Facebook shocked no one by filing an initial public offering of its shares today.
The filing was the first glimpse into the company's inner financial workings and, as expected, Facebook said it would try to raise $5 billion when the company's shares begins trading - a number that could eventually be raised to $10 billion and would ultimately value the company between $75 billion and $100 billion.
Today marks the day that Mark Zuckerberg goes from being the guy who makes world-changing technology to the guy who makes money. (He could be worth $20 billion when all is said and done). And it also means today is the day you stop being a Facebook user and become a Facebook customer.
That can mean good and bad things for you, the end user. But one thing is certain: Facebook will never be the same again.
For starters, Facebook's success will no longer be judged by the number of users (which is expected to top a billion sometime in August). From here on out, Facebook will be judged by its share price, market cap, P/E ratio and a whole host of other Wall Street jargon. Pay no attention to Zuckerbeg's assertion that the company won't be beholden to quarterly reports: they will (just ask Jeff Bezos, who made a similar promise when Amazon went public).
And, by the way, those numbers are impressive: Facebook had revenue of $3.71 billion last year, up from $1.96 billion in 2010 and $777 million in 2009.
The good news is that happy customers (which, in this case include Facebook users and companies that advertise of Facebook) can often translate into happy shareholders. The changes, to be certain, will be subtle at first, but over the coming months and years, here's what to expect:
Wealth Inhibits Drive
Zuckerberg isn't the only Facebook employee who stands to gain life-changing wealth as a result of today's filing. Facebook hires in the past year have at least known that the company was pushing towards a public offering and they stood to profit, and employees who have been there longer may have held out in anticipation of today's announcement. About a third of Facebook's 3,000 employees could become instant millionaires on the first day shares trade.
And that could spell trouble, according to Peter Jackson. Jackson is a Silicon Valley pioneer who took Introware public during the dot-com boom. At one point, his own wealth was placed at $300 million, and many company secretaries were millionaires. Eventually, however, the firm went bankrupt.
"The parking lot used to be full from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m.," Jackson told Bloomberg News. "Right after we went public, people were showing up at nine o'clock and they were leaving at five. There were a lot more things to do once you had a lot more money."
Getting Out After Cashing Out
Facebook will also face new challenges in trying to keep many of those 3,000 workers. Lost in the comparisons to Google's 2004 IPO is that many employees who worked for years building Google into an IPO-ready company have since left, including current Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.
Indeed, one of the first parts of the IPO filing many investors turned to was the section covering its employees and talent. Potential investors at least want to know that Facebook has been able to retain employees and avoid turnover in the year or so leading up to the IPO.
Writing at CNN.com, media theorist Douglas Rushkoff says some of these factors may already be in play.
"If a company is big enough - and that means simply holding enough money - then sooner or later that money influences the rest of the company's activities," he said. "The promise of cashing in a few million dollars worth of stock options helps many a programmer make it through a late night of coding."
Meet The New Boss - Not The Same As The Old Boss
One of the reasons Facebook has been successful is that it has been able to wait out initial reactions to everything from changes in its privacy policies to big site overhauls like the introduction of Timeline.
The knee-jerk responses of the stock market, as well as the quarterly report cards that come in the form of earnings reports, may mean Facebook innovations post-IPO won't have as much time to incubate before Facebook has to make a decision on whether or not to push forward with new initiatives.
Timeline, for example, was originally announced in September but a full rollout was repeatedly delayed as Facebook tweaked it to make it more appealing to users. It was finally rolled out network-wide last month. Had it been introduced after Facebook went public, the four months it took Facebook to perfect Timeline would have stretched over, and affected, three quarterly earnings reports.
Google experienced a similar shift following its IPO. Google started to phase out its Google Labs testing ground last July, around the same time it introduced Google+ to show investors it was dealing with the Facebook threat. And remember when Google used to brag that employees got 20% of their work time to do whatever they want? Boasts like that don't fly with Wall Street investors.
"Simply becoming a multi-billion-dollar company changes the essence of its goals, activities and purpose," Rushkoff said. "Its bloodstream becomes filled with cash, and cash has its own agenda."
All That Said, You Need This To Work
The best case scenario is Facebook becomes one of those offerings in which what's good for the customer is good for the shareholder, and ultimately good for anyone who uses social media.
Last year was marked by a string of disappointing IPOs in the social media sector - disappointments, in large part because those interests didn't align as well as company executives had hoped.
People who bought deals from Groupon loved the service, but advertisers backed away when they realized it wasn't generating the repeat business they had hoped for, and that made Wall Street weary. People love playing games on Zynga so much that they can't be bothered to click onto ads and fuel the company's revenue model. LinkedIn may have been the most successful IPO in 2011 in the social media space, but that was considered underwhelming - in large part because investors are still waiting to see if Facebook will eventually become an online space for social and business networking.
A successful Facebook IPO means some restored faith in the social media space. That means more capital and more incentive for the next Zuckerberg to come along and create something earthshaking instead of finishing a degree at Harvard.
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