Tech inDIGESTtion #004


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Third issue of an ongoing series about the changes happening in business and technology. Newsletter analyzes large trends in technological change and also some details of competing in the digital age. Comments and proposals welcome! at

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Tech inDIGESTtion #004

  1. 1. A Fresh Look at What’sHappening in the High-Tech and Social Media Worldby Patricio O’Gorman | @patoguru # 004 | July 2011
  2. 2. Valuation seems to be the word á lamode for social media companies. As if we were back in the dot com boom, theheydays of and on one side, and Yahoo and Amazon on theother - to name but a few of the web “valuation giants” - social media companies fightto see which one is worth more than the rest. The days of talking about millions ofusers seem to have given way to a much more intense conversation about money.And, as we all know, whenever we discuss money, Wall Street can’t be too far behind.In the case of social media, however, there is not only Wall Street but also privateinvestors, since most successful ventures are still private companies and as such, havenot opened their books to IPO world. This fact I just mentioned actually makes comparisons very difficult, since youend up talking about Linkedin, who just IPO’d, and Facebook, who’s been about to IPOduring the past 3 years but still hasn’t. It certainly is much easier to discuss growthmetrics and finance on a public company, that has gone “on the record”, than talkabout Twitter’s strategy, when it’s still receiving private financing and there are dozensof speculative independent valuations found by just surfing the web. . This issue of Tech inDIGESTion focuses on social media companies and theircomparability as far as valuations – public or private – allow us. I called it the “SocialMedia Index” for obvious reasons, and hope the readers validate it as a useful tool forbenchmarking existing or new ventures. In the end, the metrics I provide use “peruser” models and therefore I bring back to the attention of everyone just howimportant users/customers are to any company. I still have in my files a very useful tool from HBS called Lifetime CustomerValue Calculator, which uses basic inputs such as the frequency of purchases, theaverage purchase, the retention rate and customer acquisition costs to determine thelifetime value of a customer. Such metric, even when the average discussion is veryoriented towards plain user statistics or in-the-air valuations, should be taken veryseriously because in the end it is how a company starts having a cash-flow.Constructing such a simple tool, however, becomes a near-impossible task when nocustomer information is available or the business model does not allow for clarityaround for building the individual valuables (such as retention rate, average purchase,etc.). Technology InDIGESTion @patoguru #004 | July 2011
  3. 3. Amount of LOW users in M HIGH HIGH Company with high valuation but few users Valuation in M Size equals amount of USD users LOW Company with lots of users but low valuation .In this valuation vs users two-by-two, you can see Facebook’s real strength: the basicnumbers. An extremely high adoption rate makes it the most popular social media site interms of users, and very solid in terms of private valuations (IPO seems more likely at thispoint, but used to be like expecting George Lucas to film the sequel to Return of the Jedi).It would be interesting to see whether other services obtaining more users follow thearrow above or if they move in another direction. Technology InDIGESTion @patoguru #004 | July 2011
  4. 4. Average Value per LOW User (AVPU – usd) HIGH HIGH ARPU + HIGH ARPU + HIGH on both LOWAVPU HIGH AVPU categories HIGH AVERAGE on bothAverage Revenue per categories User (ARPU – usd) Size equals amount of users LOW LOW ARPU + LOW ARPU + LOW AVPU HIGH AVPU LOW on both categories . Things look different when you mostly look at only money (valuation and revenue) – Facebook becomes “one of the bunch”, placed in the average category along with LinkedIn and Skype. Groupon becomes the “money star”, ranking high on both categories. Twitter falls way back, showing it has disproportionate amount of users for its capacity to generate cash, being the lowest on ARPU (no info on 4Square). Skype’s relative high score or ARPU might be another insight into Microsoft’s purchase decision. Technology InDIGESTion @patoguru #004 | July 2011
  5. 5. Social media does not have its own rules.After the dot-com bust we all learnt that the only rules that apply are the rules of thebusiness and that cash is still king, although some might think otherwise. Below is theSocial Media Index – an attempt to describe a mix of valuation (acting as expectationon performance) and revenue or cash generation (actual performance). It’s a sort ofMarket to Book ratio, in order to understand the viability of these companies. As thevariables move so will the index, and more companies will be added as they becomerepresentative for the social media world. No revenue information available.* AVPU = Average Valuation per User ARPU = Average Revenue per UserA value of one means market valuation is in line with company revenues. Above means Market valueis a multiple of revenues, a below a fraction of revenues.Technology InDIGESTion @patoguru #004 | July 2011 #001 January 2011
  6. 6. To conclude, Social Media is leaving itsinfancy, and “sort of” getting used to the general rules of business, which basically say thatyou need to generate enough cash to cover your expenses (e-tailers went through a similarprocess in 2002 onwards) and have a credible and expandable base of revenue per user(ARPU). Twitter is an example of a social media company looking for its destiny; it seems tobe very popular, with a large user base but after 5 years no clear business plan to generatecash without eroding its user base (who unfortunately for them are rebellious and got used toa free, hierarchy-lacking, no-ads, no-hassle service). However, and due to the way the SMI(Social Media Index) is calculated, it ranks first. It has a valuation 51x its revenues.Facebook, second on the ranking with a 45x valuation-to-revenue multiple, has a differentchallenge. It is the poster child for social media, with a very successful movie made about it, ahigh-profile founder, a loyal user-base and a good ability to generate cash for itself and forpartners (Zynga, creating videogames for Facebook platform). What it should fear the most isbecoming a corporation: the Microsoft (Google?) syndrome: you start having Wall Streetearnings targets, you need to create a large bureaucracy in able to function in thatenvironment … and you lose that loving feeling about being the irreverent start-up. All of asudden you wake up and you are telling analyst why this or that company are not threat,while thinking you have become the incumbent and are being out-smarted by kids in a garagestay up all night waiting to put you out of business …LinkedIn appears in third position and seems to have played its IPO nicely (first IPO’d companyin the ranking), keepings its expectations at 26x its revenues.This is social media and it´s not a game to be played lightly. Privacy issues, technical mistakes,badly-adapted features are not easily forgiven or forgotten by users (if not, read anywhere onMySpace’s fall from 70M users and USD 580M to half the users and sold at USD 35M thismonth – would have a SMI below one!). Let this short note be a cautionary tale to companiesat both ends of the spectrum – the Twitter’s without a clear business model and theFacebook’s with a clear business model but fear of becoming old-school.Lasting social media success, quite probably, lies somewhere in between. With everythingthat’s going on, I think we’ll soon find out!I look forward to hearing your comments at and continuethis conversation; or, we can also pick up via twitter @patoguru. Meanwhile, I hope this hashelped you partially digest this wonderful world of technology or, at least, given you somefood for thought.Technology InDIGESTion @patoguru #004 | July 2011 #001 January 2011
  7. 7. All information from the web, detail available upon request.Technology InDIGESTion @patoguru #004 | July 2011 #001 January 2011