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Silicon Valley Investors Call Summit to Disrupt IPO Business

Sonali Basak

(Bloomberg) -- Powerful figures are gathering 2,500 miles from Wall Street to redesign one of its oldest and most lucrative businesses -- but few from the industry will have a seat at the table.

Venture capitalists and executives from hundreds of private companies will meet in Silicon Valley on Tuesday to discuss whether the financial industry’s system for initial public offerings is still working after a year in which many of the biggest deals flopped. Attendees plan to discuss alternative strategies including direct listings, which replace financial underwriters with cutting-edge computer code.

“I’m not anti-banker, I’m pro-algorithm,” Bill Gurley, a general partner at venture capital titan Benchmark who is one of the meeting’s organizers, said in a phone interview. He said investment bankers are largely uninvited.

For months, he and others including Sequoia Capital’s Mike Moritz have been pitching the benefits of direct listings, in which computers shift privately held shares to public markets without banks buying giant blocks of stock and parceling them out to clients at a single price the night beforehand. Humans, Gurley said, have been systematically “mispricing” IPOs for decades. Fewer banks are typically involved in a direct listing, advising startups and helping to drum up investor interest.

Gurley points to research by Jay Ritter, a professor at the University of Florida who studies how stocks perform after market debuts to judge whether top banks such as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley are optimally pricing shares on behalf of budding ventures. His calculations show startups are often significantly underpriced.

To be sure, investors expect IPOs to feature first-day “pops” in price that reward the risk they take supporting a market debut. Yet while companies going public sometimes appreciate the positive press and the demand that such rallies create for future offerings, some entrepreneurs have lamented the money left on the table that could’ve gone into operations instead of speculators’ pockets.

While the biggest IPO advisers won’t be making their pitch, the Silicon Valley summit doesn’t totally exclude finance.

Doug Baird, a longtime banker at Citigroup Inc., and William Blair & Co.’s Carl Chiou are speaking on a panel titled “A Voice of Reason,” according to an agenda seen by Bloomberg. It’s sandwiched between presentations by Gurley and Ritter that are critical of the current IPO model.

Citadel Securities executive Joe Mecane -- whose firm has been the designated market maker on the direct listings of Slack Technologies Inc. and Spotify Technology SA -- and New York Stock Exchange President Stacey Cunningham were invited to speak, according to an invitation shared with Bloomberg News.

Representatives from Nasdaq will also attend the event,according to a person familiar with the situation.

Some speakers who are expected, according to the invitation:

Barry McCarthy, chief financial officer of Spotify, which had a direct listing last year and is considered a pioneer of the model for technology firmsJamie McGurk, managing partner at Coatue ManagementKatrina Lake, chief executive officer of Stitch Fix Inc., a nearly $2 billion company that went public in 2017David Schellhase, general counsel of Slack, which directly listed this yearLatham & Watkins lawyer Greg RodgersRich Barton of Zillow Group Inc.Michael Lewis, author, former banker and Bloomberg Opinion columnist

(Updates with Nasdaq and speakers list at end of story. An earlier version corrected the first paragraph to remove reference to no bankers being invited.)

--With assistance from Olivia Carville, Lananh Nguyen and Sarah McBride.

To contact the reporter on this story: Sonali Basak in New York at sbasak7@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Michael J. Moore at mmoore55@bloomberg.net, Dan Reichl, David Scheer

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