Skillz shares soar 29% in trading debut as investors bet on mobile e-sports

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Skillz shares jumped in its trading debut as investors embraced a business billing itself as the first publicly traded mobile esports company.

The stock climbed 29% to $22.73 on Thursday following a deal with a special-purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, that allowed it to go public.

Skillz lets 2.7 million players a month compete with others on their mobile phones for points or prizes in games such as Solitaire Cube and Blackout Bingo. The mobile tournaments provider runs about 1,700 tournaments a second, Chief Executive Officer Andrew Paradise said in an interview.

“If you think about Skillz, we are the only meaningful endeavor in mobile esports in the world,” he said. “If you are looking for exposure in mobile esports, Skillz is really the best investment that you can find.”

Skillz effectively lets small-to-midsize game developers make money without having to sell to a bigger company, or resorting to ads, which many users find annoying. Consumers pay tournament fees, of which Skillz takes a 14% cut.

With Skillz public, “the developers don’t have to worry about our financial viability, they can just look it up,” Paradise said. Skillz also makes money off of brand-sponsored advertising.

A merger with the blank-check company Flying Eagle Acquisition Corp. allowed Skillz to go public — a path that’s become increasingly popular for companies looking to avoid the hassles of an initial public offering. Investors included Wellington Management, Fidelity Management & Research, Franklin Templeton and Neuberger Berman.

Through nine months of the year, Skillz’s revenue grew 91% to $162.4 million. But the company isn’t yet profitable: It lost $78.5 million, compared with a net loss of $14.9 million in the first nine months of 2019. Skillz has $250 million in cash and no debt.

The San Francisco-based company’s user base has more than tripled in the last two years, and it’s planning to use its cash for international expansion, targeting markets such as India, Paradise said.

Paradise previously founded and sold startup AisleBuyer, letting consumers check out in stores via their mobile phones, to Intuit Inc. in 2012.

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