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How Sonos plans to hold its own against Apple, Google, and Amazon

·Tech Critic

Sonos (SONO), the company that makes wireless, whole-house speaker systems, went public on Thursday. It priced its IPO at $15 a share, and the stock hit a high of $21 before closing at $19.91. It was trading at over $20 on Friday morning. Nice job there, early investors!

As the new ticker SONO appeared on the NASDAQ boards, I chatted with Sonos VP of Software Antoine Leblond, who was on the scene at NASDAQ headquarters.

I asked him why Sonos is going public now, after 16 years in business. “This allows us to accelerate some of the things we’re working on — maybe look at new partnerships, new products, things like that,” he said.

He mentioned, for example, that the influx of cash might permit the company to make acquisitions and to expand much faster internationally. “But generally speaking, we’re pretty confident in the strategy we’ve been working on, and working towards, for several years now.”

Sonos is now a publicly traded company.
Sonos is now a publicly traded company.

I also asked — just as everyone else is asking — if Sonos really thinks it can withstand the battle against the 8,000-pound gorillas that have recently entered the wireless smart-speaker business: Apple, Google, and Amazon.

“We’re in this with pretty different strategic imperatives,” Leblond said. “If you think of a company like Amazon or Google, they are, just like us, building speakers that have microphones built into them. But what they’re doing this for is an entry point into their services, whether that’s their intelligent assistants, or e-commerce services, or search.

“We, on the other hand, really are focused on the other side of it, which is the listening experience. In that sense, what we do and what they do isn’t so much in competition, but is actually quite complementary. We benefit from each other in a lot of ways, and that’s why you see a company like Amazon, Apple, or Google spending a lot of effort partnering with us.”

(Sonos speakers are the first products to have both Amazon’s Alexa and, soon, Google’s Assistant built in. Sonos also makes the rare speakers that can stream music from the music services from Apple, Google, and Amazon — as well as Spotify and dozens of others.)

The stock of hardware-only companies generally has a tough time these days. Fitbit (FIT) priced its stock at $20 when it began trading in 2015, and now costs around $5.40. GoPro (GPRO) priced its IPO at $24 a share, and is now about $6.96.

On the other hand, Roku (ROKU) has done beautifully (priced its IPO at $14 a share, now over $46). And analysts point out that Sonos isn’t some startup; it’s been around for 16 years and has a devoted customer base. (38% of sales in 2017 were to repeat buyers.)

Either way, the stock is off to a healthy start — and investors love the sound of that.

David Pogue, tech columnist for Yahoo Finance, welcomes comments below. On the Web, he’s davidpogue.com. On Twitter, he’s @pogue. On email, he’s poguester@yahoo.com. You can sign up to get his stuff by email, here.

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