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Utah tech ed giant Pluralsight files for IPO

SALT LAKE CITY — In a year that could see multiple Utah technology businesses making the jump from private to public ownership, Farmington-based tech education giant Pluralsight is first into the pool following a filing this week with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The company issued a press release Monday confirming it had submitted an S-1 form, an SEC-mandated first step on the road to an initial public stock offering. The filing requires details on a company's plans for capital raised through a stock sale, current fiscal health and business structure, some idea of how an initial stock price would be computed and other information. While Pluralsight opted for a confidential filing, the SEC requires the document to be made public ahead of any efforts to present to potential investors in a pre-IPO process known as a "roadshow." Industry watchers report that they expected the company to be ready for the stock launch sometime this spring.

Pluralsight is obligated to observe a media "quiet time" ahead of a potential stock offering, and the company declined a Deseret News request for comment on Tuesday. However, leaders of Utah's burgeoning tech sector celebrated the news.

On Monday, Qualtrics co-founder and CEO Ryan Smith, who predicted at January's Silicon Slopes Tech Summit that Utah could produce "three or four" tech IPOs this year, tweeted his congratulations to Pluralisght CEO Aaron Skonnard and company.

"Congrats to @skonnard & @pluralsight team," Smith tweeted. "Great next step in the process and big win for Utah."

Silicon Slopes Executive Director Clint Betts also weighed-in on Pluralsight's ongoing arc of success.

"Silicon Slopes couldn’t be more proud to have Pluralsight as such a prominent leader and shining example in our community," Betts said. "The company Aaron Skonnard and the rest of the team have built is truly remarkable and stands as a testament to the type of entrepreneurial ecosystem that exists in Utah. I think 2018 is going to be a seminal and historic year for Silicon Slopes."

Pluralsight was launched by Skonnard and three others in 2004 offering in-person, classroom-based technology classes. After spending four years teaching at locations all over the world, and building a reputation for a high-caliber curriculum, Skonnard and his team recognized that internet tools had finally evolved to the point where they could move their classes online. The digital reboot of the company began life in 2008 with a selection of its 10 most popular classes and has since evolved into an operation that offers around 7,000 cloud-based courses.

The company is also noteworthy for having self-financed growth for nearly a decade before taking outside investment. Pluralsight had a public valuation of $1 billion in 2014 and has current annual revenues of around $200 million.

Weber State University professor Dave Noack, who teaches entrepreneurship and is also the executive director of the Hall Global Entrepreneurship Center, said the company's long history and fiscal prudence will likely be seen as strong positives in the eyes of IPO investors.

"Pluralsight has built a reputation for being a hard-working company," Noack said. "Their long run of bootstrapping growth before taking on funding will bode well for them."

Noack explained that a company's decision to go public can be motivated by different financial strategies. While it's sometimes the case that founders are looking to exit their companies and leverage a stock offering to get cashed-out of an endeavor, companies may use an IPO as a way to finance market growth, accelerate product development or retire debt.

"It will be interesting to find out what happens with the Pluralsight offering," Noack said. "If it's a cash-out, they'll likely offer more of the ownership of the company, 25-30 percent in stock. But if they're looking to hold the company long term, they may only offer 10-12 percent."

Noack also noted the process of launching a stock offering itself can generate interest, and profits.

"The IPO generates quite a bit of publicity and buzz and exposes your company and your product offering to entirely new markets around the world," Noack said. "People who might not know who Pluralsight is or what they do, hear about them and the exposure may lead to an increase in market size."

Noack said he would not be surprised to see other Utah companies — such as Domo and Qualtrics — following closely behind Pluralsight's path into the realm of publicly traded companies.

"I definitely think it's quite possible," Noack said. "And if it were to happen, it would only be a surprise to those who haven't been following all that's happening in the Utah tech sector."