Dennis Barsema has had a storied career leading numerous telecommunications, software and optical networking companies. He's engaged in myriad capital raises, mergers and several acquisitions. As the CEO of Redback Networks, he led the company through one of the most successful IPOs in Wall Street history and completed a multi-billion-dollar acquisition.
Ahead of the IPO, Barsema says Redback was growing both in terms of market share and people, and needed to raise more capital. As he saw it, there were three choices.
"I could have either raised another round of private equity. I could have sought to sell Redback or raise capital through an IPO," Barsema says. "And the markets at that time were, from a technology company standpoint, the markets at that time were reacting very well to technology IPOs. There were several companies, not directly in our space but adjacent to our space, who did IPOs and I saw what their companies were doing relative to the success that they were having on Wall Street. So, the board left it up to me as to what direction we wanted to go in and I feel that at the end of the day, the responsibility of the chief executive officer at the end of it all is to maximize shareholder value, to build shareholder value in the company from an operational standpoint. And I felt that doing an IPO was the right path for us to go. I felt that because of the customer base that we were building that the income of the company was going to be fairly predictable and so doing an IPO was, I felt, the right path for us and the board, of course, felt that way as well."
But getting the IPO meant going out on the roadshow. And while he had tremendous confidence in the company and how it would be received, he had doubts about himself.
"The personal challenge that I had is that I stutter, and I stuttered my entire life," he says. "So, doing a road show was a fairly daunting aspect for me, it was a very daunting idea for me. And I truly questioned could I do it? Could I stand in front of investor groups and correctly and accurately and in the right way represent what Redback was because it truly was a great company and a great product, and could I do it justice? Could I do it in a way that would give investors confidence to have a successful IPO? And I will tell you a part of the decision-making process for myself, in terms of do we do an IPO or do we do one of the other options I talked about in terms of selling the company or raising another private around the capital, there was a point in time early on in the process where I wasn't going to do an IPO because I didn't have confidence. I had tremendous confidence in the company. I didn't have confidence in myself."
Barsema spoke on the Smart Business Dealmakers Podcast about his experience with Redback, the issue that almost prevented him from taking the company public, and how his path eventually led him to teaching future entrepreneurs.