Pinterest Prices I.P.O. at $19 a Share, for a $12.7 Billion Valuation

SAN FRANCISCO — Pinterest on Wednesday priced its shares at $19 each for its initial public offering, in a sign of healthy demand by investors after the appetite for fast-growing but money-losing tech companies appeared to be on the wane.

The price valued the digital pin board company, which lets people save images and links from around the web, at $12.7 billion. That is a little above its last private fund-raising round, which had pegged the company at $12 billion.

By selling at $19 a share, Pinterest raised $1.6 billion from big investors in the offering. The shares will begin trading Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol PINS.

Pinterest’s pricing could bode well for the many “unicorns” — start-ups worth more than $1 billion — that are rushing to the public markets. It follows a rocky debut for the ride-hail company Lyft, which went public on March 28.

After a euphoric spike on its first day of trading, Lyft’s shares promptly sank below their I.P.O. price. The company is still worth more than it was in the private market, but investors who bought into the I.P.O. are under water and may not want to take on more risk in start-ups like Pinterest.

“Coming out of Lyft, there was a lot of drama and concern around the appetite investors had for these money-losing businesses,” said Vincent Ning, director of research at Titan Invest, an investment manager.

He said Lyft might have been too aggressive on its pricing, which led Pinterest to take a more conservative tack. Mr. Ning predicted that that strategy would result in an uptick in Pinterest shares in the days after its I.P.O.

That appetite will be tested in the coming weeks. Uber, the giant ride-hailing firm and the most prominent player to emerge from this wave of start-ups, will start meeting with investors to sell its shares. Slack, a workplace collaboration company, and Postmates, a food delivery company, are also expected to unveil their I.P.O. plans.

These unicorns have waited longer to go public than past generations of tech start-ups, opting to raise more money from private market investors. But their lack of profits and nosebleed valuations have not always stood up to scrutiny once they went public.

Snapchat’s parent company is now worth around half of what it was valued at when it went public in 2017. The share price for Dropbox has been flat since it went public last year at a valuation below its last private market valuation. In 2012, Facebook also experienced a public market reality check, with its stock languishing for months below its I.P.O. price in its first year as a public company.

When Pinterest started to talk to investors about its I.P.O., it set a conservative price range that valued it at below $12 billion, the private valuation it has had since 2015. The strategy may stave off a frenzied spike and immediate drop like Lyft’s.

The conservative pricing was typical of Pinterest’s avoidance of hype. The company’s chief executive and co-founder, Ben Silbermann, is an introvert who has built Pinterest slowly and rarely brags.

“I don’t think it’s important to focus on the image of speed versus the things that our customers, and hopefully our future customers, really want,” he said in an interview with The New York Times last year.

Mr. Silbermann is “comfortable being underestimated,” Scott Belsky, an early investor in the company, said at the time.

While many start-up founders use their I.P.O. prospectus as an opportunity to wax poetic about their companies’ grandiose missions, the founder’s letter from Pinterest was short. It noted that “sometimes ‘what is essential is invisible to the eye,’” and thanked investors for considering the company.

The $1.6 billion that Pinterest raised is small in relation to its peers. Lyft raised $2.3 billion; Uber is expected to seek as much as $10 billion.

With $628 million in cash on its balance sheet, Pinterest has less need for money. It is also not losing as much money as Lyft or Uber. Pinterest said it had lost $63 million on revenue of $756 million in 2018. The company, which sells ads, is also growing quickly, reporting a 60 percent jump in revenue from 2017 to 2018.

The company faces stiff competition from digital advertising behemoths Google and Facebook, which owns Instagram. The company also listed Allrecipes, a recipe website; Houzz, a home-improvement website; and Tastemade, a cooking content company as competitors.

In its I.P.O. prospectus, Pinterest emphasized its differences from some of those services. Pinterest is not a social media app for hanging out with celebrities or broadcasting one’s life, the company said. It is meant to be personal. The company’s 250 million monthly active users, called “pinners,” come to the site to plan their lives, including home projects, weddings and meals.

Even if Pinterest’s shares trade slightly below their last valuation, early investors in the company will reap big returns. Bessemer Venture Partners, FirstMark Capital and Andreessen Horowitz have significant stakes. Alongside Fidelity and Valiant Capital Partners, they have poured more than $1.5 billion into the company. Mr. Silbermann stands to make about $981 million from his 11 percent stake.

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