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Who’s next in the web IPO wave? Gilt Groupe, the company that runs online “flash” sales of designer clothing and other upscale products, says it could start making preparations next year for a public offering in 2013.
According to a report published Tuesday in the Financial Times, an IPO is in the cards for Gilt Groupe, and at this point it’s just a matter of timing. The FT quotes Gilt Groupe CEO Kevin Ryan as saying:
“We are certainly plenty big enough to go public. The question is, is it the right time, do you want to spend the time on that? We’d look at the process in 2012… I think it’s entirely possible that in 2013, depending on the markets and depending on how things are going, that we would look to go public.”
But if and when Gilt holds an IPO, should it really be seen as a big tech industry story? For me, covering Gilt Groupe brings up the same questions I had when the tech press was gaga over the Groupon IPO a couple weeks ago. Yes, both companies have raised hundreds of millions of dollars from the same kind of venture capital firms known for backing the tech industry’s most rigorously engineering-focused firms.
But only five percent of Groupon’s total employees work in technology; the bulk of its human resources go toward efforts such as sales, editorial and customer service. Gilt hasn’t published a breakdown of exactly how its workforce is deployed, and it does seem to have a strong engineering team and culture as evidenced by its “Technologie” blog and hackathons — but it’s ultimately a discount retailer. The fact is, Walmart has a very solid IT team too, but the tech press does not typically cover all the ups and downs of its stock price.
Of course Gilt and Groupon could very well grow to become more tech-centric in the same way that Amazon has evolved over time. But right now, should they really be put into the same category as the Facebooks, Microsofts(s MSFT) and Googles(s GOOG) of the world?
I don’t know the answer, but I think it’s worth some critical thought and discussion. As more straight consumer products and retail companies become savvy to the web and mobile technology, it will be interesting to see how the lines continue to blur around what we think of as a “tech company.”