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Mark Shuttleworth: Expect Canonical to Go Public in 2023

The Founder and CEO of Canonical, the company behind the popular Linux Distribution Ubuntu, indicated on Thursday that the company will probably have its IPO sometime in 2023.

Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu/Canonical CEO
Mark Shuttleworth, founder and CEO of Canonical. SOURCE: Canonical

According to Mark Shuttleworth, Canonical, the commercial entity behind Ubuntu, is ready to start planning for its initial public offering, an event that can be expected to happen sometime next year.

Shuttleworth, of course, is more than Canonical’s CEO, he’s the de facto owner of the company. Although the company probably has private investors (as a private company that information doesn’t have to be disclosed), it’s doubtful that any outside ownership tips the 50% mark, which would be necessary for any sort of meaningful investor sway over the company’s operations.

In addition to an IPO that might be in the works, it appears that the company is at least approaching profitability. According to Frederic Lardinois at TechCrunch, Shuttleworth said on Thursday during a press briefing focused on last week’s release of Ubuntu 22.04 LTS, that Canonical’s revenues last year were $175 million, and that the biggest issue the company is facing is that it can’t meet customer demand, mainly due to a shortage of tech talent:

“‘We are on track to float the business. And now I’m pretty confident that we will do that in 2023,’ said Shuttleworth, who was calling in from an undisclosed island off the coast of West Africa. ‘And so we’re taking active steps at the board level and in our finance operation — various other parts of the business — to be prepared for that. We’re now effectively on a very clear program to a flotation of the business next year.'”

It’s probably important to stress that Lardinois said that the $175 million was revenue and not profit — important to mention because an article on another tech news site that also used Lardinois’ article as its source, identified the figure as profit and said that the company was “in the black.” While that much income probably means the company turned a profit, that is in no way a given.

According to Lardinois, Shuttleworth also made it clear that any IPO would not be driven by any need to raise funds to meet obligations.

It’s been obvious to folks watching Canonical that for some time the company’s focus hasn’t been on Ubuntu’s desktop operating system but on its server OS. This shift began in earnest in 2017, which is when it decided that Ubuntu Touch, the mobile OS it’d been developing, was a no starter and announced its demise as a Canonical project, along with Unity, its homegrown desktop environment which was replaced with Gnome.

By that time, Ubuntu Server was becoming popular and had already become the most used Linux distribution on Amazon Web Services. Since then, not only has the company found success monetizing its server business through security subscriptions and such, but has become a major player in the Kubernetes- and container-focused cloud native arena.

Not long after this shift in focus began, Shuttleworth announced that he had been seeking advice from financial experts to determine what would be needed for Canonical to have a successful IPO, and in 2018 told Lardinois, at that year’s Open Source Summit, that the company was not yet ready to go public.

“We know what we need to hit in terms of revenue and growth and we’re on track,” Shuttleworth said at the time.

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