Tag: Facebook

Facebook has announced that it’s purchasing the messaging company WhatsApp. It is paying $19 billion in cash and shares, a sum that dwarfs other acquisitions of start-up companies in the app market. But what are the reasons for the acquisition and how will it affect users?

WhatsApp was founded less than five years ago and has seen massive growth and now has some 450 million active users, 70% of whom use it daily. This compares with Twitter’s 240 million users. An average of one million new users are signing up to WhatsApp each day. As the Wall Street Journal article, linked below, states:

Even by the get-big-fast standards of Silicon Valley, WhatsApp’s story is remarkable. The company, founded in 2009 by Ukrainian Jan Koum and American Brian Acton, reached 450 million users faster than any company in history, wrote Jim Goetz, a partner at investor Sequoia Capital.

Facebook had fewer than 150 million users after its fourth year, one third that of WhatsApp in the same time period.

Yet, despite its large user base, WhatsApp has just 55 employees, including 32 engineers.

For the user, WhatsApp offers a cheap service (free for the first year and just a 99¢ annual fee thereafter). There are no charges for sending or receiving text, pictures and videos. It operates on all mobile systems and carries no ads. It also offers privacy – once sent, messages are deleted from the company’s servers and are thus not available to government and other agencies trying to track people.

With 450 million current active users, this means that revenue next year will not be much in excess of $450 million. Thus it would seem that unless Facebook changes WhatsApp’s charging system or allows advertising (which it says it won’t) or sees massive further growth, there must have been reasons other than simple extra revenue for the acquisition.

Other possible reasons are investigated in the videos and articles below. One is to restrict competition which threatens Facebook’s own share of the messaging market: competition that has seen young people move away from Facebook, which they see is becoming more of a social media platform for families and all generations, not just for the young.

Videos and podcasts

Facebook pays billions for WhatsApp Messenger smartphone service Deutsche Welle, Manuel Özcerkes (19/2/14)
Facebook’s WhatsApp buy no bargain Reuters, Peter Thal Larsen (20/2/14)
Facebook Agrees To Buy WhatsApp For $19bn Sky News, Greg Milam (20/2/14)
Facebook Eliminates Competitor With WhatsApp Bloomberg TV, Om Malik, David Kirkpatrick and Paul Kedrosky (20/2/14)
Why WhatsApp Makes Perfect Sense for Facebook Bloomberg TV, Om Malik, David Kirkpatrick and Paul Kedrosky (20/2/14)
Facebook buying WhatsApp for $19bn BBC News, Mike Butcher (20/2/14)
Is Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp a desperate move? CNBC News, Rob Enderle (19/2/14)
Facebook’s $19bn WhatsApp deal ‘unjustifiable’ BBC Today Programme, Larry Magid (20/2/14)

Articles

Facebook to buy WhatsApp for $19 billion in deal shocker ReutersGerry Shih and Sarah McBride (20/2/14)
Facebook to Pay $19 Billion for WhatsApp Wall Street Journal, Reed Albergotti, Douglas MacMillan and Evelyn M. Rusli (19/2/14)
Facebook to buy WhatsApp for $19bn The Telegraph, Katherine Rushton (19/2/14)
Facebook buys WhatsApp: Mark Zuckerberg explains why The Telegraph (19/2/14)
WhatsApp deal: for Mark Zuckerberg $19bn is cheap to nullify the threat posed by messaging application The Telegraph, Katherine Rushton (20/2/14)
Why did Facebook buy WhatsApp? TechRadar, Matt Swider (20/2/14)
What is WhatsApp? What has Facebook got for $19bn? The Guardian, Alex Hern (20/2/14)
Facebook to buy messaging app WhatsApp for $19bn BBC News (20/2/14)
WhatsApp – is it worth it? BBC News, Rory Cellan-Jones (20/2/14)
Facebook buys WhatsApp: what the analysts say The Telegraph (19/2/14)
Facebook ‘dead and buried’ as teenagers switch to WhatsApp and Snapchat – because they don’t want mum and dad to see their embarrassing pictures Mail Online (27/12/13)
Facebook and WhatsApp: Getting the messages The Economist (22/2/14)

Questions

  1. Are Facebook and WhatsApp substitutes or complements, or neither?
  2. What does Facebook stand to gain from the acquisition of WhatsApp? Is the deal a largely defensive one for Facebook?
  3. Has Facebook paid too much for WhatsApp? What information would help you answer this question?
  4. Would it be a good idea for Facebook to build in the WhatsApp functionality into the main Facebook platform or would it be better to keep the two products separate by keeping WhatsApp as a self contained company?
  5. What effects will the acquisition have on competition in the social media and messaging market? Is this good for the user?
  6. Will the deal attract the attention of Federal competition regulators in the USA? If so, why; if not, why not?
  7. What are the implications for Google and Twitter?
  8. Find out and explain what happened to the Facebook share price after the acquisition was announced.

Valued by private investors at more than $10 billion, the future listing on the stock market of Twitter, is an eagerly anticipated event. The necessary forms have been submitted to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) ahead of the initial public offering (IPO). Twitter will be looking to avoid the mistakes made by Facebook when they were first listed in May last year. Twitter has also announced its intentions to purchase MoPub, which is a firm specialising in mobile advert exchanges.

So, what will this listing mean for Twitter? The public will now be able to purchase shares in Twitter, in much the same way as you can buy shares in RBS or Facebook. The financial performance of Twitter will come under much greater scrutiny from its shareholders, who will be interested in short term returns and long term stability. Becoming a public limited company will attract investors and is likely to provide a much larger scope for expansion for Twitter. However, as yet no details have been released on a likely date for the flotation or on the prices we can expect.

One thing Twitter will be trying to avoid is a repeat of the problems that beset Facebook and indeed of the problems that other public listings have created for giants such as Google, Zynga and Groupon. When Facebook moved to public ownership, its share prices initially fell below its IPO and subsequently Facebook lost more than half its value. More recent success in mobile advertising has restored the fortunes of this company, but Goldman Sachs, which is handling Twitter’s transition will be looking to avoid a similar occurrence. As Sam Hamadeh from PrivCo (a firm that gathers data on private companies) said:

Twitter will learn from Facebook’s flawed playbook and do the opposite … Unlike Facebook, which waited too long to IPO (until its growth rate decelerated), Twitter will IPO at just the right inflection point: while revenue grows in triple digits.

Twitter is a rapidly growing business, but still has significant scope for expansion and this move to public ownership may be just the thing. Setting the right IPO and the right date will be crucial, as a multitude of factors can and do affect the price of shares listed on the stock market. Twitter will also need to ‘focus on doing the right stuff’ to make a success of the listing and its purchase of Mopub looks to be a step in the right direction. For now, all we can do is speculate, but if the launch is successful, then the founders of Twitter are likely to bring in hundreds of millions of dollars each.

Twitte files for IPO The Telegraph, Sophie Curtis (13/9/13)
Twitter plans stock market listing (see also) BBC News (13/9/13)
Twitter files for IPO, hopes to avoid Facebook’s mistakes Independent, Nikhil Humar and James Vincent (12/9/13)
Facebook shares close 11% below flotation price BBC News (21/5/12)
Twitter fails to answer key IPO questions Financial Times, Richard Waters and April Dembosky (13/9/13)
Twitter IPO: how much is it worth? The Guardian, Juliette Garside (13/9/13)
Twitter IPO: Tech float successes and disasters The Telegraph, Gabrielle Putter and Szu Ping Chan (13/9/13
Twitter to see ‘strong demand’ for share sale BBC News (13/9/13)
Twitter IPO: Firm in stock market launch bid Sky News (13/9/13)

Questions

  1. What are the characteristics of a public limited company? Are there advantages and disadvantages?
  2. Which factors affect (a) the supply of shares and (b) the demand for shares?
  3. What mistakes were made by Facebook when it made the transition to public ownership?
  4. How does advertising generate revenue for Twitter?
  5. How might you go about valuing Twitter or Facebook?
  6. Companies such as Twitter and Facebook have hundreds of millions of subscribers. Are there network externalities of this?
  7. Twitter is purchasing MoPub. What type of takeover would you classify this as?