Facebook’s S-1 was a disappointment. Not that the company isn’t impressive—far from it—but the S-1 mostly reveals that Facebook has already been a de facto public company for at least a year or two.
The revenue and net profit numbers we’re seeing are in line with existing estimates, the engagement numbers are largely trending in the direction most people expected, and even the outstanding numbers (payments’ 500%+ year over year growth) make sense in light of Facebook’s policy changes towards requiring Credits for more FB-based transactions.
Usually, a prospectus is the most interesting document a company will ever file, since it gives investors their first look at the company’s real numbers. In Facebook’s case, the next few filings will actually be more informative. Finally, we’ll be able to plug data inputs (from AppData and various third-party reports) into a model that predicts revenue and earnings.
Facebook surfaces a huge amount of data about its operations through the Facebook ad tool and their public pronouncements. (In fact, only Google comes close to that with their AdWords tool, and the numerous reports from agencies that handle AdWords campaigns.) So while a Facebook IPO won’t be such an important event from a financing perspective, or for retail investors—buy some GSV Capitalif you’re impatient—it will be a watershed event for data-driven traders.
A few other tidbits from the filing:
- Dan Frommer notes that Facebook’s credits business is 15% of Paypal’s size, at least in terms of fees charged. And it’s much easier to gradually lower fees for larger transactions that to gradually raise them for smaller transactions—the ‘middle’ Paypal and Facebook may meet at will not necessarily look good for Paypal.
- Facebook’s share structure means that Mark Zuckerberg is in charge for the foreseeable future. That has been the plan for some time.
- In the Yelp S-1, one of the interesting data points was that Max Levchin owned his shares through an IRA, which will save him at least ten million dollars in taxes. This filing’s footnotes reveal that fellow Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel names his investment vehicles after details from Lord of the Rings.
- While Morgan Stanley won the Facebook deal, Morgan Stanley employees can’t use the site at work, even though MS unblocked LinkedIn when they won that underwriting deal. Which brings up some interesting questions about the office environment at Imperial Capital and Ladenburg Thalmann, who underwrote FriendFinder Networks earlier this year.
- The FT argues, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, that Facebook should ditch its offering since it doesn’t need the capital or the hassle.
- Fortune profiles Facebook’s talented CFO, David Ebersman.
- Facebook has been raising reserve prices for ad auctions, which has a positive impact on ad quality. Pre-IPO is a good time for public moves that prioritize user experience over revenue.
- Inside Facebook tries to match reported acquisitions to the ones enumerated in the filing.
- Zynga is up more than other social media sites, based on Facebook’s statements about how much of their revenue is derived from Zynga. But keep in mind that Zynga’s deal with Facebook is not the standard deal that they have with other companies; this could affect how Facebook’s reported reliance on Zynga translates into revenue for Zynga.
- Facebook is trading at a higher valuation on Sharespost. This is not always indicative, though; Sharespost deals in a tiny volume, and their quotes can be dubious (they once reported a negative bid/ask spread on Facebook stock, for a few days).
- Henry Blodget runs the numbers on Facebook’s immediate competitors, and comes away unimpressed. It’s expected to have a higher multiple than LinkedIn, which is still growing faster.
Without going into too much detail on Blodget’s math, it’s missing something: Facebook is still not monetizing as aggressively as they could. And unlike LinkedIn, Facebook has a thriving platform ecosystem, and a good way to extract value from whatever businesses are built on the platform. LinkedIn has a few apps, which they’ve pushed heavily; Zynga is a $9bn market cap company even though Facebook has repeatedly taken actions that hurt Zynga’s viral growth.
And the list of businesses Facebook could end up dominating is longer than just on-FB ads and credits. Data licensing could be a huge, high-margin business. And an ad network that targeted based on Facebook interest and connections data could be even bigger. Google+ has turned social into an existential risk for Bing, and Facebook can use that dynamic to extract more value from their next Bing deal. So the upside is far more significant than mere rapid growth and 50%+ operating margins.
Digital Due Diligence Weekly