Social Media Valuation …. a walk on the wild side.

Lately I have wondered about Social Media Companies and their Financial Valuations. Is it hot air in a balloon that can blow up any day? Or are the hundred of millions and billions of US Dollars tied to Social Media Valuations reasonable and sustainable in the longer run? Last question is particular important as more than 70% of the value in Social Media are 5 or many more years out in the Future.  Social Media startup companies, without any turnover, are regularly being  bought for, or able to raise money at a value, in the hundreds of millions US dollar range. Lately, Instagram was bought by Facebook for 1 Billion US Dollar. Facebook itself valued at a $100B at its IPO. Now several month after their initial public offering, Facebook may have lost as much as 50% of the originally claimed IPO value.

The Value of Facebook, since its IPO,  has lost ca. 500 Million US Dollar per day (as off 30-July-2012).

What is the valuation make-up of Social Media? And more interestingly what are the conditions that need to be met to justify $100B or $50B for Facebook, $8B for Twitter, $3B (as of 30-July-2012, $5B prior to Q2 Financials) or $1B for Instagram, a 2 year old company with a cool mobile phone Photo App? Is the Social Media Business Models Real? or based on an almost religious belief that someday in the future it will Return On Investment. Justifying the amount of money pumped into it?

My curiosity and analytical “hackaton” got sparked by the following Tweet:

Indeed! what could possible justify paying 1 Billion US Dollar for Instagram, which agreeably has a very cool FREE Smartphone Photo App (far better than Facebook’s own), BUT without any income?

  • Instagram, initially an iOS App, claims 50 Million Mobile Users (ca. 5 Million unique visitors and 31 Million page-views as of July 2012). 5+M photos are uploaded daily with a total of 1+ Billion photos uploaded. No reported revenues to date. Prior to being bought by Facebook for $1 Billion, was supposed to have been prepared for a new founding round valued at 500 Million US$.
  • Facebook has 900M users, 526M (58%) active daily and 500M mobile users (May 2012). 250M photos are uploaded daily with a total of 150 Billion photos. Facebook generated ca. $5B in revenue in 2011 and current market cap is ca. $61B (24 July 2012). 85% of FB revenue in 2011 came from advertisement.

The transaction gives a whole new meaning to “A picture is worth a Billion words”  … and Instagram is ALL about PICTURES & SOCIAL interactions!

Instagram is a (really cool & simple) mobile & smartphone optimized App. Something that would be difficult to say about FB’s mobile environment (in particular when it comes to photo experience).

One thing is of course clear. If FB is willing to lay down $1B for Instagram, their valuation should be a good deal higher than $1B (i.e., ca. $4+B?). It will be very interesting to see how FB plans to monetize Instagram. Though the acquisition might be seen as longer-outlook protective move to secure Facebook’s share of the Mobile Market, which for Social Media will become much more important than the traditional desktop access.

So how can we get a reality check on a given valuation?

Lets first look at the main Business Models of today (i.e., how the money will be or are made);

  1. Capture advertising spend – typically online advertisement spend (total of $94B in 2012 out of an expected total Media Ad spend of $530B). With uptake of tablets traditional “printed media” advertising spend might be up for grabs as well (i.e., getting a higher share of the total Media Ad spend).
  2. Virtual Goods & credits (e.g., Zynga’s games and FB’s revenue share model) – The Virtual Economy has been projected to be ca. $3B in 2012 (cumulative annual growth rate of 35% from 2010).
  3. Payed subscriptions (e.g., LinkedIn’s Premium Accounts: Business Plus, Job Seeker, etc or like Spotify Premium, etc..).
  4. B2B Services (e.g.,. LinkedIn’s Hiring Solutions).

The Online Advertisement Spend is currently the single biggest source of revenue for the Social Media Business Model. For example Google (which is more internet search than Social Media) takes almost 50% of the total available online advertisement spend and it accounts for more than 95% of Google’s revenues. In contrast, Facebook in 2011 only captured ca. 4+% of Online Ad Spend which accounted for ca. 85% of FB’s total revenue. By 2015 eMarketeer.com (see http://www.emarketer.com/PressRelease.aspx?R=1008479) has projected the total online advertisement spend could be in the order of $132B (+65% increase compared to 2011). USA and Western Europe is expected to account for 67% of the $132B by 2015.

Virtual Goods are expected to turn-over ca. $3B in 2012. The revenue potential from Social Networks and Mobile has been projected (see Lazard Capital’s Atul Bagga ppt on “Emerging Trends in Games-as-a-Service”) to be ca. $10B worldwide by 2015. If (and that is a very big if) the trend would continue the 2020 potential would be in the order of $60B (though I would expect this to be a maximum and very optimistic upside potential).

So how can a pedestrian get an idea about Social Media valuation? How can one get a reality check on these Billionaires being created en mass at the moment in the Social Media sphere?

“Just for fun” (and before I get really “serious”) I decided see whether there is any correlation between a given valuation and the number of Unique Visitors (per month) and Pageviews (per month) … my possible oversimplified logic would be that if the main part of the Social Media business model is to get a share of the Online Advertisement Spending there needs to be some sort of dependency on the those (i..e, obviously whats really important is the clickthrough (rate) but lets be forget this for a moment or two):

 The two charts (log-log scaled) shows Valuation (in Billion US$) versus Unique Visitors (in Millions) and Pageviews (in Billions). While the correlations are not perfect, they are really not that crazy either. I should stress that the correlations are power-law correlations NOT LINEAR, i.e., Valuation increases with power of unique and active users/visitors.

An interesting out-lier is Pinterest. Let’s just agree that this does per see mean that Pinterest’s valuation at $1.5B is too low! … it could also imply that the rest are somewhat on the high side! 😉

Note: Unique Visitors and Pageview statistics can be taken from Google’s DoubleClick Ad Planner. It is a wonderful source of domain attractiveness, usage and user information.

Companies considered in Charts: Google, Facebook, Yahoo, LinkedIN, Twitter, Groupon, Zynga, AOL, Pinterest, Instagram (@ $1B), Evernote, Tumblr, Foursquare, Baidu.

That’s all fine … but we can (and should) do better than that!

eMarketeer.com has given us a Online Advertisement Spend forecast (at least until 2015). In 2011, the Google’s share amounted to 95% of their revenue and for Facebook at least 85%. So we are pretty close to having an idea of the Topline (or revenue) potential going forward. In addition, we also need to understand how that Revenue translates into Free Cash Flow (FCF) which will be the basis for my simple valuation analysis. To get to a Free Cash Flow picture we could develop a detailed P&L model for the company of interests. Certainly an interesting exercise but would require “Millions” of educated guesses and assumptions for a business that we don’t really know.

Modelling a company’s P&L is not really a peaceful walk for our interested pedestrian to take.

A little research using Google Finance, Yahoo Finance or for example Ycharts.com (nope! I am not being sponsored;-) will in general reveal a typical cash yield (i.e., amount of FCF to Revenue) for a given type of company in a given business cycle.

Examples of FCF performance relative to Revenues: Google for example has had an average FCF yield of 30% over the last 4 years, Yahoo’s 4 year average was 12% (between 2003 and 2007 Google and Yahoo had farily similar yields ).  Facebook has been increasing its yield steadily from 2009 (ca. 16%) to 2011 (ca. 25%), while Zynga had 45% in 2010 and then down to 13% in 2011.

So having an impression of the revenue potential (i.e., from eMarketeer) and an idea of best practice free cash flow yield, we can start getting an idea of the Value of a given company. It should of course be clear that we can also turn this Simple Analysis around and ask what should the Revenue & Yield be in order to justify a given valuation. This would give a reality check on a given valuation as the Revenue should be in reasonable relation to market and business expectations.

Lets start with Google (for the moment totally ignoring Motorola;-):

Nothing fancy! I am basically assuming Google can keep their share of Online Advertising Spend (as taken from eMarketeer) and that Google can keep their FCF Yield at a 30% level. The discount rate (or WACC) of 9% currently seems to be a fair benchmark (http://www.wikiwealth.com/wacc-analysis:goog). I am (trying) to be conservative and assumes a 0% future growth rate (i.e., changing will in general have a high impact on the Terminal Value). If all this comes true, Google’s value would be around 190 Billion US Dollars. Today (26 July 2012) Google Finance tells me that their Market Capitalization is $198B (see http://www.google.com/finance?q=NASDAQ:GOOG) which is 3% higher than the very simple model above.

How does the valuation picture look for Facebook (pre-Zynga results as of yesterday 25 July 2012):

First thought is HALLELUJAH … Facebook is really worth 100 Billion US Dollars! … ca. $46.7 per share… JAIN (as they would say in Germany) … meaning YESNO!

  • Only if Facebook can grow from capturing ca. 6% of the Online Advertisement Spend today to 20% in the next 5 – 6 years.
  • Only if Facebook can improve their Free Cash Flow Yield from today’s ca. 25% to 30%.
  • Only if Facebooks other revenues (i.e., from Virtual Goods, Zynga, etc..) can grow to be 20% of their business.

What could possible go wrong?

  • Facebook fatigue … users leaving FB to something else (lets be honest! FB has become a very complex user interface and “sort of sucks” on the mobile platforms. I guess one reason for Instagram acquisition).
  • Disruptive competitors/trends (which FB cannot keep buying up before they get serious) … just matter of time. I expect this to happen first in the Mobile Segment and then spread to desktop/laptop.
  • Non-advertisement revenues (e.g., from Virtual Goods, Zynga, etc..) disappoints.
  • Need increasing investments in infrastructure to support customer and usage growth (i.e., negative impact on cash yields).
  • The Social Media business being much more volatile than current hype would allow us to assume.

So how would a possible more realistic case look like for Facebook?

Here I assume that Facebook will grow to take 15% (versus 20% above) of the Online Ad spend. Facebook can keep a 25% FCF Yield (versus growing to 30% in the above model). The contribution from Other Revenues has been brought down to a more realistic level of the Virtual Goods and Social Media Gaming expectations (see for example Atul Bagga, Lazard Capital Markets, analysis http://twvideo01.ubm-).

The more conservative assumptions (though with 32% annual revenue growth hardly a very dark outlook) results in a valuation of $56 Billion (i.e., a share price of ca. $26). A little bit more than half the previous (much) more optimistic outlook for Facebook. Not bad at all of course … but maybe not what you want to see if you paid a premium for the Facebook share? Facebook’s current market capitalization (26 July 2012, 18:43 CET) is ca. $60B (i..e, $28/share).

So what is Facebooks value? $100B (maybe not), $50+B? or around $60+B? Well it all depends on how shareholders believe Facebook’s business to evolve over the next 5 – 10 (and beyond) years. If you are in for the long run it would be better to be conservative and keep the lower valuation in mind rather than the $100B upside.

Very few of us actually sit down and do a little estimation ourselves (we follow others = in a certain sense we are financial lemmings). With a little bit of Google Search (yes there is a reason why they are so valuable;-) and a couple of lines of Excel (or pen and paper) it is possible to get an educated idea about a certain valuation range and see whether the price you paid was fair or not.

Lets just make a little detour!

Compare Facebook’s current market capitalization of ca. $60B (@ 26 July 2012, 18:43 CET) at $3.7B Revenue (2011) and ca. $1B of free cash flow (2011). Clearly all value is in anticipation of future business! Compare this with Deutsche Telecom AG with a market capitalization of ca. $50B at $59B (2011, down -6% YoY2010) and ca. $7.8B of free cash flow (2011). It is Fascinating that a business with well defined business model, paying customers, healthy revenue (16xFB) and cash flow (8xFB) can be worth a lot less than a company that relies solely on anticipation of a great future.  Facebook’s / Social Media Business Model future appear a lot more optimistic (the blissfull unknown) than the Traditional Telco Business model (the known” unknown). Social Media by 2015 is a game of maybe a couple of hundred Billions (mainly from advertisement, app sales and virtual economy) versus the Telecom Mobile (ignoring the fixed side) of a Trillion + (1,000 x Billion) business.

Getting back to Social Media and Instragram!

So coming back to Instagram … is it worth paying $1B for?

Let’s remind ourselves that Instagram is a Mobile Social Media Photo sharing platform (or Application) serving Apple iOS (originally exclusively so) and Android. Instagram has ca. 50+M registered users (by Q1’2012) with 5+M photos uploaded per day with a total of 1+B photos uploaded. The Instagram is a through-rough optimized smartphone application. There are currently more than 460+ photo  apps with 60Photos being a second to Instagram in monthly usage (http://www.socialbakers.com/facebook-applications/category/70-photo).

Anyway, to get an idea about Instagram’s valuation potential, it would appear reasonable to assume that their Business Model would target the Mobile Advertisement Spend (which is a sub-set of Online Ad Spend). To get somewhere with our simple valuation framework I assume:

  1. that Instagram can capture up to 10% of the Mobile Adv Spend by 2015 – 2016 (possible Facebook boost effect, better payment deals. Keep ad revenue with Facebook).
  2. Instagram’s  a revenue share dynamics similar to Facebooks initial revenue growth from Online Ad Spend (possible Facebook boost effect, better payment deals. Keep ad revenue with Facebook).
  3. Instagram could manage a FCF Yield to 15% over the period analysed (there could be substantial synergies with Facebook capital expenditures).

In principle the answer to that question above is YES paying $1B for Instagram would be worth it as we get almost $5B from our small and simple valuation exercise … if one believes;

  1. Instagram can capture 10% of the Mobile Advertisement Spend (over the next 5 – 6 years).
  2. Instagram can manage a Free Cash Flow Yield of at least 15% by Year 6.

Interesting looking at the next 5 years would indicate a value in the order of $500M. This is close to the rumored funding round that was in preparation before Facebook laid down $1B. However and not surprising most of the value for Instagram comes from the beyond 5 years. The Terminal Value amounts to 90% of the Enterprise Value.

For Facebook to breakeven on their investment, Instagram would need to capture no more than 3% of the Mobile Ad Spend over the 5 year period (assuming that the FCF Yield remain at 10% and not improving due to scale).

Irrespective;

Most of the Value of Social Media is in the Expectations of the Future.

70+% of Social Media Valuation relies on the Business Model remaining valid beyond the first 5 years.

With this in mind and knowing that we the next 5 years will see a massive move from desktop dominated Social Media to Mobile dominated Social Media, should make us somewhat nervous about desktop originated Social Media Businesses and whether these can and will make the transformation.

The question we should ask is:

Tomorrow, will today’s dot-socials be yesterday’s busted dot-coms?

PS

For the pedestrian that want to get deeper into the mud of valuation methodologies I can really recommend “Valuation: Measuring & Managing the Value of Companies” by Tim Koller, Marc Goedhart & David Wessels (http://www.amazon.com/Valuation-Measuring-Managing-Companies-Edition/dp/0470424656). Further there are some really cool modelling exercises to be done on the advertisement spend projections and the drivers behind as well as a deeper understand (i.e., modeling) of the capital requirements and structure of Social Media Business Models.

In case of interest in the simple models used here and the various sources … don’t be a stranger … get in touch!

PSPS (as of 28-July-2012) – A note on Estimated Facebook Market Capitalization

In the above Facebook valuation commentary I have used the information from Google Finance (http://www.google.com/finance?q=facebook) and Yahoo Finance (http://finance.yahoo.com/q?s=FB) both basing their Market Capitalization estimation on 2.14B Shares. MarketWatch (http://www.marketwatch.com/investing/stock/fb) appear to use 2.75B shares (i.e., 29% high than Google & Yahoo). Obviously, MarketWatch market capitalization thus are higher than what Google & Yahoo would estimate.

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