Fast Company

The Facebook IPO: A Mega, Meta Mashup Of Media

We sifted through media coverage of Facebook's imminent IPO to bring you the mother of all news roundups. Get ready to ride the linked-up lightning.

Now it's Facebook's turn to share. 

Facebook Inc. filed for an initial public offering... that could value the social network between $75 billion and $100 billion, putting the company on track for one of the biggest U.S. stock-market debuts of all time. The company that has redefined the way millions of people worldwide interact and share information on the Internet may command a valuation more than five times higher than Google Inc. as it seeks to raise $5 billion

Depending on who you ask, Facebook is either the best company to go public since Google or the hallmark of another tech bubbleFacebook's IPO could be a bellwether for the entire social networking world; it could help generate interest and money for other big Internet players, like Twitter while a huge influx of cash could enable the social networking company to topple Google from its dominant position in the online world

Just about everyone in Silicon Valley has dreamed of striking it rich with a well-timed investment… Facebook's biggest shareholder and chief executive owns 533.8 million shares, or a roughly 28 percent stake, worth around $28 billion. That would make the 27-year-old the fourth-richest American, according to Forbes' 2011 rankings, surpassed only by Microsoft Corp's Bill Gates, legendary investor Warren Buffett and Oracle Corp's Larry EllisonZuckerberg has 56.9 percent of the voting shares, followed by Accel Partners with 11.4 percent, James Breyer with 11.4 percent, co-founder Dustin Moskovitz with 7.6 percent, DST Global with 5.5 percent and entrepreneur Peter Thiel with 2.4 percent. The company's board of directors--including Washington Post Co. Chairman and Chief Executive Don Graham--were also listed as stakeholders. Former Google executive Sheryl Sandberg, now Facebook's chief operating officer, has a smaller Class B share allocation, as does Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen, a member of the Facebook board since 2008. 

With approximately a third of Facebook's roughly 3,000 employees becoming millionaires overnight, thousands of new “millionerds” will have vast amounts of disposable income, and the local economy hopes to reap the benefits. Some vendors are already experiencing the “Facebook Effect.” Two brand-new Porsches, price tags still stuck to windows, were seen leaving the Facebook campus yesterday. The graffiti artist who took Facebook stock instead of cash for painting the walls of the social network's first headquarters made a smart bet. The shares owned by the artist, David Choe, are expected to be worth upward of $200 million when Facebook stock trades publicly later this year

One of the biggest challenges Facebook will face is the gulf between the have's and have-not's within Facebook. It can create tremendous internal stress and can result in people leaving to follow their own entrepreneurial dreamsThe Facebook IPO will make some people very rich, but social-media experts suggest that it could force Facebook to put profits over user experience--and that could cause problems

Just as Google, upon its IPO, enunciated its goal as "Don't be evil," Facebook also claims a higher mission. Wall Street doesn't. This can lead to problems.  

Investors will be clamoring to get ahold of Facebook stock, with many hoping to get in before the company figures things out and the stock takes off. Actually, those wanting to get in on the Facebook IPO might soon find out what it feels like to get "unfriended." When it comes to the initial public offering of Facebook, the world's largest social network, there's ironically very little for the masses. Facebook's IPO, as with most IPOs, will only be sold at the offering price to privileged investors

The investing world certainly seems to be working itself into a frenzy over the looming Facebook IPO. But before you jump in thinking you finally have a way to make real money from FarmVille and Words With Friends, you had better know your history… 1999 was a spectacular one for IPOs with 555 companies raising a record $73.6 billion, [yet] half of all issues lost money. Even more amazing, nearly 75 percent of all U.S. Internet-related IPOs since mid-1995 were trading below their offering price at the time of publication

Let's do the math. Microsoft is trading at only 11 times its net income for fiscal 2011. Google is valued at about 20 times its 2011 profits. If Facebook were to fetch a $100 billion market value, that would give it a price-to-earnings ratio of 100

The numbers in Facebook's IPO filing on Wednesday give us the picture of a juggernaut, but not an unstoppable oneWhat could go wrong on Facebook's march to one of the biggest IPOs in history? Let Facebook tell you--a fall-off in growth of users, a clash between Facebook's culture and the expectations of public investors, and advertiser resistance to the company's advances. [Its] revenue total disappointed some people who pored through the documents. One reason: The company generates about $4.39 in revenue per user

Every service Facebook offers, from photo sharing to music streaming to virtual animal husbandry, is designed to gather information about users in the hope that online advertisers will pay a premium for specific targeting. So far, enthusiasm for the idea has reportedly generated modest annual profits for Facebook of around $1 billion, or just over $1 per user per yearBut the biggest opportunity may yet lay in getting users to participate in and distribute to their friends ad campaigns that are part of their social experience may yet hold greater promise. It is a long way from there, howeverThe precise ad targeting enabled by that information is why Facebook now claims nearly 30 percent of online display advertising, having long since blasted past the runner-up in the category, Yahoo, according to ComScore… But when you get down to it, as a colleague of mine said, "It's a thin coat of paint over a massive data-mining operation.

Despite money generated from advertising accounting for 85 per cent of Facebook's revenues last year, and its net income in 2011 reaching $1billion, the company will have to radically change the way it cashes in on its users' data to make good on its valuationIn its IPO filing Facebook mentions the word "mobile" 123 times, which, given the term's buzz-worthy status, is hardly surprising. But in most cases Facebook doesn't use the word "mobile" in positive ways. They make no money from mobile.  What's worse, the more people use Facebook's mobile services, the more money it loses. As Facebook states in its list of risk factors, "if users continue to increasingly access Facebook mobile products as a substitute for access through personal computers, and if we are unable to successfully implement monetization strategies for our mobile users, our revenue and financial results may be negatively affected."

Why? No ads. 85% of Facebook's $3.7 billion revenues in 2011 came from advertising, and those ads were all on its website. Facebook's advertising strategy has, as yet, not made the leap from web to mobile

Among the more colorful details of Facebook's 150-page S-1 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission is a letter from founder Mark Zuckerberg setting out the social network's "mission." In the letter, the 27-year-old Harvard University graduate grandly draws comparisons between Facebook and the invention of the printing press for changing the way the world communicates. "Facebook was not originally created to be a company," Zuckerberg wrote. "It was built to accomplish a social mission--to make the world more open and connected." He added: "Facebook aspires to build the services that give people the power to share and help them once again transform many of our core institutions and industries."

Critics say users don't need friends like Facebook. "Facebook is incredibly greedy with our personal information. It wants to own us and our online identity," said Andrew Keen, author of the upcoming book "Digital Vertigo," who calls himself the founding member of what he calls the "Facebook resistance." "There is nothing altruistic about it. This is a pure financial play. Tech workers and investors are going to become obscenely rich." 

Adam L. Penenberg is a journalism professor at NYU and a contributing writer to Fast Company. Follow him on Twitter: @penenberg

Sources:

1. Jessica Guynn, Los Angeles Times 

2. Shayndi Raice, Wall Street Journal 

3. Jon Swartz, Scott Martin, Matt Krantz, USA Today 

4. David Randall, Reuters 

5. Sarah Gaudin, Computerworld 

6. Sarah Gaudin, Computerworld

7. Sarah McBride, The Baltimore Sun 

8. Hayley Tsukayama, The Washington Post 

9. James Rogers, The Street 

10. Stephanie Soderborg and Lu (Laura) He, Peninsula Press

11. Nick Bilton and Evelyn M. Rusli, New York Times 

12. Om Malik, GigaOm 

13. Gloria Goodale, Christian Science Monitor 

14. Eric Markowitz and Kimberly Weisul, Inc.

15. Roger Cheng, CNET

16. Matt Krantz, USA Today 

17. Larry Swedroe, CBS Money Watch

18. Paul R. La Monica, CNN Money

19. Chris O'Brien, Mercury News 

20. Shira Ovide, The Wall Street Journal

21. Michael Liedtke, Christian Science Monitor

22. Reuters 

23. James Temple, San Francisco Gate 

24. Emma Barnett, The Telegraph 

25. Keith Fitchard, GigaOm 

26. Eric Jackson, Forbes 

27. Stuart Dredge, The Guardian

28. Katherine Rushton, The Telegraph 

29. Huffington Post

30. Jessica Guynn, Los Angeles Times 

[Image: Flickr user ssoosay]

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