Tech startups going public - Case Studies

| 8 min. read | By Olivia Foster
This article delves into the journeys of five tech startups - Airbnb, Snowflake, DoorDash, Palantir Technologies, and Unity Software - from their inception to their respective IPOs, highlighting their challenges, strategies, and post-IPO performances.

Key Takeaways

1. Tech Industry Growth: The tech sector has seen rapid growth, with startups often reaching unicorn status and subsequently going public to raise capital.

2. Airbnb’s Resilience: Despite challenges like regulatory issues and the COVID-19 pandemic, Airbnb adapted its model, focusing on longer-term stays and local travel.

3. Snowflake’s Cloud Dominance: Snowflake capitalized on the increasing demand for cloud-based data solutions, becoming a major player in cloud data warehousing.

4. DoorDash’s Market Strategy: DoorDash carved out a significant market share by focusing on suburban markets and partnering with popular restaurant chains.

5. Palantir’s Unique Position: Palantir, specializing in big data analytics, has a diverse client base ranging from intelligence agencies to commercial enterprises.

6. Unity’s Gaming Prowess: Unity Software, a leader in game development platforms, has expanded its reach beyond gaming to industries like automotive and film.

7. Post-IPO Volatility: Tech startups often experience stock volatility post-IPO, reflecting the dynamic nature of the tech sector.

8. Investor Insight: Understanding a tech company’s history, competitive landscape, and growth potential is crucial for investors.

Disclaimer: The following article is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as financial advice. Please consult with a qualified professional before making any investment decisions.


The tech industry has been a hotbed for innovation and growth, with many startups reaching unicorn status (a valuation of $1 billion or more) in record time. As these companies mature, many opt to go public, offering their shares on stock exchanges to raise capital and provide liquidity to early investors.

These Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) present unique opportunities and challenges for investors. By examining specific case studies, we can glean insights into the dynamics of investing in tech startups transitioning to the public domain.

Understanding the journey of these startups can provide insights into potential investment opportunities and this article, we’ll delve into five tech startups that made headlines with their public offerings.


IPO Date: December 10, 2020

Valuation at IPO: Approximately $47 billion

Background: Founded in 2008 by Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia, and Nathan Blecharczyk, Airbnb revolutionized the travel industry by creating a platform where individuals could rent out their homes or rooms to travelers.

The idea was born out of a need to pay rent, and the founders started by renting out air mattresses in their living room, hence the name “Air Bed & Breakfast.”

Journey to IPO: Over the years, Airbnb faced regulatory challenges, competition, and the need to establish trust in a new kind of accommodation model. Despite these hurdles, the company expanded globally, reaching millions of listings in over 220 countries.

By focusing on user experience, community building, and a robust review system, Airbnb garnered a loyal user base. The company’s journey to its IPO was not without its challenges, including a significant downturn during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, Airbnb rebounded by adapting its offerings and emphasizing longer-term stays and local travel.

Post-IPO Performance: After going public, Airbnb’s stock experienced significant volatility, reflecting both the challenges and opportunities in the travel industry. The company’s resilience during the pandemic and its ability to adapt to changing travel trends showcased its potential for growth and innovation.

As of the last update in 2021, Airbnb continued to be a dominant force in the travel industry, with its market position and brand recognition serving as significant assets for its future endeavors.


IPO Date: September 16, 2020

Valuation at IPO: $33 billion

Background: Snowflake Inc. is a cloud-based data warehousing company that was founded in 2012. It offers a cloud-native platform that allows businesses to manage and analyze large volumes of data in real-time.

The company’s unique architecture separates compute from storage, enabling users to scale up or down as needed, and only pay for the resources they use.

Journey to IPO: Snowflake’s journey to its IPO was marked by rapid growth, driven by the increasing demand for cloud-based data solutions. The company raised over $1.4 billion in venture capital funding before going public, with significant investments from top-tier firms like Sequoia Capital and ICONIQ Capital.

Their impressive client list, which included many Fortune 500 companies, showcased their capability to handle enterprise-level data needs. By the time of their IPO, Snowflake had already established itself as a major player in the cloud data warehousing space.

Post-IPO Performance: After its IPO, Snowflake’s stock price surged, making it one of the largest software IPOs ever. The company’s valuation skyrocketed in the subsequent months, reflecting investor confidence in its growth potential and the broader trend towards cloud adoption.

Snowflake continued to expand its product offerings, partnerships, and customer base, cementing its position as a leading innovator in the cloud data platform sector.


IPO Date: December 9, 2020

Valuation at IPO: Approximately $39 billion

Background: DoorDash, founded in 2013 by Tony Xu, Stanley Tang, Andy Fang, and Evan Moore, began as a food delivery service in Palo Alto, California. The company aimed to bridge the gap between restaurants and customers, offering a platform where users could order food and have it delivered to their doorstep.

Over the years, DoorDash expanded its services across the U.S. and into Canada, becoming one of the leading food delivery platforms in North America.

Journey to IPO: DoorDash’s journey to its IPO was marked by rapid growth, strategic partnerships, and a series of funding rounds that bolstered its market position.

The company faced stiff competition from other delivery services like Uber Eats and Grubhub but managed to carve out a significant market share through its focus on suburban markets and partnerships with popular restaurant chains.

By the time of its IPO, DoorDash had raised over $2.5 billion in venture capital funding, setting the stage for one of the most anticipated public market debuts of 2020.

Post-IPO Performance: After going public, DoorDash’s stock experienced significant volatility, a common trend among tech startups making their market debut. The company benefited from the increased demand for food delivery services during the COVID-19 pandemic, which boosted its revenues and user base.

However, as with many tech startups, profitability remained a challenge in the face of stiff competition and the costs associated with scaling the business. Nevertheless, DoorDash continued to innovate and expand its offerings, seeking to solidify its position in the food delivery ecosystem.

Palantir Technologies

IPO Date: September 30, 2020

Valuation at IPO: Approximately $22 billion

Background: Founded in 2003 by Alex Karp, Stephen Cohen, Joe Lonsdale, Peter Thiel, and others, Palantir Technologies is a public American software company that specializes in big data analytics.

Named after the “seeing stones” in J.R.R. Tolkien’s legendarium, the company’s platforms, primarily Palantir Gotham and Palantir Foundry, are used by intelligence agencies, financial institutions, and several other sectors to manage, analyze, and visualize vast amounts of data.

Journey to IPO: Palantir’s journey to its IPO was long and filled with anticipation. For many years, it operated in relative secrecy, serving primarily government clients, including the U.S. intelligence community and military.

Over time, it expanded its client base to include commercial enterprises. Before going public, Palantir raised more than $3 billion in funding and was one of the most highly valued private companies in the U.S.

The company chose a direct listing over a traditional IPO, allowing it to bypass the traditional roadshow and underwriting process.

Post-IPO Performance: After its debut, Palantir’s stock experienced volatility, as is common with many tech IPOs. However, the company’s unique position in the data analytics space, combined with its expansive government contracts and growing commercial business, has kept investor interest high.

While there have been concerns about its governance structure and potential over-reliance on government contracts, Palantir has continued to expand its product offerings and client base, driving discussions about its long-term potential in the tech industry.

Unity Software

IPO Date: September 18, 2020

Valuation at IPO: Approximately $13.7 billion

Background: Unity Software, primarily known for its game development platform, has been a cornerstone in the gaming industry. The Unity engine allows developers to create, run, and monetize interactive, real-time 2D and 3D content for mobile phones, tablets, PCs, consoles, and augmented and virtual reality devices.

Founded in 2004, the company’s mission was to democratize game development, making it accessible to more creators.

Journey to IPO: Before going public, Unity raised over $1.3 billion in funding across multiple rounds. The company’s growth was evident in its user base, with millions of developers using the platform and over half of the top 1,000 games on the App Store and Google Play being made with Unity.

The decision to go public was seen as a strategic move to capitalize on its dominant position in the gaming industry and to further its reach into new markets.

Post-IPO Performance: After its debut, Unity’s stock experienced a positive reception from investors, reflecting the company’s strong position in a growing gaming market. The company continued to diversify its offerings, expanding beyond gaming to other industries like automotive, film, and architecture, where real-time 3D content is becoming increasingly relevant.

Unity’s consistent focus on innovation and expanding its ecosystem has kept it at the forefront of the tech industry post-IPO.


The journey of tech startups from inception to their public offerings is a testament to the dynamism and resilience of the tech industry. Each of the five startups discussed - Airbnb, Snowflake, DoorDash, Palantir Technologies, and Unity Software - showcases unique challenges and strategies that led to their respective IPOs.

While their paths to the public market varied, common themes emerge: the importance of innovation, adaptability to market demands, and the ability to pivot in the face of adversity. Post-IPO performance for these companies has been marked by volatility, a characteristic trait of the tech sector, but their foundational strengths and market positioning hint at promising futures.

For investors, these case studies underscore the importance of understanding a company’s backstory, its competitive landscape, and its growth potential before diving into the fast-paced world of tech investments.

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