As far as initial public offering speculation goes, Facebook is the new Groupon, and we should expect a blizzard of blog posts pretending to know the social network's Wall Street dreams this winter. On Monday night, The Wall Street Journal reported the latest rumor about the details of Facebook's hotly anticipated initial public offering. According to "people familiar with the matter" -- those guys know everything! -- Mark Zuckerberg and company are planning to make stock market history between April and June of 2012. WSJ's Shayndi Rice reports, "The company is exploring raising $10 billion in its I.P.O. -- what would be one of the largest offerings ever -- in a deal that might assign Facebook a $100 billion valuation."
Sound familiar? It totally is. CNBC's Kate Kelly reported over six months ago that Facebook was eying an I.P.O. at a $100 billion valuation in early 2012, citing the timeframe of the Securities Exchange Commission's requirement for Facebook to disclose its financial information once they have over 500 private investors. Then a couple months later, The Financial Times pumped the brakes on the Facebook fun train with a report that the IPO would be delayed until late next year because Zuckerberg wanted "to keep employees focused on product developments rather than a pay-out." Around that time we took a stand on the problem with all of the breathless speculation over tech IPOs, and after the glorious implosion of Groupon's stock price just two weeks after its big day at NASDAQ earlier this month, one would think that folks would wade more cautiously into the treacherous waters of tech stock speculation.
The Silicon Valley soothsayers seem to be taking this latest report especially seriously, though. Did Mark Zuckerberg say something revealing? Does WSJ know some especially well-informed "people familiar with the matter?" Is this report really more special than the rest? Other than the post-Groupon bust timing, no. But the timing makes all the difference when it comes to good old fashioned opinion-airing.
The matching figures in the reports matter, says John C. Abell at Wired. That $100 billion figure is a big deal, especially given the fact that its endured the so-called bubble burst following the downward spiral of other tech companies that recently went public (read: Groupon). Abell puts it into perspective:
Google’s IPO market cap, the modern internet benchmark, was $23 billion when was first publicly-traded on August 19, 2004. Netscape, the company which defined the pre-bust dot-com boom, was valued at a mere $2.9 billion (more than $4 billion in today dollars) when it went public on Aug. 9, 1995. Both had scads of loyalists, but nothing like the 800 million monthly active users.
The how-much-is-Zuck-worth game is always fun to play, suggests Geoffrey F. Fowler at WSJ's Digits blog. Another report of Facebook's impending IPO means we're that much closer to learning how much of the company the co-founders managed to hang on to. This kind of thing is Silicon Valley's favorite pissing contest:
For those keeping track, a Zuckerberg worth $24 billion would be less rich than Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Oracle’s Larry Ellison. But he would be more rich than Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, according to estimates of their wealth by Forbes.
The worst-case scenario gives us yet another opportunity to say bad things about bankers. Josh Constantine at TechCrunch didn't waste a minute before going on a tirade about how money ruins everything. It's kind of refreshing:
If Facebook continues to innovate, buy up great talent, focus on the user experience, and leverage its network effect, it has the potential to become much more valuable than $100 billion down the road. Great leadership from people who truly believe in the company’s mission to make the world more open and connected first and profit second have made Facebook the backbone of online identity. But the biggest challenge may not come from Twitter, Google+, or government intervention. It could come from those with greed but without vision.
See also: Groupon.