Public Company Filings: Treasure Troves of Useful Info

Early in 2023, I challenged myself to read more SEC filings of publicly traded technology companies. I’ve been reading S-1 initial registration reports for companies preparing to go public for several years. This year I’ve incorporated 10Q quarterly reports and 10K annual reports into my reading. I wasn’t sure when I began whether it would be worth the time and energy, but I figured I had more to gain than lose by trying it. 

Here are my takeaways:

  • Financials – The company’s financial performance is laid bare in these reports. The good, the bad, and the ugly are there for everyone to see. Some company financials are complex; others, simple. Interpreting what the numbers mean sometimes requires work. It isn’t always fun, but once I figure it out, I’ve usually learned something useful.
  • Business model – Companies detail their inner workings and how they generate revenue. They share all kinds of interesting tidbits, such as plans for future revenue sources and concerns about the stickiness of current revenue. I usually got lots of ideas after reading the specifics of a company’s business model.
  • Risks – Companies detail all risks associated with the business. This is basically a list of what keeps the CEO up at night. Sometimes the risks listed surprise me.
  • Competitors – Most companies list their top competitors.
  • Trends – After I’ve read multiple reports from a company, I start to see trends and patterns (good and bad).
  • Executive compensation – Executive compensation usually has its own section, with compensation plans described in detail. Large stock option grants based on hitting lofty stock price or market cap objectives seem common in CEO incentive packages.
  • Ownership – The S-1, and sometimes other reports, detail how much of the company executives and investors own. Very interesting. Especially if it was VC backed.
  • Stock-based compensation – A good number of technology companies have high stock-based-compensation expenses. This is essentially the expense the company incurs for paying employees with RSUs, stock options, etc. I’m curious whether this practice will continue at the levels seen in the last fifteen years, given how much it dilutes the holdings of other shareholders.
  • Perception – After reading these reports, I sometimes reach a conclusion about a company that differs from popular opinion in the financial media.
  • Dense – These reports are typically long. I can read them only when I’ve got an uninterrupted block of time when I can focus.

The filings of public companies are full of information that entrepreneurs and investors will find helpful. I wish I’d read public filings from companies in my industry when I was building my company. I’m sure it would have positively influenced my thinking and decision making. Anyone interested in reading these reports for their favorite company can search for them on the SEC Edgar website here.