is also an emerging rival.
For the time being, neither company is profitable. The biggest chunk of Spotify’s profits goes to licensing fees, and Dropbox lost $111 million in revenue in 2017. While Spotify’s profits are increasing, Dropbox’s losses are shrinking, and only time will tell which tech unicorn will come out on top. Interested in investing and want up-to-date insights on companies like Spotify and Dropbox? You can order a report on these and other companies here.