Technology
11:01 pm
Wed December 28, 2011

Year In Review: Mega Tech Brands Raise Megabucks

Originally published on Thu December 29, 2011 12:20 pm

The year 2011 was tumultuous for stocks. The eurozone crisis and a U.S. credit downgrade kept investors nervous, but one industry held steady, even faring better than in previous years: technology.

About the same number of technology companies went public this year as last year. Difference is, they managed to raise more than $6 billion — a whopping 85 percent increase over 2010. Compared with all other industries, tech companies saw the highest returns in the first week of trading, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. Still, analysts say it's important to look beyond the stock price for real value.

Groupon

The year was big for mega brands. The biggest name in the mix was Groupon, which went public in November and raised $700 million. It was a splashy debut for the Internet discount company, but analyst Sam Hamadeh isn't optimistic.

"If you want, buy the coupon, not the stock," he says. "Buy the coupon, don't buy the Groupon."

Hamadeh is the CEO of PrivCo, which analyzes the financial data of companies across sectors. He says tech is a great investment because it makes valuable products with low labor costs. That's not the case for Groupon.

"Groupon effectively is a local advertising and couponing company. What that requires is a lot of local salespeople," he says. "It's very labor-intensive business."

Groupon stock is worth nearly 30 percent less now than its closing price on Day 1. Not a great sign — though not as bleak as Zynga.

Zynga

The maker of FarmVille, the popular game on the social network Facebook, mints real dollars by selling imaginary goods — like tractors that plow cornfields that only exist on a computer screen.

The closing stock price on Day 1 for companies that go public is typically higher than the initial offering price. Not Zynga — though it priced its stock low.

"It's embarrassing to the investment banks that took them public," Hamdeh says. "It was a failure by almost any measure."

But Peter Coles, a professor at Harvard Business School, has a different take. He points out how much Zynga raised in its IPO.

"A billion dollars is a fantastic amount of money," he says.

Zynga's IPO earlier this month raised more than Groupon's, and became the biggest tech IPO since Google's in 2004.

LinkedIn

The success story of 2011 was LinkedIn, the online Rolodex. It had a first day pop. Investors paid well above the asking price, and the stock is now worth 40 percent more than when it debuted in May.

On the surface, it makes no sense. Millions of people on LinkedIn don't pay a dime. Why would investors pay? Coles explains the business model.

"That's where you are. That's where your contacts are. It's not worth our time to join another LinkedIn, Rolodex-like substitute. And recruiters are willing to pay a lot of money for access to this fantastic user base," he says.

Think of the company as a party host. One side comes in for free. The other side — in this case, the headhunter — pays to enter.

Valuing Tech

Zillow is among the smallest companies to go public this year. The website lets people look up real estate prices, even through cellphones.

CEO Spencer Rascoff says that short of a strong network, you've got to inspire loyalty.

"It's all that more important in technology for products and services to tug at an emotional heartstring," he says. "Another website is just a click away. Another mobile app is just a click away."

The most anticipated tech IPO in 2012: Facebook.

"The beauty of Facebook is that it is impossible to leave," Coles says.

It's the best of the 2011 companies, on steroids. Tech savvy, strong network, loyal users. Some say it's worth $100 billion. We'll know for sure when it goes public.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

American's sense of insecurity came in part from the stock market, which rose and fell in breathtaking ways this year, especially over the summer. It was normal for a while for the market to drop by hundreds of points, only to rise by hundreds the next day. As we near the end of this year, though, the market is up modestly from the start of the year, around 500 points. And it turns out that even with the nauseating turns in this market, many technology firms raised a lot of money when they went public.

NPR's Aarti Shahani reports.

AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: About the same number of technology companies went public this year as last year. The difference is they managed to raise over $6 billion - a whopping 85 percent increase over 2010. Compared to all other industries, tech companies saw the highest returns in the first week of trading.

(SOUNDBITE OF STOCK EXCHANGE BELL RINGING)

SHAHANI: 2011 was the year of mega-brands. The biggest name in the mix: Groupon.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Groupon opens its first day of trading on the NASDAQ...

SHAHANI: It raised half as much as Google did when it went public - a splashy debut for sure. Turns out, though, it may be a washout.

SAM HAMADEH: If you want, buy the coupon, don't buy the stock. Buy the coupon, not the Groupon.

SHAHANI: That's Sam Hamadeh. He's the CEO of PrivCo. He analyzes the financial data of companies across sectors. He says tech is a great investment, because it makes valuable products with low labor costs. But for Groupon, that's not the case.

HAMADEH: Once people look under the hood, they realized, really, Groupon has no proprietary technology of any significance.

SHAHANI: So if it's not tech, what is it?

HAMADEH: Groupon effectively is a local advertising and couponing company. What that requires is a lot of local sales people. It's a very labor-intensive business.

SHAHANI: Groupon stock is worth less today than its closing price on day one. Not a great sign, though not as bleak as Zynga. Zynga is the maker of Farmville, the popular game on the social network Facebook. The company mints real dollars by selling imaginary goods, like tractors that plow cornfields that only exist on a computer screen. For the vast majority of companies that go public, stock on day one closes higher than the initial offering price - not Zynga, even though it priced its stock low. Investors lost real dollars. It's the textbook definition of a busted IPO.

HAMADEH: It's embarrassing to the investment banks that took them public - a failure by almost any measure.

SHAHANI: Though not when you measure how much Zynga raised. Peter Coles is a professor at Harvard Business School. But you don't have to teach there to know...

PETER COLES: A billion dollars is a fantastic amount of money to raise for Zynga.

SHAHANI: For anyone, in fact. Zynga's IPO earlier is the biggest tech IPO since Google's in 2004. The biggest success story this year was LinkedIn, the online rolodex. It had a first-day pop. Investors paid well above the asking price, and the stock today is worth 40 percent more than when it debuted. On the surface, it makes no sense. The millions of people on LinkedIn don't even pay a dime. Why would investors pay? Coles explains the business model.

COLES: LinkedIn has become the number on tool for passive job search. That's where you are. That's where your contacts are. It's not worth our time to join another LinkedIn, rolodex-like substitute. And recruiters are willing to pay a lot of money for access to this fantastic user base.

SHAHANI: The company, it's like a party host. One side comes in for free. The other side - in this case, the headhunter - pays to enter. It's a strong network, an industry best practice. Losing your user base, that's a worst nightmare. Zillow is among the smallest companies to go public this year. Zillow lets people look up real estate prices, even through cell phones. CEO Spencer Rascoff says that short of a strong network, you've got to inspire loyalty.

SPENCER RASCOFF: It's all that more important in technology for products and services to tug at an emotional heartstring. Another website is just a click away. Another mobile app is just a click away.

SHAHANI: The most anticipated tech IPO in 2012: Facebook.

COLES: The beauty of Facebook is that it is impossible to leave.

SHAHANI: Facebook is the best of the 2011 companies, on steroids: tech savvy, strong network, loyal users. Some say it's worth $100 billion. We'll know for sure when it flexes for public investors. Aarti Shahani, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: You're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.