Baltimore's Millennial Media Inc., one of the dominant companies in the rapidly growing field of mobile advertising, plans to raise $75 million in a public stock offering — money it will use to expand its operations overseas and go head-to-head against Google and Apple, according to a securities filing Thursday.
Founded five years ago, Millennial Media's revenues have grown steadily, and it has attracted $65 million in venture capital to fuel its early expansion. Millennial's revenues grew from $1.5 million in 2007 to $69 million in the first nine months of 2011, according to its filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The company has yet to turn a profit, but it has seen its losses narrow significantly in the last few years as it spends money to open overseas sales offices and gain market share. In 2010, it had a loss of $7.1 million; in the first nine months last year, its loss was $417,000, according to the filing. It also has cash on hand of about $20 million.
Millennial's IPO is "huge for a lot of reasons," said Jason Hardebeck, head of the Greater Baltimore Technology Council, the region's main association for the technology industry. "IPOs don't happen often in Silicon Valley, let alone the Mid-Atlantic seaboard. This is a completely organic startup. It's home-grown."
The Baltimore company is the first significant technology company to file for an IPO in the new year, as many observers expect to see more tech IPOs from companies including Facebook and Yelp. The filing comes on the heels of a year that saw several technology IPOs, including the professional social network LinkedIn; daily deals site Groupon; and online gaming company Zynga. A date for the IPO's launch was not disclosed.
Millennial's IPO filing is a bright spot in a Baltimore technology industry that's accustomed to seeing its companies get acquired by larger outfits. The company, with more than 100 employees in Baltimore and another 100 around the country and overseas, anchors a cluster of growing technology companies at the American Can Co. complex in Canton.
Hardebeck sees a halo effect from the Millennial IPO, as top executives from the firm and its venture backers accumulate wealth and hopefully invest in new Baltimore technology startups. He believes that Millennial's success will help lead investors outside the region to come to Baltimore to find startups to invest in. "There's going to be investors coming to Baltimore looking for deals," he said.
Baltimore-based Advertising.com, a major Internet advertising company, was bought by AOL in 2004 for $435 million. And in 2008, Timonium-based Bill Me Later, an online payment firm, was bought by eBay subsidiary PayPal for $945 million.
One of the last major technology IPOs for a Baltimore-area company was in 1999, when Aether Systems filed for a $75 million IPO and raised $96 million on the first day of trading.
In Baltimore's technology industry, Millennial is widely seen as an outgrowth of the specialization in an Internet advertising business model that was pioneered by Advertising.com. Millennial was founded by Paul Palmieri, a former Verizon Wireless executive, and Chris Brandenburg, a former executive with Advertising.com.
In 2010 the company expanded outside the United States and opened a branch in the United Kingdom. Last year, Millennial opened an office in Singapore as well.
According to the filing, Millennial's main competitors in the mobile advertising market are Google and Apple. Google acquired AdMob, a leading mobile advertising company, in the spring of 2010. Apple acquired another of Millennial's competitors, Quattro Wireless, several months before.
Last year, The Wall Street Journal reported that Millennial was being courted by Research in Motion, maker of the BlackBerry, but the talks apparently fizzled.
Millennial is "really looking beyond the advertising dollars of today and thinking about the consumer experience of tomorrow," said Mike Zaneis, senior vice president of public policy and general counsel for the Interactive Advertising Bureau, an online advertising industry association. The company's directors are "proactive on privacy" policy and work hard to engage other players in the mobile advertising industry, he said.
Millennial's IPO is "exciting, a positive sign for the industry," said Zaneis, who said advertisers are only now beginning to realize that consumers' eyes are increasingly focused on mobile devices. The industry exploded over the last year, he said, mainly because of tablet computers, which have extended mobile advertising beyond cellphones.
A senior vice president for Millennial declined to comment because of SEC regulations relating to stock offerings. Palmieri, the chief executive officer and president, also declined to comment, citing the SEC restrictions.
Analysts and industry observers believe the mobile advertising industry still has its greatest growth ahead of it. Smartphones and tablet computers are proliferating worldwide, and Millennial helps publishers serve advertising to mobile-device users who browse the Web or use applications on their phones.
In its filing, Millennial cited industry data from Gartner Inc., a technology research and advisory firm, that showed mobile app downloads from application stores will balloon from 17.7 billion last year to 108.8 billion in 2015. That means there are potentially billions of opportunities to show mobile ads to users.
As more advertisers shift their marketing budgets to mobile, Millennial expects to reap financial benefits. Citing Gartner statistics again in the filing, it said the worldwide mobile ad market will grow from $1.8 billion last year to $13.5 billion in 2015.
Millennial disclosed that more than 28,000 apps are configured to receive advertising from its ad-server platform — out of hundreds of thousands of apps in Apple's and Google's app stores alone. Millennial can deliver ads to 7,000 different mobile device types and models. The major mobile platforms it serves include Apple's iOS, Google's Android, Windows Phone, Research in Motion's BlackBerry, and Symbian.