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ARTICLES AND THINKPIECES

THE FACEBOOK IPO: A SKEPTIC'S SPLASH OF COLD WATER

Today, May 18, 2012, is the day Facebook takes its company public. The markets are breathless. The nation is breathless! They can't wait to see it spiral into the stratosphere. It opens at 38. How high will it go? Will middle America participate in the staggering growth???

Here, then, in the spirit of skepticism, are a few things to chew on:

First, from Reuters earlier this week:

"General Motors Co said on Tuesday it will stop advertising on Facebook, even as the social networking website prepares to go public. While GM gave no specific reason for dropping Facebook ads, a source familiar with the automaker's plans said the company's marketing executives decided Facebook's ads had little impact on consumers."

There is still that nagging question. Do the paid ads work? GM is still using Facebook in its corporate marketing strategy. They report that they spend $40 million per year on Facebook marketing efforts, but only $10 million of that is paid to Facebook for ads. The rest is content creation, etc. That $10 million is what they will cut.

Will other companies follow suit? Does anyone really know yet how the metrics are going to work? Now that Facebook is ramping up its paid ads, how will that affect the enthusiasm of the users? And, will FB ads, like banners before them, become white noise, with minimal conversions? Will Facebook be able to maintain its pricing as we go forward?

And, here's the other thing that bugs me. Stock prices go up when companies grow, or are poised for growth. If you generate $1 billion in profits year in and year out on low overhead, that's a great business! So, what happens to your stock price? It drops, because you're not growing. And buying stock is a bet on future growth.

So much is made of the mind blowing statistic that FB has already reached 900 million users. Wow. That is a huge number. But, let's face it. There are 7 billion people on the planet. Subtract the 1.6 billion who don't have access to electricity, and, say, another 2.5 billion (this number I'm completely making up) who are under 10 years old, who don't care about Facebook, and won't for a long time, or the nations they live in censor the internet, and you're down to around 2.9 billion people in the potential Facebook market. So, for the foreseeable future, the addressable market for Facebook is a little over 3 times what they already have. That's a powerful limit on growth.

But, says Facebook, we're going to increase the amount of money we make off of each user by serving them more ads. Well, maybe, maybe not. What happens to Facebook usability and popularity if the ad quantity goes up? If they become more intrusive? What will the consumer tolerate? I don't pretend to know, but, if I were investing in Facebook, which I'm not, I'd be plenty worried about what that limit is.

Of course, what do I know? I looked like a genius in the late '90's and an idiot by 2002. Maybe I've learned something in the interim . . . We'll all stay tuned.