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The wait is over. Last night Facebook filed its much-anticipated S-1 paving the way for an IPO which could happen in as little as a few weeks.

The company, which was founded in a Harvard dorm room in 2004, is looking to raise $5bn - though there is still the possibility that it could raise as much as $10bn if it sees strong demand.

The juicy details of the S-1 that industry observers were eager to review are, of course, the company's financials. They're certainly impressive.

Last year, the world's largest social network took $3.7bn in revenue and had a net income of $1bn. That was up from under $2bn in revenue and $606m in profit the year prior. The company's balance sheet is equally strong; it shows that the company has nearly $4bn in cash on the books.

What's most amazing about Facebook is just how far it has come in such a short period of time. In 2007, for instance, the company produced $153m in revenue and had a net loss of $124m. Less than half a decade later, buoyed by the rise of social networking, Facebook has the financials to justify the largest tech IPO ever.

Does that mean Facebook stock is a buy when its shares start trading?

To be sure, there's a lot to 'like' here. At first glance, it appears Facebook has avoided using goofy accounting metrics that would put 'hair' on the deal.

The company also isn't as dependent on Zynga as you'd expect; 12% of Facebook's revenues come from Zynga, which is certainly a substantial portion, but perhaps not enough to lose sleep over.

There are plenty of risks. For one, Facebook's financials still don't seem to justify a valuation anywhere near the one it's expected to receive.

The company is going to need to exponentially increase the amount of per-user monetisation it can achieve, or find a second Earth in need of a social network. The latter isn't likely, and the former is only going to be possible if Facebook can prove that its ads deliver greater ROI, something that may also prove unlikely.

The company itself points out numerous risks, including its lack of mobile monetisation, inability to control how mobile evolves and the threat of government regulation. These will all need to be addressed and could either boost or hamper Facebook's ability to thrive going forward.

Finally, there is the fact that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will have control of the company after its IPO thanks to a dual-class share structure that gives his shares greater voting powers.

Google has a similar structure, and it has done just fine, but as Facebook matures, it's questionable as to whether Zuckerberg is going to be able to lead the company effectively as a publicly-traded concern. Particularly as it will now be subject to much greater pressures to monetise and drive growth, privacy and service quality concerns be damned.

Risks notwithstanding, today is one of the biggest days for the technology industry in the past decade and you can be sure that somewhere in Silicon Valley, happy (and soon-to-be-wealthy) Facebookers are partying it up.

Patricio Robles

Published 2 February, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (1)

Philippa Gamse

Philippa Gamse, Adjunct Professor at Hult International Business School

I've never seen a Facebook ad, due to the ad blocking software that I run in my browser (which I love!)

When I wrote my recent book, I looked carefully for some stats around how many people use ad-blockers, and discovered that it's very difficult to get any hard numbers. According to what I read, the issue is complex because it may be unclear whether ads are served, and then blocked, or whether the tool intercepts calls to the ad server. So the ad server may be reporting successful delivery of ads that the end user never saw.

Obviously, this hasn't impacted Facebook's valuation - but it might be interesting pause for thought as brands increase their online ad spending.

over 4 years ago

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