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What is an IPO?

An IPO: A Beginner’s Guide


An IPO, or Initial Public Offering, refers to the process where a private corporation offers its shares to the public for the first time. This transition allows the company to raise equity capital from public investors. It’s a pivotal moment for private investors to realize gains from their investments, often at a premium. Simultaneously, it provides an opportunity for public investors to participate in the offering.

How It Works

Before an IPO, a company remains private, growing with a limited number of shareholders, including its founders, family, friends, and professional investors like venture capitalists. The IPO is a transformative step, granting the company access to substantial funds, enhancing its growth potential, and expanding its reach. This move also brings increased transparency, which can be beneficial when seeking borrowed funds.

The decision to go public usually comes when a company has achieved a certain level of growth, often reflected in its valuation. The shares in an IPO are priced through rigorous underwriting due diligence. Once public, the previously private share ownership transitions to public ownership, with the shares valued at the public trading price.


IPOs as an idea are not new. Since the Dutch sold shares in the Dutch East India Company to the general public, they are recognized as the pioneers of the contemporary IPO. IPOs have had ups and downs over time due to a variety of economic factors. For example, during the dotcom boom, tech IPOs increased significantly, but following the 2008 financial crisis, IPOs significantly decreased.

The IPO Process

Pre-marketing Phase:

The company expresses its interest in going public, either by soliciting private bids or making a public statement.


The company selects its underwriters, who are involved in every aspect of the IPO, from due diligence to marketing.


Information about the company is compiled, with the S-1 Registration Statement being the primary IPO filing document.


Underwriters and executives market the share issuance to gauge demand and set the final offering price.

Shares Issued:

On the IPO date, the company issues its shares, and the capital from the primary issuance is recorded as stockholders’ equity on the balance sheet.


  • Access to capital from the entire investing public.
  • Increased company exposure, prestige, and public image.
  • Enhanced transparency, leading to better credit borrowing terms.


  • High costs associated with going public.
  • Potential distractions for management due to stock price fluctuations.
  • Requirement to disclose sensitive business information.

Alternatives to IPOs

  • Direct Listing: An IPO without underwriters.
  • Dutch Auction: Where the IPO price isn’t set, and potential buyers bid for shares.

Investing in an IPO

Investing in an IPO can be attractive due to the potential for high returns, especially if the stock is discounted. However, it’s essential to analyze the fundamentals and technicals of an IPO issuance. The prospectus, available once the company files its S-1 Registration, is a valuable resource for investors.


An IPO is a complex process that offers both opportunities and challenges for companies and investors alike. It’s essential to approach it with a clear understanding and thorough research. Whether you’re a company considering going public or an investor thinking about investing in an IPO, knowledge is your most valuable asset.