The Three Most Important Lessons From the Square IPO

Long Live the Unicorns!

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Jack Dorsey, chief executive officer of Square, tours the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday.
Jack Dorsey, chief executive officer of Square, tours the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday. Credit: Yana Paskova/Bloomberg

Here's what I've been reminded of in the wake of Thursday's initial public offering of Square, the mobile payments company:

  1. A lot of journalists are not so good at math.
  2. The media has an even shorter attention span than you do.
  3. It always helps to bring your mother.

Earlier this week, there was plenty of negative press in advance of Square's IPO, like a Wednesday NYTimes.com article (which was also splashed across the front page of Thursday's New York Times business section) with the headline "For Its I.P.O., Square Scales Back Valuation by $3 Billion."

Thanks to underwhelming demand, you see, Square, which was worth $6 billion on paper last year (per private investment), drastically slashed the price of its initial public offering. There was hand-wringing all around, and the Times piece had a rather awesome quote about so-called tech start-up "unicorn" companies like Square, which quickly ring up theoretical valuations of at least $1 billion on the private-equity market:

"The unicorn thing has gotten way out over its skis," said Max Wolff, chief economist at Manhattan Venture Partners. "Square's I.P.O says people are a little bit less caught up in the prospects of what you can become and are more grounded in what you are."

We were all supposed to feel somewhat bad for Square co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey, who has obviously been overextending himself, given that he recently returned to Twitter, which he also co-founded, to serve simultaneously as CEO of that company too.

But what a difference a day or two makes. The NYTimes.com headline by the end of Thursday was "Shares of Square Soar by 45% After Public Offering," while WSJ.com declared that "Square offers hope for [the] sputtering IPO market." USAToday.com, meanwhile, focused on Dorsey's paper gains with a post titled "$277M birthday gift? Square's Dorsey got one" (he turned 39 yesterday).

It also helped that Dorsey brought his mother along yesterday (she got to ring the New York Stock Exchange opening bell), so photos of Marcia Dorsey giving her son Jack a birthday kiss became the defining visual of the Square IPO media narrative.

Of course, Jack continues to hurtle hrough the air, and his skis are still wobbling like mad... but just look at that photo! How cute is that?! Marcia's adorable and Jack's so handsome and successful.

Oh, and here's a tweet from Marcia Dorsey this morning:

Long live the unicorn!

Simon Dumenco, aka Media Guy, is an Ad Age editor-at-large. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.

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