John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

The OpenTable Binge and Purge

bubblerevengejpgAnyone remember Judging from the performance of OpenTable’s IPO last week, it would seem few do. Like OpenTable, Foodline was an online restaurant reservation business. And it too boasted some high-profile investors–Zagat, American Express (AXP). But it never went public. It went bankrupt in 2001, leaving the online restaurant market to OpenTable, which survived the bust to try its luck on the open market a few years later.

Ancient history, I suppose. But perhaps worth thinking about in light of OpenTable’s rather astonishing IPO last week. Originally priced at between $12 and $14, shares in the company were instead listed at $20. They opened at $24.50 and then spiked to $33 before closing at $31.81. A 59 percent surge on the first day of trading. For a company whose business is built on the recession-brutalized fine-dining industry? Impressive. Must have made for quite a windfall for OpenTable’s’s larger investors. Especially those who took the opportunity to dump their stakes in the company. Charles Schwab (SCHW), Pacific Asset Partners, W Capital Partners, Venture Frogs, Zagat and a number of small private investors sold off all their OpenTable shares as part of the company’s IPO (click on chart below), according to the SEC filing.


Interesting, yeah? Seems at least some of the company’s investors had been hoping for an exit. And they fled for it in unison, pockets full, when one was offered. Perhaps they’d lost their appetite for risk after reading through the Risk Factors section of Open Tables IPO filing, which grimly noted that “a significant majority of our restaurant customers are fine-dining restaurants which have been particularly affected by economic downturns such as the one we are currently experiencing.”

Or perhaps, like Scott Sweet, a senior managing partner at I.P.O. Boutique, they remember Foodline and the last dot-com bubble and bust. “People don’t truly know the story here about this company. It’s a one-trick pony company,” Sweet told the New York Times. “Pricier restaurants in San Francisco, Tampa, New York are not that hard to get in right now. In fact, one can do it themselves if they choose, with 15 minutes notice.”

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work