Facebook is unquestionably the most successful social network on the planet and is expected to IPO at a $100 billion valuation on May 17th. I hadn’t even considered buying FB stock until Zuckerberg’s recent purchase of Instagram, which was-but-maybe-not-anymore my favorite social application. I had intended on buying Instagram stock once it went public, but now I have to consider the Facebook empire instead.
First, Facebook is probably a good buy. The company is a marketers dream and a cash cow, which in the end, is what drives stock prices up. Facebook reaches billions of people and millions of businesses and is the centerpiece for an uncountable amount of 3rd party applications. The possibilities of revenue growth is huge but risky.
So why am I skeptical about forking over investment dollars?
1. Privacy concerns
It’s simple. Facebook has a bad name when it comes to privacy and rightfully so. The company seems more concerned with serving marketers than protecting users. To me, that’s a major trust issue that can’t be overlooked.
2. Advertiser’s control panel is weak
The marketing opportunities in Facebook’s platform are endless, but the control panel Facebook offers marketers (at least for us little guys) is lacking and when compared to Google’s Adsense it is simply child’s play. Facebook’s advertiser control panel doesn’t offer conversion tracking, advice of how to improve advertising results or detailed reporting.
3. It’s already big
Facebook has to be reaching a bubble when it comes to adding new users. Unless they can tap into foreign markets or continue buying other companies, their growth is simply not sustainable.
What does Facebook reveal about it’s weaknesses?
One of the more painful parts of taking a company public is you are required to make an honest assessment, in front of the whole world, of all the things that could kill your business. Facebook is no exception.
In its SEC filing, as required by law, the company outlined 35 “risk factors” that could “materially and adversely affect” Facebook. It’s a comprehensive list of every threat the social network admits to facing.
1. We could simply lose users, or fail to add new ones.
2. We could lose advertisers — and new technology may let users block ads.
3. Facebook’s mobile platform doesn’t show ads — so the more that grows, the worse for us.
4. The platform for Facebook apps might not be successful.
5. The competition from Google, Microsoft and Twitter could heat up — not to mention other social networks around the world.
6. More governments could restrict access to Facebook.
7. Users could turn their noses up at new products.
8. The Facebook culture is all about rapid innovation and getting users engaged — and that could come at the cost of profits.
9. Unspecified future events could tarnish our brand.
10. Bugs might give people access to users’ information that they’re not supposed to see.
11. The media could turn on us.
12. Our quarterly financial results could be difficult to predict.
13. Zynga accounts for 12% of our revenue. If we part ways, that could seriously hurt us.
14. Our revenue grew by 88% last year — and that’s simply not sustainable. Growth is bound to decline.
15. The U.S. laws and regulations we’re governed by could change or be reinterpreted.
16. If our patents and copyrights aren’t granted — or aren’t effective — it could seriously hurt us.
17. We have some patent lawsuits on our hands that could end badly.
18. We’re also involved in class-action lawsuits, and we could lose them too.
19. Mark Zuckerberg has a massive amount of shares, which concentrates power in the hands of one man.
20. There’s a complicated tax liability connected to a particular kind of stock unit we gave out — one that will be taxed at 45%.
21. If we need more rounds of investment, the terms might not be reasonable.
22. Costs might grow faster than revenue.
23. A lot of our servers are handled by third parties, and they might be disrupted.
24. We’ve started building a lot of our own data centers to handle traffic, and we’ve got limited experience doing this kind of thing.
25. Our software is incredibly complex and may have a lot of bugs.
26. We can’t say for sure that we’ll handle our growth effectively — we have more than 3,000 employees now, and that could spin out of control.
27. If we lose our leaders, like Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg, that would really harm us.
28. People might sue us over all sorts of stuff posted on Facebook — intellectual property, copyright, defamation, and so on.
29. Viruses, hacking, phishing and malware. Oh my.
30. Payment systems in Facebook apps could mean new government regulations.
31. We’re continually expanding abroad, and we may not understand all the risks in new countries.
32. We’re planning to acquire lots of other companies, which could disrupt everything at Facebook.
33. We might default on our leases or our debt.
34. Our tax liabilities, in general, are bigger than we thought.
35. U.S. tax code reform, if it happens, might hit us where it hurts.
What do you think? Will you invest in Facebook or wait it out? I’m planning on purchase some shares early but I’ll probably only buy about 50-100 shares.
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