Friday, February 3, 2012

Facebook IPO Filing Reveals What Could Kill Facebook

What Facebook is really worried about

As you probably know, Facebook has filed for its IPO. With that filing, a lot of new information about the company was revealed. Among the noteworthy tidbits of information: 845 million monthly active users, 483 million daily active users, and over 425 million monthly active users using Facebook's mobile products. Interestingly enough, Facebook appears to consider growth in mobile use among the key risks to the company. I'm not sure this is the biggest risk, but it's quite interesting that Facebook considers it to be one.

In its filing, Facebook lists "some" of the risks that could significantly harm its business. It doesn't say, "We could become the next MySpace," but here are the things it does list:
  • If we fail to retain existing users or add new users, or if our users decrease their level of engagement with Facebook, our revenue, financial results, and business may be significantly harmed;
  • We generate a substantial majority of our revenue from advertising. The loss of advertisers, or reduction in spending by advertisers with facebook, could seriously harm our business;
  • Growth in use of facebook through our mobile products, where we do not currently display ads, as a substitute for use on personal computers may negatively affect our revenue and financial results;
  • Facebook user growth and engagement on mobile devices depend upon effective operation with mobile operating systems, networks, and standards that we do not control. ;
  • We may not be successful in our efforts to grow and further monetize the facebook Platform;
  • Our business is highly competitive, and competition presents an ongoing threat to the success of our business;
  • Improper access or disclosure of our users' information could harm our reputation and adversely affect our business;
  • Our business is subject to complex and evolving U.S. and foreign laws and regulations regarding privacy, data protection, and other matters. May of these laws and regulation are subject to change and uncertain interpretation, and could harm our business;
  • Our CEO has control over key decision making as a result of his control of a majority of our voting stock;
  • The loss of Mark Zuckerberg, Sheryl K. Sandberg, or other key personnel could harm our business;
  • We anticipate that we will expand substantial funds in connection with tax withholding and remittance obligations related to the initial settlement of our restricted stock units (RSUs) approximately six months following our initial public offering;
  • The market price of our Class A common stock may be volatile or may decline, and you may not be able to resell your shares at or above the initial public offering price; and
  • Substantial blocks of our total outstanding shares may be sold into the market as "lock-up" periods end, as further described in "Shares Eligible for Future Sale." If there are substantial sales of shares of our common stock, the price of our Class A common stock could decline.
You can view the filing in its entirety, as well as a letter from Mark Zuckerberg here.

I don't think more people using Facebook's mobile products will be the downfall of the company. People are increasingly using their phones (and tablets) to access the web. Increased mobile Facebook use should grow along with that. Facebook isn't currently monetizing this use (with ads), but that is likely to change soon. Mobile ads are expected in the near future. That solves that problem.

Facebook's mobile experience(s) are often criticized, and there's no question that the desktop experience is better, but Facebook will continue to work on improving the mobile experience. The fact that they consider mobile such a risk factor only shows that this will be a significant emphasis. Expect more mobile-related acquisitions from the company, and better Facebook apps across mobile platforms.

I think the very first risk factor listed is really the one they should be most worried about. And essentially, this equates to "We could become the next MySpace." The biggest challenge they have is to keep users interested, and other listed risk factors are an extension of this.

For one, don't get shown up by competitors like Twitter and Google. Google, obviously a major force on the Internet should worry Facebook. It's easy to brush off Google+ because maybe not many of your friends are using it. But how many of your friends use Google? That counts, because as Google has shown time and time again, everything they do is only going to become more integrated, and in the end, it's really about where advertisers are spending their money.

Facebook has a healthy lead in display ads, but overall online advertising is another story, though Facebook is expected to surpass Microsoft and Yahoo this year. Google on the other hand doesn't even have ads on Google+ yet. How long do you think that will last? Google is already showing a great deal of promise in the deals space as well (Google Offers), an area where Facebook hasn't done incredibly well.

Beyond current competitors like Google and Twitter, however, there's always the threat of the next big thing that comes out of nowhere. There is only so much time in the day. Every minute someone spends time on another site or another social network is a minute they're not spending on Facebook.

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