Infinera , a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based start-up, went public yesterday in what is turning out to be one of the hottest public offerings in recent months. Even though the optical gear maker is still bleeding red, the company managed to raise about $182 million by selling 14 million shares at $13 a pop. This morning, the INFN is trading at around $22 a share.
The IPO by the 6 1/2-year-old company had been widely expected, and many had expected to do well. Why?
Because it makes gear that helps reduce the operational expenses that go with managing and running fiber networks. Infinera, makes an optical chip, and then builds a specialized box that is sold to carriers like Level 3 and Global Crossing. ( Read Andrew Schmitt’s piece on where they fit in the optical landscape and why?)
Nevertheless, from a personal perspective it has been a thrill to see this company evolve from an idea to a publicly traded company. That is one of the biggest upsides of the new blogging medium – you can follow a story from start to finish on a rolling basis.
Infinera is one of the handful of start-ups I have followed from cradle to the finish line – Google, Skype, and Vonage are the other three. (Current list includes Joost and Kyte, and another stealth mode company. Facebook should have been on the list.)
The common trait amongst all these companies is the audaciousness of the idea, and the unrelenting desire of the founders to just march to the beat of the drum only they hear. Some have happy endings, other’s don’t.
It was back in March 2002, my long feature on Infinera, The Light Brigade , appeared in the Red Herring, even though I had spent many months talking to the three co-founders: Jagdeep Singh, Drew Perkins and David Welch.
Their idea of building an optical chip was too outrageous that they kept it on the down low. The conventional wisdom was that it couldn’t be done, and no one, and I mean no one believed that it could be done.
Still, the company raised huge amounts of cash, with Vinod Khosla, then at Kleiner Perkins, Alex Balkanski of Benchmark Capital and Cypress Semiconductor’s TJ Rodgers being the early backers. You have to remember this was at a time when the telecom industry was collapsing, and the question of the day was: who is bankrupt now?
Even back then, the company had a specific timeline and a game plan that would do an NFL coach proud. They shared milestones, and as the years went by, they managed to execute on their plans.
The initial euphoria aside, the company still has its work cut out – it has to keep growing its sales, stem its losses. Infinera recorded revenue of $58.2 million for the year ended Dec. 31, 2006, and a net loss of about $90 million. That compares with revenue in 2004 and 2005 of about $600,000 and $4 million, and net losses of about $66 million and $65 million, respectively. In the first quarter of 2007, the company had sales of $49.2 million and a net loss of around $20 million.
The fact that Level 3, one of their biggest customers is also an equity owner should be of concern to one-and-all. Level 3 (including Broadwing) accounts for nearly 75% of their revenue. This pay-to-play tactic was something that went out of control in the last telecom bubble. Infinera has signed up a lot of new customers, and has over $125 million in deferred revenues.
As the months go by, much of what they will do will be part of public domain. It will be an interesting to watch if this team can turn a single chip into a company that can continue to beat the giants at their own game.