This Week In Private Shares Trading

The Facebook auction that took place on Wednesday cleared at a price of $31.25, flat versus last week, and implying a value of $77.2 billion.

Facebook had traded at its high of $31.50 for four straight weeks, beginning on March 9th, before moving down slightly.  The high price of $31.50 implied a value of $77.8 billion.

Figure 1: Facebook Shares Trading at $31.25, Implying a Value of Just over $77 BN

Source: Company data, Wedbush Securities, Inc.


 

THIS WEEK IN FACEBOOK

Facebook Dominates Social Networking Landscape, Surpasses 250mm Mobile Users

Facebook’s dominance of social networking is on full display in the below chart recently released by Pingdom which shows every social network with over 1 MM daily visitors.

 

We expect Facebook’s membership to continue to grow, particularly in the less saturated demographics (55+) and in countries with lower penetration.  But we also believe that there are massive opportunities for other networks that either offer a unique communications platform (e.g. Twitter), or meet vertical needs (e.g. LinkedIn for work, Badoo for dating).

 

Also this week, Facebook had several major mobile announcements.  The announcement that got the most press was the revelation that Facebook had surpassed 250 million mobile users.

 

The second, and more meaningful, was the rollout of a major upgrade to its mobile platform (m.facebook.com).

 

On March 31st, Facebook announced:

 

“Today we’re excited to start rolling out a major upgrade to m.facebook.com that delivers the best possible mobile Web experience no matter what device you’re using. Previously, we solved this problem by building multiple versions of mobile Facebook: m.facebook.com for less feature-rich mobile devices and touch.facebook.com for touch devices.

There are two major problems with this approach:

  1. 1. We were limited by the lowest common denominator for each site. We couldn’t use JavaScript and had device specific file size limitations on m.facebook.com. Supporting a wide array of touch phones of varying quality on touch.facebook.com limited our ability to use modern CSS and JavaScript APIs.
  2. 2. Every time we launched a new feature, we had to build it multiple times across different code bases: once for facebook.com, then again for m.facebook.com, touch.facebook.com, and in native applications as well. Honestly, we weren’t very good at doing this, so certain features were missing on different devices.

With the new m.facebook.com, users with high-end touch devices will see a rich touch-friendly interface; for users with feature phones, the site will look and work great.”

The bottom line is that the world’s dominant social network has a keen appreciation for the global secular trend to mobile, and is operating its business accordingly.

As a Facebook spokesperson stated: “We think it’s important to provide an excellent mobile Web experience.  Now, whenever we launch new features on the mobile site, they’ll be available on any mobile browser, presented in the best possible experience. We’re excited to roll out the new m.facebook.com site to everyone over the next few weeks.”

Facebook Continues to Build Its Washington Presence

Undoubtedly, one of the major risks to Facebook remains government regulations.  Anytime a company gets as big and powerful as Facebook, the company attracts government scrutiny like moths to a flame.  Facebook clearly recognizes this.  In fact, Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, is a former Clinton administration official, and Facebook’s General Counsel (Ted Ullyot) is a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.  So it’s no surprise to see Facebook continuing to take the appropriate measures to make sure that Washington understands and appreciates their perspective, and is best able to place Facebook’s actions in the right context.

 

The latest rumored addition to the Facebook Washington team is Robert Gibbs, the former Communications Director for President Obama.  Gibbs would bring an intimate knowledge of Obama’s agenda as it relates to the regulatory issues facing Facebook, as well as strong relationships within the administration.   Obama is widely perceived to be a fan of Facebook.  One of Facebook’s founders, Chris Hughes, played an important role in Obama’s campaign by heading the Facebook Connect integration.  More recently, Mark Zuckerberg sat next to the President at dinner as part of a group of tech titans that dined with Obama in Silicon Valley.

 

While the fight over talented programmers gets the most press in the Valley, recruiting the right talent in Washington D.C. may prove a similarly important key to Facebook’s future success.

 

The Stock Options Pool Fund – 137 Ventures

There is a new single purpose fund on the block, 137 Ventures, which has been setup specifically to purchase stock options directly from Facebook employees. The fund is headed by Justin Fishner-Wolfson, a former principal at Founders Fund, which is an early Facebook investor. 137 Ventures is reportedly raising as much as $100 million to purchase stock options from the Facebook employees.

137 Ventures has setup a unique strategy for acquiring the stock options from Facebook employees. According to WSJ’s Tomio Geron:

“For borrowers, 137 Ventures is proposing to charge about 12% interest on the loans, as well as a 10% upfront fee. The upfront fee will be paid in stock of the company for which the options are exercised, while the principal and interest apparently will be paid in cash.”

Facebook employees stock options expire 90 days after an employees leaves the company, and considering most employees can’t afford to exercise their options, this fund may provide the fully vested employees the option to cash out their stock at Facebook and move on to a new startup to begin vesting new stock options. Essentially, once an employee is fully vested at Facebook, there’s little upside in staying on board. The loans are needed by employees not only due to the cost of exercising the stock options, but in many cases there are heavy tax burdens as well. Essentially, the Facebook employees are subject to taxes on the difference between the current value of the stock and the price at which the employee exercised the option, which can be rather significant for Facebook stock options today.

As for the limited partners in the fund, 137 Ventures is proposing to charge a management fee of $1 million plus 1% annually. The fund also has a carry of 20% above the net IRR of 25%. The fund is setup for five years, with three possible one-year extensions. Borrowers must use the company stock as collateral on the three-year loan, and the stock must be worth at least two to three times the amount of the loan.

VentureWire interviewed Cyan Banister, an angel investor and the chief executive of model and photography startup Zivity LLC, who said “I’ve personally loaned large sums of money to employees so they can leave Facebook. I’m not in the business of doing this. Clearly if my friends have a need and are stuck there, there’s clearly an opportunity here and (the loans) need to exist.”

A fund like this wouldn’t work for smaller startups, but with companies like Facebook, Zynga, Twitter, Groupon and others, it may just work due to the number of employees and their growing valuations and likely eventual IPO’s towards liquidity. With more than 1,000 Facebook employees and recent secondary transactions for its stock above $40 billion and growing, the market for just Facebook employee stock options is becoming an enormous market in itself. Typical investors like to see a 2 to 3 year horizon for liquidity, but with these high profile startups, the secondary market is already providing their required liquidity. Additionally, Stock Options Funds like this may not work with smaller startups that have fewer employees and lower valuations due to the risk that they may be acquired for a lower valuation that the purchase price of the options. The risk is that the preferred stock in these companies will monetize before the common stock, which is what the employee’s stock options are. However, in growth stage companies like Facebook, Twitter, Zynga and others, this risk is much lower.