Contact: Brenon Daly
It might seem a bit out of step to quote the father of communism when looking at the capital markets, but Karl Marx could well have been speaking about the recent IPOs by social networking companies when he said that history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce. For the tragedy, we have only to look at Twitter, which went public in late 2013. The company arrived on Wall Street full of Facebook-inspired promise, only to dramatically bleed out three-quarters of its value since then.
Now, in the latest version of Facebook’s IPO, we have last week’s debut of Snap. And, true to Marx’s admonition, this offering is indeed farcical. The six-year-old company has convinced investors that every dollar it brings in revenue this year is somehow three times more valuable than a dollar that Facebook brings in. Following its frothy offering, Snap is valued at more than $30bn, or 30 times projected 2017 sales. For comparison, Facebook trades at closer to 10x projected sales. And never mind that Snap sometimes spends more than a dollar to take in that dollar in revenue, while Facebook mints money.
Snap’s absurd valuation stands out even more when we look at its basic business: the company was created on ephemera. Disappearing messages represent a moment-in-time form of communication that people will use until something else catches their eye. (Similarly, people will play Farmville on their phones until they get hooked on another game.) Some of that is already registering at the company, which has seen its growth of daily users slow to a Twitter-like low-single-digit percentage. Any slowing audience growth represents a huge problem for a business that’s based on ‘eyeballs.’
And, to be clear, the farcical metric of ‘eyeballs’ is a key measure at Snap. In its SEC filing, the company leads its pitch to investors with its mission statement followed immediately by a whimsical chart of the growth in users of its service. It places that graphic at the very front of the book, even ahead of the prospectus’ table of contents and far earlier than any mention of how costly that growth has been or even what growth might look like in the future at Snap. But so far, that hasn’t stopped the company from selling on Wall Street.