But let's put Facebook's current valuation in perspective. At the closing price of $26.90, Facebook commands a valuation of $57.5bn (according to Google Finance). Facebook had around $4bn of cash prior to going public and raised about $10bn so let's assume they have $14bn in cash on the books. That means Facebook has an enterprise value of roughly $43bn.
In its last quarter Facebook had $1bn of revenue and 40% pre-tax operating margins. If we annualize those numbers, that would be $4bn of annual revenue and $1.6bn of annual pre-tax operating margins. Let's use pre-tax operating margins as a proxy for EBITDA, because this whole post is back of envelope quality analysis and please take it for what it is.
That means that Facebook's enterprise value is greater than 10x current revenue run rate and greater than 25x EBITDA. These are big multiples folks. I am happy to take those numbers for any company out there.
Clearly Facebook is a premium company and commands a premium valuation and entrepreneurs should not expect to get 10x revenues and 25x EBITDA for their companies in a sale or an IPO. But even at half those numbers there are fantastic returns for investors and entreprenuers to be had.
If speculators are disappointed with the performance of the Facebook IPO it is because they had ridiculous expectations of what rational investors would pay. The market has put a premium valuation on a great company and we should be happy about all of that. I certainly am.
We have an IPO market for web companies again. I don't have all the names in front of me, but this year has brought IPOs for Pandora, LinkedIn, Groupon, Zynga, and TripAdvisor. These five companies are all trading for north of $1bn market cap. Pandora is at ~$1.5bn. LinkedIn is at ~$6bn. Groupon is at ~$15bn, Zynga is at ~$7bn, and TripAdvisor is at ~$3.5bn.
We can (and surely will in the comments) argue about these valuations. Some will say they are too high. Some will say they are too low. That's what makes a market. But in the aggregate, these valuations do not seem ridiculous to me. The public market investors are valuing these companies at prices that have some rationality to them.
What is possibly more interesting is that the public markets are valuing these companies at less than the late stage private market might value them at. Again, I don't have the data in front of me (I'm on vacation), but I believe that some of these companies had private financings at our above these current market caps.
The past decade (post Internet bubble, post Sarbox) brought a new normal to the late stage venture capital market. Companies are staying private longer. They are doing multiple rounds of growth financing privately. And they are doing multiple rounds of secondary liquidity for the founders, angels, and early investors. Mike Moritz calls these financings the "new IPOs".
This "new normal" is allowing these companies to stay private and develop into real businesses. With a lot of revenue. The five companies I mentioned at the top of this post will have close to $5bn in revenue this year. The company with the least amount of revenue is Pandora which, as of its last quarterly report, is operating at a $300mm annual revenue run rate.
These companies also have built sophisticated management teams that are highly capable of managing a business to meet the expectations of public market investors. They have strong operating executives, strong financial executives, and strong product and engineering leadership. They should be well run public companies.
The five companies I mentioned at the top of this post are carrying a combined market cap of $33bn. So they trade at an average of 6.6x revenues. And that is not including the cash they have on their balance sheets. I am not going to do the math, but I would bet if you back out the excess cash, you might see revenue multiples of less than 6x for this cohort. These are full valuations in a historical context, but these are not crazy valuations. If these companies can continue to grow at the rates they are currently growing, and if they can generate significant cash flow from their businesses (some of these companies already are doing that), then they should be more valuable in the next couple years, generating gains for the public market investors who hold the stock.
When Zynga was pricing its offering last week and getting ready to start trading its stock, I got a note from a friend who said "let's hope for a '99 style first day pop." I responded that was the last thing I wanted to see. And thankfully we did not get that.
It is not healthy for companies to trade at prices well beyond what they are worth. It puts incredible pressure on the team to deliver results that can't be delivered. And when the stock inevitably comes back to reality, the team feels like they somehow failed. Morale is impacted. The whole things is madness. And who benefits from that first day pop? Only the best customers of the banks who led the offerings. Why should they get a windfall when they did nothing to build the company and when they will be out of the stock so fast it will make your head spin?
The IPO market for web companies we have right now is rationale. We can argue whether it is pricing thse offerings correctly. But it feels about right to me. I believe we will see a bunch of IPOs next year, led by Facebook, which is the poster child of this whole "stay private longer" movement. If we as an industry can be patient, keep our companies private longer until they are truly IPO ready, then we should have a sustainable IPO market. That's where we seem to be headed. Let's not get greedy and screw it up.
Disclosure: USV has a significant holding in Zynga therefore I am long that stock through my interest in USV.
I spent the day yesterday with VCs from other firms. I heard two stories about IPOs that are worth sharing.
One VC told me a story about a failed IPO for one of their portfolio companies a few years ago. He told me the legal and accounting bill they got after the IPO was pulled was $3.5mm. Yup, $3.5mm for an offering that was not successful.
The second story has a happier ending. It was about an IPO of a company that happened recently. The company was able to get public. It has revenues of almost $100mm a year and is profitable. The company raised about $75mm in the offering. And it is now trading at a market cap of around $300mm. That is a lower valuation than the company would be able to get in a late stage private financing in my opinion.
Taken together, these stories tell a sad tale about the IPO market. First, it is way too expensive to go public. And if you don't get your offering done, which is not an unusual occurrence, you are left with a huge bill to pay (and no cash to pay it with). And if you get your offering done, your company will likely be valued lower than it would be valued in a late stage private financing.
I used to think that the IPO was the ultimate exit for a venture backed company. Then in the late 90s, I was involved about a dozen IPOs, sat on some public boards, got sued by ambulance chasers, and saw the vast majority of our IPOs underperform and get abandoned by wall street. Since that experience, I've become very wary of the IPO exit.
I believe that the IPO exit is appropriate for only the very best companies, maybe one or two companies per fund, which would be the top 5 or 10 percent of our portfolio. For every other company, I think liquidity offerings followed by an eventual sale transaction is the best outcome. The cost is just too high and the benefits are just too low for most companies these days.