Yesterday, the markets received a first inkling of an IPO filing from Facebook. Facebook's law firm -- tasked with reviewing and approving trades that occur on the secondary markets -- reportedly said that it would temporarily stop reviews on such secondary trades until next week.
This is atypical, based on my experience as an Analyst at SecondMarket, one of the foremost secondary trading outfits for Facebook stocks. There was no such announcement ever made in my time working on the auctions for Facebook shares in 2010 and 2011. It's unlikely to me that the announcement has to do with mere operational updates, since auctions for Facebook shares have run smoothly every week for months.
So Facebook's IPO may be imminent. Not that we can't be patient. The public already knows that the day must come soon for Facebook to go public. That's because ever since Facebook crossed the 500 shareholder limit in 2011, they've made clear that an IPO will occur at least around April 2012.
As a startup enthusiast, Facebook's forthcoming IPO is exciting news. It means that another Web 2.0 company is growing up and ready for public market debut. It means there will be more opportunities for sustainable Web-based businesses to join the big leagues, because Facebook gives further verve to companies built online.
I'm bullish on Facebook's IPO debut. Facebook's revenue reportedly topped $4 billion in 2011. It's traded on the secondary markets at valuations around $70 billion to $80 billion. Qualitatively, I use the platform to communicate with friends and family everyday, and sense how pervasive it is in so many people's lives. As a marketer, I've used Facebook's advertising platform (from which most of Facebook's money reportedly books) to the tune of spectacular click-through rates on ads. Facebook has created immense value in the Developer ecosystem too.
Fellow entrepreneurs will be cheering alongside Facebook on the day it rings the opening bell, while secondary markets will have a superficial smile. If LinkedIn's IPO is any indication, secondary markets, like SecondMarket, will be satisfied that the debut share prices may validate the prices seen on the secondaries, however they won't be bringing out the bubbly to toast. Facebook is core to secondary market trading businesses. I estimate that Facebook represents upwards of 75% of all private company secondary share trading activity. Facebook is one of the few companies that accredited investors on these markets understand and covet. Facebook was the holy grail of the secondary markets.
A saving grace may be a market for IPO Lock Up shares though. Secondary markets like SecondMarket have announced attempts at such secondary markets for locked up shares, but it's unclear that they've made any headway in the process. And, if Facebook shares do perform tremendously well -- which they may -- the underwriters of the IPO themselves may waive the lock-up period for a block sale or special secondary trade, circumventing third-party efforts.
It'll be exciting for Facebook's employees and other shareholders nonetheless. One of my favorite parts of participating in the ecosystem of financial services for startups was getting to know the people SecondMarket had helped to make millionaires of each week. It's exciting when the value creation process results in personal wealth creation for the employees and other shareholders at these startups. I hope that despite going public, Facebook will be able to remain innovative and agile, continuing to feel like a startup. When I spoke with Paul Murphy of NYC cool startup Aviary a few weeks ago, he told me he thinks they'll be able to remain "scrappy."
"Facebook has plenty of cash but their office environment has kept the startup vibe," Murphy told me. "It doesn't feel super corporate. I have a lot of respect for startups who grow but keep their startup feel."
Doreen Bloch is the author of the forthcoming book The Coolest Startups in America, and the founder of an early-stage technology startup. She is a former Analyst at SecondMarket, the marketplace for alternative investments. Doreen is a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council and her personal website is www.DoreenBloch.com.