For the first time in years, Canada has a stock market star on the global high-tech stage.
Shopify Inc., which grew from a struggling online snowboard store into an e-commerce platform serving 165,000 merchants, soared in its trading debut, lifting hopes for its burgeoning Canadian tech peers.
Shares of the Ottawa-based startup were highly sought after in their debut Thursday. The stock began trading more than 65 per cent higher than its $17 (U.S.) offering price on the New York Stock Exchange. The stock hovered at about $26 for most of the day, closing at $25.75, up 51 per cent on the day. On the Toronto Stock Exchange, where shares traded at much lower volumes, the stock opened at $35.50 (Canadian) before closing at $31.25.
That valued the company – founded in 2004 by German-born programmer Tobias Lutke, who set up in Ottawa because his wife is from the area – at $1.9-billion (U.S.). The company is now worth more than business communications company Mitel Networks Corp., previously Ottawa's most valuable high-tech firm.
"I had a suspicion obviously that Shopify would be really well received," said Mr. Lutke, whose personal stake is now worth more than $255-million. "This company was never built to win business-plan competitions. It was only based on the conviction there was a much better way for business to be created online."
The sharp rise during the company's long-anticipated initial public offering (IPO) validated some of the hopes resting on the fast-growing but still unprofitable company's shoulders.
"It's obviously an outstanding debut," said David Wismer, managing director at BMO Nesbitt Burns. "Here's a Canadian domiciled company which is the world leader in e-commerce competing globally. You don't need to be based in Silicon Valley to be the best online shopping provider."
On Wednesday, Shopify reported that it sold 7.7 million shares to investors at $17 apiece, raising $131-million. Sources close to the deal said the offering was 30 times oversubscribed, meaning demand was through the roof: There were many more buy orders than could be fulfilled at that price. Traditionally, deals that are 10 times oversubscribed are considered home runs. As demand rose over the past few days, the offer price was raised twice from the original range of $12 to $14.
Shopify's IPO arrives at a time when hot new issues for tech stocks are relatively scarce. So far in 2015, tech-related IPOs are coming online at barely a third of the rate they were in 2014, according to market intelligence firm Ipreo. It also confirmed that Shopify is the first Canadian e-commerce company to go public on a U.S. stock market since at least 2001.
More than 12.5 million of the company's shares traded hands on the Canadian and U.S. exchanges Thursday amid frenzied demand.
Several Canadian startups often mentioned in the same breath as Shopify have also attracted serious funding from Canadian and U.S. venture capital firms. As early as 2013, interest and investments had made Shopify a "unicorn" company – a startup judged to be valued at more than a billion dollars. Other "unicorn" hopefuls that appear to be mulling IPOs include Vancouver's Vision Critical Communications Inc. and Hootsuite Media Inc., and Kitchener-Waterloo, Ont.-based Desire2Learn Inc.
"The Shopify deal definitely has created a lot of buzz and really got our team thinking about timing on an IPO," said Ryan Holmes, CEO of social media management platform Hootsuite.
"I think within the next 12 to 18 months we're targeting as a time frame where we could be ready to come out if the markets look good. With IPOs, you want to have a number of events connect and converge at the perfect time."
BMO's Mr. Wismer said it's time Canadian firms can finally start putting the dark days of the dot-com bust behind them. "We don't need to have comparisons back to 2000. These are very much new-era companies," he said.
"I think [Shopify] could clearly be recognized now as a new flagship tech company in the country."
With customers in roughly 150 countries, selling everything from Teslas to cellphone cases, custom-made T-shirts to official NBA Lakers gear, Shopify's cloud-based software allows retailers to manage a range of store functions – such as transactions, inventory and accounting – both in digital stores and brick-and-mortar shops.
It has more than doubled its revenue in each of the past two years, reaching a total of $105-million in 2014.
"The IPO is a sign that this next generation of world-leading technology companies can be conceived, built and sustained within the Canadian startup ecosystem," said Jim Orlando, managing director of OMERS Ventures (an early backer of Shopify), the venture capital arm of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System.
Mr. Lutke acknowledges that how the markets assess the value of his company is now, in part, out of his hands. Even so, he thinks it's important for Canadian firms to go out into sometimes hostile markets with optimism about the possibility of success.
"We have a lot of really great companies in Canada, and I think there's always been this fear that 'great' in Canada doesn't mean 'great' on a world stage," he said. "We need more self-confidence."