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Former Facebook exec now has $600 million war chest to buy tech unicorn

  • Social Capital debuted at the NYSE on Thursday in $600 million IPO.
  • Chamath Palihapitiya, one of the original members of Facebook's management, is looking to acquire a company valued in the range of $3 billion to $20 billion through the vehicle.
Chamath Palihapitiya speaking at the 2017 Delivering Alpha conference in New York on Sept. 12, 2017.
David A. Grogan | CNBC
Chamath Palihapitiya speaking at the 2017 Delivering Alpha conference in New York on Sept. 12, 2017.

The Street is buzzing with speculation over what company may be the target for Social Capital Hedosophia, which raised $600 million in an IPO today at the NYSE.

Social Capital is a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), set up to invest in technology companies that are not yet public. SPACs are based on a simple premise: investors are initially going in with a seasoned manager in an investment space (energy, tech, etc.) who will then have up to two years to buy one or more assets. The investors have the option of remaining in the investment or getting out and receiving their money back.

In this case the management team is led by Chamath Palihapitiya, one of the original members of Facebook's management team.

The issue now: what will he buy?

Palihapitiya, in an interview earlier on CNBC, said he was looking for only one company to buy, so there is considerable speculation on what might be in his crosshairs.

He gave us a clue by identifying the rough size of a target: "[T]hink about this as a merger of an entity that should be valued anywhere between $3 and call it $20 billion where that management stays in control..."

That is a wide range, but there are several tech "unicorns" that fall in the $3 billion to $20 billion range. Just in the $10 billion and below range there are several well-known names:

Major tech "unicorn" valuations

Dropbox $10.3 b

Spotify $8.5 b

Lyft $7.5 b

Hulu $5.8 b

SoFi $4.3 b

Slack $3.8 b

Credit Karma $3.5 b

SurveyMonkey $2.0 b

Source: Techcrunch

A bigger question: will he be able to buy anything at a price that would be considered attractive to his investors?

Kathleen Smith at Renaissance Capital cautions about jumping to conclusions, telling me, "This deal doesn't say anything about the ability of Mr. Palihapitiya to raise money. Investors are parking money in the company. Once the company makes an acquisition, shareholders will have to analyze the deal and many may get out and be replaced by different investors."

Still, investors seemed to like what Palihapitiya was selling: the IPO was increased to $600 million, from $500 million, and closed up 3.1 percent on its first day of trading, a strong opening, considering the company has no assets other than cash.

It's a good start, but we all know today's valuations can change very fast. In the tech world, two years is an eternity.