And, after he finally merged that SPAC with the commercial human spaceflight company Virgin Galactic last October, he raised about $1.1 billion for his second and third SPACs in late April.
Mr. Palihapitiya isn’t the only one. On the investment side, there are lots of different SPAC flavors. They include Bill Ackman’s Pershing Square Tontine Holdings, which has raised a giant $4 billion SPAC that will perhaps target a “mature unicorn”; a $300 million SPAC from the former speaker of the House, Paul Ryan (you read that right); and even one from a sports manager, Billy Beane, whose $575 million sports-focused SPAC is “elephant-hunting in European soccer.”
These many SPACs are finding interesting targets. This week, the 3-D printing company Desktop Metal merged with Trine Acquisition, after saying it had planned a public offering. In June, the fantasy sports and betting outfit DraftKings gambled on a SPAC.
The list goes on. And while it can feel like a shell game, and there are possibilities for abuse, an essay this week by Bill Gurley, a well-regarded venture capitalist, got a lot of attention for declaring SPACs as “Door No. 3” for techies — an attractive third option for raising money. (The other doors are a traditional I.P.O. and the recently popular direct listing.)
Given the boom in SPACs — meaning there will be more competition — Mr. Gurley rightly thinks these financial instruments are a better deal for companies he invests in. They also offer a refuge from the underpricing of I.P.O.s, which leaves billions on the table that should go to the companies and not to Wall Street firms and their clients. It’s a longtime complaint of venture capitalists and start-ups, which are not in complete control of that process.
“The traditional way of going public is systematically broken and is robbing Silicon Valley founders, employees and investors of billions of dollars each year,” Mr. Gurley wrote.
Mr. Gurley is still an admirer of direct listings, which Spotify used in 2018 to much acclaim. Their downside, Mr. Gurley notes, is that a company can’t use them “to go public and simultaneously raise capital.” While the exchanges and regulators are working on perhaps changing that, any company that needs more capital — like a maker of electric trucks, for example — is taking a big risk using the direct-listing method.