Travel search site Kayak threw a huge curveball into the increasingly turbulent metasearch sector this morning by filing for an IPO in the US.
Confirmation came as documents were filed at the Securities Exchange Commission today to start the process of putting the six-year old company on the public markets.
The move has the backdrop of an increasingly bitter search marketplace as Kayak and others in the FairSearch lobbying group step up their pressure against the proposed acquisition of ITA Software by Google.
The SEC document states that the maximum aggregate offering is $50 million, but the actual figure when the IPO gets priced could be higher than that.
Kayak says it expects to use the net proceeds from the IPO for "working capital and other general corporate purposes", adding that it may also include "acquisitions or investments in other strategic businesses, products and technologies".
So far Kayak has raised some $223 million in funding.
It is unknown how many shares Kayak would offer, what the pricing would be and what percentage of the company the IPO would represent.
Talk of an IPO has surrounded Kayak for quite some time, but the timing of today's filing is somewhat of a shock because many had surmised that the Google-ITA deal would keep Kayak a private company for quite some time.
Contained in the filing is a lengthy outline of Kayak's competitive landscape, including detail on the proposed Google-ITA deal.
"Large, established internet search engines with substantial resources and expertise in developing online commerce and facilitating Internet traffic are creating, and are expected to create further, inroads into online travel, both in the U.S. and internationally.
"For example, in addition to their proposed acquisition of ITA, Google is actively testing a travel search engine that displays hotel information and rates to travelers. Moreover, Microsoft acquired one of our competitors, Farecast.com, in 2008 and relaunched it as Bing Travel, a travel search engine which not only allows users to search for airfare and hotel reservations but also purports to predict the best time to purchase.
"These initiatives appear to represent a clear intention by Google and Microsoft to appeal more directly to travel consumers and travel suppliers by providing more specific travel-related search results, which could lead to more travelers using services offered by Google or Bing instead of those offered on our websites and mobile applications.
"For example, if Google chooses to provide comprehensive travel search results such as flight and hotel pricing and availability, and further chooses to integrate such offerings with other Google services such as Google maps and weather information, then the number of users that visit our websites and our ability to attract advertising dollars could be negatively impacted.
"Google or other leading search engines could choose to direct general searches on their respective websites to their own travel search service and/or materially improve search speed through hardware investments, which also could negatively impact the number of users that visit our websites and our ability to attract advertising dollars.
"If Google or other leading search engines are successful in offering services that directly compete with ours, we could lose traffic to our websites and mobile applications, which could have a material adverse effect on our business, results of operations and financial condition."
The filing provides insight for insight for the first time into Kayak's financial affairs and traffic.
For the third quarter of 2010, for example, Kayak's revenue increased 80% year-on-year to $48 million.
Kayak is now known to have been profitable since 2008. The company's net income in the first nine months of 2010 was nearly $6.2 million, although this is actually down from $10.4 million in the same period of 2009.
For the full year to date, queries on the site grew 37% y/y to 469 million worldwide.
In the third quarter of this year the number of downloads of Kayak's mobile application climbed 152% to more than 1 million downloads.
More to follow...
NB: Additional reporting Kevin May.