As more than one person has already pointed out, the much-anticipated — and much delayed, and much criticized — Vonage IPO just keeps setting new records for how screwed up a public share offering can get. In what no doubt seemed like a Web 2.0-type gesture for a tech issue, the company offered its customers stock as part of the IPO, and that has turned into a gigantic boomerang that just clocked Vonage in the back of the skull. Since the stock tanked after it started trading, many of those eager investors are now saying they won’t pay.
Even if my friend Paul Kedrosky is right (which he often is) and the investors who grabbed those shares should have known what they were getting into — since skeptics on the Vonage IPO weren’t exactly difficult to find — the company is still caught between a rock and a hard place, or maybe two rocks and a hard place. It has now said it will reimburse the brokerage firms for any stock that disgruntled Vonage customers (see the Vonage forum here) don’t pay for, but all that’s going to do is piss off the ones who actually paid money for a stock that was tanking.
So then you have a company that is already losing money at a prodigious rate of speed — losing more last year than it made in revenue, which is no mean feat — spending more money to soothe the egos of the customers it convinced to buy shares. The only other option is to sue those customers, and what kind of marketing would that be? It’s a lose-lose-lose proposition, a rare money-losing hat-trick in hockey terms. It’s no wonder that Om thinks it’s a shoe-in for Business 2.0′s 101 dumbest things list. Mike Urlocker, a former tech analyst, has a nice take here.
Vonage now says that it will pursue legal action against those who don’t pay for their stock, but as I pointed out above, that is just one of the three losing options available to the company (the third being to do nothing).